Yesterday I commented on S. Cyprian’s observations about the need for regular Holy Communion, and the consequent need for regular confession to ensure that our souls were always prepared to receive so great a Sacrament.
The passage I was referring to actually went on beyond that; but because it raised another issue, I thought I’d consider it separately. It continued :
After this we entreat for our sins, saying Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. After the supply of food, pardon of sin is also asked for.
How necessary, how provident, how salutary are we reminded that we are sinners, since we have to beg for forgiveness, and while we ask for God’s pardon, we are reminded of our own consciousness of guilt ! Just in case anyone should think himself innocent and, by thus exalting himself, should more utterly perish, he is taught and instructed that he sins every day, since he is commanded to pray daily for forgiveness.
This is what John warns us in his epistle: If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us; but if we confess our sins, the Lord is faithful and just and will forgive us. In his epistle he combines two things, both that we ought to beg for mercy because of our sins and that we will receive forgiveness when we ask for it. This is why he says that the Lord is faithful to forgive sins, keeping faith with what he promised; because he who taught us to pray for our debts and sins has promised that his fatherly mercy and pardon will follow.
As S. Philip Neri points out, when we say ‘Forgive us . . . as we forgive’ we may well be bringing down horrible vengeance upon ourselves : because which of us really forgives, truly, properly, and completely - and if we get what we pray for, what hope is there for any of us ?
S. Cyprian continues, in today's Second Reading :
Christ has clearly added a law here, binding us to a definite condition, that we should ask for our debts to be forgiven us only as much as we ourselves forgive our debtors, knowing that we cannot obtain what we seek in respect of our own sins unless we ourselves have acted in exactly the same way to those who have sinned against us. This is why he says in another place: By whatever standard you measure, by that standard will you too be measured. And the servant who had all his debt forgiven him by his master but would not forgive his fellow-servant was cast into prison: because he would not forgive his fellow-servant, he lost the indulgence that his master had granted him.
And Christ makes this point even more strongly in his teaching: When you stand up to pray, he says, if you have anything against anyone, forgive it, so that your Father who is in heaven may forgive your sins. But if you do not forgive, nor will your Father in heaven forgive you. On the day of judgement there are no possible excuses: you will be judged according to your own sentence, and whatever you have inflicted, that is what you will suffer.
We need to remember always that Our Blessed Lord offers us complete forgiveness; but that if we are to receive that, we must also offer it to others : and the best way of doing that is to ensure that we always remember our own sinfulness - and there is no better way of doing that than by regular examination of conscience, and frequent use of the sacrament of Penance.
At the same time, let us pray frequently not only that we may be allowed to judge others in accordance with the way in which God, in His love, judges us; but also for those others, that their sins may be forgiven, so that ours may be also, that we may all be united with God in Heaven at the last.