Our Father Who Art in Heaven, Hallowed Be Thy Name.
Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done,
On Earth As it Is in Heaven. Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread. Forgive Us Our Trespasses As We Forgive Those
Who Have Trespassed…
by Elizabeth Scalia (a.k.a The Anchoress)
“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us…”
Looking back over our lives. most of us recall moments that make us wince — memories we’d rather keep buried are often bound up in those moments when we have been trespassed against. In fact, the times we have been sinned against are seared so deeply within us that they don’t even require an access of memory to bring them forth; we wear them in our flesh or display them in our guardedness or our sarcasms, or our protective narcissism.
If what is well-fortified within us can rarely be breached, it follows that a trespassing is an invasion at our most insecure and vulnerable point. And because those vulnerabilities are not always obvious, others may not even know the depths to which they have trespassed against us. A tossed-off, jeering remark that may bounce off of one friend might wholly undo another.
Our hurt may not always be obvious to others, but we know in our within ourselves when we have been trespassed against.
Realizing this, you’d suppose our instincts would be toward mindfulness, that we would take care not to purposely or knowingly romp through another’s tender garden, or brusquely invade their sensibilities. Having ourselves been psychologically or spiritually, or even physically plundered, we like to think that we are more sensitive toward others; if we are really deluded, we enjoy a conceit that we actually treat others as we would have them treat us. When we are a bit more honest, though, we acknowledge our ability to create havoc in the lives of others. We know that we trespass against others — going where we ought not — all the time.
We know that yes, everyone has sore spots, slow-healing or chronic wounds they carry with them like awkward packages, and yet our mindlessness abounds. Despite our best intentions, our daily resolves to do better, strike out less, make ourselves behave, we fail. Sometimes — and then spectacularly — it’s because we are caught up in the stress of a moment, but too frequently, we parry forward pointedly, with an intention to nick another.
And intentions matter. Intentions are why we require acts of mercy and forgiveness, both from God and each other.
With our “best” intentions, though we demonstrate that we are truly the children of Eve. Perhaps our earliest ancestor really was a victim of effective marketing and simply bought into the notion that she should “know more” and “be more” but in her actions she brought about the world’s first excuse-making, “wow, I didn’t really mean for that to happen” trespass. And as hers was a trespass against Almighty God, it was a whopper; her excuse, well…God understood her intention, even if she did not.
If Eve’s trespassing was humanity’s first, we know none of us will have our last until we pass from this world and into — if God is merciful — a glorious one.
And we know God is merciful. In the face of a lesser god, Eve’s transgression — her trespass — might have cost her (and us) life, itself. Instead, it cost a sacrifice of God’s own, one that created a path — a way for us to journey back to him. Our forgiving God allows us to stumble and fumble and misstep on our return, asking only that we stay on the narrow but sacramental and holy path, in faith.
His applied mercy allows us, with every confession, to reset and recalibrate before we firmly resolve “with the help of thy grace” to step out anew, and keep to the path. It teaches us that we cannot “make ourselves behave” without grace, and that we will progress no further toward that glory we seek until we too learn to apply mercy upon others.
There is mystery in this, of course. Our God is a God of Paradoxes, and the paradox of applied mercy makes what seems weak to be immensely strong — strong enough to overpower the marauders of our memory, and the invasions of our own worst intentions.
When we fail in that mercy, however, we trespass against the other, and against God, and against ourselves.
That last might be the most heinous trespass, if we allow it to defeat us, and so we must not. Let us therefore make haste, ever-more-frequently, toward the one threshold over which we are never trespassing, the confessional, in order to learn applied mercy at the feet of the Master. When we have learned to apply it, as armor, we will be so changed that to be trespassed against will cause no lasting injury. And to ourselves trespass another will seem like too heavy a task, for heaven.
Elizabeth Scalia is a Benedictine oblate and managing editor of the Catholic Portal at Patheos.com, where she blogs as the Anchoress. She is also a weekly columnist at First Things, featured columnist at The Catholic Answer Magazine, and a regular panelist on the Brooklyn-diocese-produced current events program, In the Arena, seen at NETNY.net.