Up to seventy times seven?

Allow me to go back in time by giving you a short episode in my life that has been one of the most significant in my spiritual journey.

If you have already had the opportunity to read some of my previous chronicles, you will probably remember that at the very beginning of my conversion, a mysterious voice resounded in my heart for the third consecutive time in three weeks. This inner voice was urging me to open the Bible that my mother had given me as a gift the previous year. I understood then that I would find the answers to my many questions about why we exist, about the meaning of our suffering and death, etc.

From the moment I finally agreed to open my Bible, at the very beginning of the New Testament, when I came home from work and after visiting my sick father in the hospital, I read passionately for an hour. My heart was gradually impregnated with this divine light that emanated from every word of wisdom that I savoured and meditated for my greatest benefit. My faith was thus reborn from its ashes after ten years of dissolute life and without reference to God.

Every week, I chose to live a virtue or to follow a specific action recommended by the Divine Master in the Gospels. This salutary practice stimulated me and gave me the strength to abandon certain mundane and reproachful habits, which I had acquired since I had been away from religious practice at the age of fourteen. The first week, for example, I tried to practice patience in adversity; the second week, service to my co‐workers; the third week, corporal or spiritual charity towards my neighbour; and so on. All these efforts seemed to bring me closer and closer to God and, although I was not quite aware of it, they were also having a positive impact on 1 those around me.

One evening, after two months of assiduous reading, I came across the surprising words that the apostle Peter addressed to Jesus, asking him how many times he should forgive: “Up to seven times, Lord?” And Jesus replied, “I do not say to you up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21–22). Jesus’ unexpected response suddenly provoked an immediate reaction of total incomprehension in me! “Lord,” I said, “what you are asking is not possible! How can you ask this of us? Peter went even further than most of us by saying ‘seven times.’ It doesn’t make any sense! Who among us is able to forgive his neighbour so many times?” And I continued my inner dialogue by telling him that after having forgiven an enemy two or three times, that should be enough, right? Doesn’t that encourage him to abuse our kindness and mercy even more?

I was hoping for an answer from Jesus, but there was no response. No inspiration, no words were coming up in my heart. Then suddenly images began to appear in my mind. Images from my past life. Images of the many sins I had committed against God’s will, without ever asking forgiveness or correcting myself. As I saw each of these images, my heart was breaking and I began to cry bitterly. I was devastated to see how many times I had offended and wounded his paternal heart. After each one of the grave faults committed flashed before my mind, God simultaneously showed me how they had made him suffer deeply. He kept silent before my wrongdoings, but in the hope that one day, I would return to Him.

This mysterious event, difficult to describe because it was so unusual, lasted about an hour. An hour filled with tears and heartbreaking remorse. An hour of regret and awareness like I had never experienced before. No, I had never cried so much, and for such a long time in my life. And every time a new image came to mind, I would lament to him, “Forgive me, Lord! Forgive me, my God!” And when this hour of torment—or rather, of inner torture—was over, I suddenly felt God’s mercy pouring down abundantly into my poor broken heart, like a refreshing and soothing spring. It seemed to me that at that very moment God was healing my bruised and contrite heart by saying to me, “I forgive you all these faults, every single one of them. They had deeply wounded me because I am and always will be your Father and your Creator.”

At that very moment, I started crying again for an hour! This time, however, I cried with joy. Sadness and remorse of conscience no longer overwhelmed my heart. I found it difficult to hold back my cries of praise and gratitude before such an effusion of graces, love, and mercy! Reflecting later on this event that had totally drained all my energies, I understood that God had just forgiven me “seventy times seven times,” exactly as he wants us to forgive our neighbour, without counting the number of times we had previously forgiven that person. This experience of God’s mercy for me would now help me understand how short sighted my human and limited forgiveness was compared to the kind of unlimited forgiveness that God requires of all his children.

After this unforgettable spiritual experience, I firmly decided to practice unlimited forgiveness towards everyone, but especially during the coming week. “Lord,” I said to him, “give me opportunities to forgive this week, and I promise to forgive each time, just as you forgave me. This will be the week of forgiveness!” I was so etermined that I thought I was invincible, armoured by this disturbing and life‐ iving spiritual experience. But I was in for a surprise!

The Lord wanted to teach me another important lesson during this week of hard testing: despite my goodwill and determination, I could never succeed in forgiving so many times without His grace, because the forgiveness that God asks of us is a divine, not a human forgiveness! In fact, it seemed as if the Lord had carefully planned all kinds of obstacles on my path to test me. Among other things, I had to forgive a co‐worker who had humiliated me in front of my other co‐workers because I had not followed the instructions he had given me for the creation of a commercial advertisement.

Now that my pride boiled over, I decided to counter‐attack by telling him in an aggressive way to create his own ad. But when I got to my office, a little voice inside me said, “Forgiveness week!” Oh, dear! I should not have made that promise to the Lord! But about fifteen minutes later, after much hesitation and reflection, I decided to crush my human pride and went back to my confrere’s office taking up again the ad I had created, and I asked his forgiveness for making a big fuss about it in front of everyone. This was a shocking experience for the twenty or so people present in the commercial advertising department! You could hear a pin drop.

That evening, I returned home and my older brother asked my permission to take my van to go grocery shopping, as his car was not working. I finally accepted, but not without reluctance, because I was still very attached to my beautiful van covered with shag carpeting inside, with my alloy wheels, my high‐performance audio system, and so on.

My brother left the house but came back after only ten minutes with a pitiful look on his face. He confided to me that there was no more space left in the Mall’s outdoor parking lot. He decided to go to the underground parking lot. The problem was that he saw a sign at the entrance to the parking lot warning drivers of the maximum height allowed. And my poor brother drove on despite the warning, thinking that everything would be okay. As a result, the roof of my van was scraped to the core, my roof window shattered to pieces and my antenna was torn off. My reaction was immediate! All sorts of expressions of contempt and insults came out of my mouth for his lack of intelligence and judgement. Lucky for him that I had stopped swearing a few months ago!

My brother had humbly sat down at the table and was now reading his daily newspaper. Meanwhile, I was walking frantically between the living room and the kitchen, and I was raging inside. And after a few minutes, I can still hear the little voice inside me saying, “Forgiveness Week.” “Oh no! Not this time!” I said, “I will never forgive him for his stupidity!” And I was walking fast and couldn’t contain my frustration. But after about twenty minutes, I was still thinking about the promise I had made to the Lord earlier in the week. It kept coming back to my mind. So I decided once again to crush my self‐esteem and proceeded towards my brother with renewed serenity.

I then moved closer to him and put the keys of the van on the table, saying, “I forgive you. I also apologize for the aggressive and contemptuous remarks I made to you. Here are the keys to my car. Whenever you want to use it, feel free to do so. It’s mine as well as yours, and you can use it anytime in the future.” My brother looked at me in amazement. He couldn’t understand what was happening. And he said to me, “What the heck is happening with you? You’ve changed so much in the past two months.” Imagine! He had noticed that I had changed, and no one knew that I was reading my Bible regularly.

And my first reaction was to ask him if he thought I had changed for the better or for the worse? He replied, “For the better, of course.” So I decided to tell him that I started reading the Bible that our mom gave us on our birthdays the year before. I can still hear the words echoing out of his mouth, “Oh no! Don’t tell me you’ve started reading the Bible!” But I patiently explained to him how this book had answered all my questions, how it was full of wisdom, and how God reveals to us the depth of his love for each one of us. Poor brother! He had to listen to me for 20 minutes non‐stop. But when I saw his facial expression, I told him, “I won’t tire you with this anymore, but at least you’ll know why I’ve changed!”

Three weeks later, my brother started reading his Bible, not so much because of the words I had told him, but because of my example of Christian living! I felt great joy in my heart. A few weeks later, he confirmed to me that he had learned a lot, but that he still had many questions. And that is when we began our faith journey together in Jesus Christ.

Forty years later, my brother still actively lives his Catholic faith. I had the joy of blessing his wedding thirteen years after his conversion. And I still remember when he would leave during my visits to go and pray with his two children for about fifteen minutes before bedtime. Even today, not only does he still practice his faith with his wife, but both are actively involved as volunteers in visiting the sick and serving the needy. I give thanks to God for such a great gift. All this beautiful story began through forgiveness!

Dear reader, you have no doubt experienced this many times in your lives: divine forgiveness transcends human forgiveness infinitely, for it allows us to turn the page completely on the offences of our neighbour and to find supernatural peace in the depths of our being. But let us not forget that we must first renounce our human pride. Without this act of humility based on a life permeated by prayer and the desire to do God’s will, forgiveness remains human and is limited to seven times at most. But divine forgiveness is capable of much more since it is based on the presence of the Spirit of the Father and of the Son living within us. Only then can we learn to forgive up to seventy times seven, as Jesus asks of us!

To succeed in forgiving divinely and without calculation, we must often recite the beautiful prayer of the Our Father, especially when we have difficulty in forgiving, insisting especially on the last words: “Forgive us as we also forgive those who have offended us.”

And when the day comes for us to meet God face to face, we will no longer fear God’s judgement, for we will be able to look Jesus straight in the eye and say to him, “Lord, I am but a poor sinner. But because I have always beseeched you to help me forgive those who have offended me, I have been able to forgive their offences seventy times seven.” And the door of Jesus’ sacred heart will be opened wide for us, for the Word of God cannot lie: “For the judgement is without mercy on him who has not shown mercy, but mercy is greater than judgement.” (James 2:13)

Thank you, Lord, for these comforting words, despite our limitations and our difficulties in forgiving without hesitation!


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