“Forgive and forget” is not in the Bible. If you could forget what someone did to you, there would be no need to forgive them. It is precisely because we do remember vividly and with detail the words and action of others that have offended us that forgiveness has value and merit.
Jesus asked His followers to forgive their enemies, to love those who hate them, and to pray for those who persecute them. Not easy to do when you can remember what your enemies said and did. Some Christians think forgetting is the same as forgiveness. It is not. Forgiveness does mean that I stop reminding those I have forgiven that I have forgiven them.
Christian forgiveness not only means not seeking revenge or a vendetta, but also that we try not to keep thinking about and dwelling on what happened in the past.
It means giving someone another chance, just as we ask God to forgive us and give us another chance. Forgiveness does not mean we deny the past or pretend there are no consequences to our choices and actions. Besides the great act of forgiveness shown by Christ on the cross as He is being crucified: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34), the following are two other examples that have relevancy.
In July of 1902, when Maria Goretti was almost twelve years old, a nineteen year old boy named Alessandro fatally stabbed her when she refused to be sexually seduced by him. As she was dying, she told her mother and the doctors and nurses that she forgave her assailant what he had done to her. At not even twelve years of age, she showed an abundance of heroic virtue.
Alessandro was convicted and sentenced to thirty years hard labor. (He was considered a minor since he was only nineteen when he committed the gruesome killing, and at that time, twenty-one was the age of majority.) While in prison, after serving six years of his sentence, he had a vision of Maria Goretti telling him that she forgave him. He called for a priest and confessed his heinous sin and received sacramental forgiveness. When released in 1932, Alessandro went to the home of Mrs. Goretti to ask her forgiveness. She opened the door and saw face to face, eyeball to eyeball, the man who had murdered her little eleven-year-old daughter Maria thirty years before. She said if Jesus could forgive him and if her daughter Maria could forgive him, she had to forgive him, too. They both attended Christmas Mass the next day, and he asked the people of the parish and of the town if they would forgive him, too. He spent the rest of his life in silence as a lay brother in a Franciscan monastery.
Pope John Paul II forgave his would-be assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca, in 1981 and visited him in his prison cell after the pontiff had recovered from his wounds. Documents recently released from the Stasi, the former East German spy agency, show that the KGB and the Kremlin were in fact the ones behind the plot to kill the pope. They had feared that his influence on Solidarity and the Polish people was so great that he could and would eventually become a catalyst to undermine the fifty years of imposed Soviet domination. If Communist Poland fell to democracy, then the entire Warsaw Pact was in danger. Little did they know that the entire Soviet Union would itself soon disintegrate.
Agca, a twenty-three-year-old Turk, was used by the Bulgarian branch of the KGB (according to a 2006 Italian parliamentary commission) to assassinate Pope John Paul II. On May 13, 1981 (the anniversary day of an apparition of the Virgin Mary which appeared to three children in Fatima, Portugal in 1917), he came to Saint Peter’s Square in Rome and blended into the audience of 20,000 during a regular outdoor papal address. After the talk, as the pope was being slowly driven through the crowd in a white car (affectionately called the Popemobile), Agca fired four shots from his 9-mm pistol from a distance of fifteen feet and into the pope.
Despite nearly fatal wounds, the pontiff (pope) survived the shooting. From his hospital bed he told the press that he forgave Agca. After recovering from his surgery and fully recuperating, the victim visited his would-be assassin in prison. He went into the cell where Agca was incarcerated and personally expressed words of forgiveness. Agca never converted to Catholicism, but the pope kept contact with his family, especially after he was deported to Turkey to fulfill a prison sentence he had escaped from prior to the papal shooting.
Pope John Paul II, like Maria Goretti, showed the world that forgiveness is possible.