Bringing you the "Good News" of Jesus Christ and His Church While PROMOTING CATHOLIC Apologetic Support groups loyal to the Holy Father and Church's magisterium
Home About
What's New? Resources The Church Family Life Mass and
Ask A Catholic
Knowledge base
AskACatholic Disclaimer
Search the
AskACatholic Database
Donate and
Support our work
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
New Questions
Cool Catholic Videos
About Saints
Disciplines & Practices for distinct Church seasons
Purgatory and Indulgences
About the Holy Mass
About Mary
Searching and Confused
Contemplating becoming a Catholic or Coming home
Homosexual and Gender Issues
Life and Family
No Salvation Outside the Church
Sacred Scripture
non-Catholic Cults
Justification and Salvation
The Pope and Papacy
The Sacraments
Relationships and Marriage situations
Specific people, organizations and events
Doctrine and Teachings
Specific Practices
Church Internals
Church History

Mark Humphrey, Mike's younger brother wrote:
Hi guys, This is one visitor we don't want to treat with any respect at all. Who else could it be: My brother, Mark :) Now let me put on my serious hat: <kerplunk>

Here is my question:

In the "Our Father", it says:

"Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."

When we sin against a perfect God, it takes a perfection to forgive that sin.

  • So why would I ask God to forgive, as I forgive, when as an imperfect creature, the best I can do is forgive imperfectly?

Thank you for your time.


Yours — Someone who has way too much time on his hands.

  { So why would I ask God to forgive, as I forgive, when the best I can do is forgive imperfectly? }

Mike replied:

Dear Someone who has way too much time on his hands,

Thanks for the question.

You wrote:
When we sin against a perfect God, it takes a perfection to forgive that sin.

You bring up a point that not many non-Catholic Christians ponder about. Part of the reason is they do not distinguish between moral and venal sin. (1 John 5:16) For a Catholic, we meet That Perfection in Confession. That Perfection is Christ in Fr Tom, in Fr. Larry and in Fr. John. When we hear the words of Fr. Tom, Fr. Larry or Fr. John, they may sound like their words, but it is actually Christ speaking through their bodies ontologically. Ontology has to do with the study of being.

If your question is from a philosophical view, which I think it is, then I would agree, there is a difference:

Christ is 100% {God - Divine} and 100% Man. We are 100% Man but we only partake in Divine nature through the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist. So it seems we have an unequal playing field. But this is why God became incarnate for mankind; so that an imperfect man, you, could go to another imperfect man, a priest, designated by God by divine calling, Holy Orders, and have your sins forgiven by [God/Christ] Himself. Jesus' acts of Incarnation and Redemption are acts of mercy, for all mankind who avails themselves of the Lord.

I would call it the "Deal of a life time!"

You wrote:
"Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us."

I thought I would throw in what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says on the portion of the Our Father you have commented on. It may help us in understanding the mind of the Church, especially in two key places:

V. "And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us"

2838 This petition is astonishing. If it consisted only of the first phrase,
"And forgive us our trespasses," it might have been included, implicitly, in the first three petitions of the Lord's Prayer, since Christ's sacrifice is "that sins may be forgiven." But, according to the second phrase, our petition will not be heard unless we have first met a strict requirement. Our petition looks to the future, but our response must come first, for the two parts are joined by the single word "as."

And forgive us our trespasses . . .

2839 With bold confidence, we began praying to our Father. In begging him that his name be hallowed, we were in fact asking him that we ourselves might be always made more holy. But though we are clothed with the baptismal garment, we do not cease to sin, to turn away from God. Now, in this new petition, we return to him like the prodigal son and, like the tax collector, recognize that we are sinners before him. Our petition begins with a "confession" of our wretchedness and his mercy. Our hope is firm because, in his Son, "we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." We find the efficacious and undoubted sign of his forgiveness in the sacraments of his Church.

2840 Now - and this is daunting - this outpouring of mercy cannot penetrate our hearts as long as we have not forgiven those who have trespassed against us. Love, like the Body of Christ, is indivisible; we cannot love the God we cannot see if we do not love the brother or sister we do see. In refusing to forgive our brothers and sisters, our hearts are closed and their hardness makes them impervious to the Father's merciful love; but in confessing our sins, our hearts are opened to his grace.

2841 This petition is so important that it is the only one to which the Lord returns and which he develops explicitly in the Sermon on the Mount. This crucial requirement of the covenant mystery is impossible for man. But "with God all things are possible." . . . as we forgive those who trespass against us

2842 This "as" is not unique in Jesus' teaching: "You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect"; "Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful"; "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another." It is impossible to keep the Lord's commandment by imitating the divine model from outside; there has to be a vital participation, coming from the depths of the heart, in the holiness and the mercy and the love of our God. Only the Spirit by whom we live can make "ours" the same mind that was in Christ Jesus. Then the unity of forgiveness becomes possible and we find ourselves "forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave" us.

2843 Thus the Lord's words on forgiveness, the love that loves to the end, become a living reality. The parable of the merciless servant, which crowns the Lord's teaching on ecclesial communion, ends with these words: "So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart." It is there, in fact, "in the depths of the heart," that everything is bound and loosed. It is not in our power not to feel or to forget an offense; but the heart that offers itself to the Holy Spirit turns injury into compassion and purifies the memory in transforming the hurt into intercession.

You wrote:
So why would I ask God to forgive, as I forgive, when as an imperfect creature, the best I can do is forgive imperfectly?

Because you are not dumb . . . most of the time . . . and know a good deal when you see it.

The deal: Forgive all friends and enemies who have hurt and injured you, past and present, and Our Blessed Lord through His priesthood will forgive you of your many sins. : )

Side note:
While we are on the related issue of having perfect and imperfect contrition for our sins, it should be noted that for mortal sins.....

(1) The sin must be of a grave matter
(2) one must have adequate knowledge, and
(3) one must commit it with deliberate consent (CCC 1857–1859).

  • Inside Confession, an imperfect contrition will do.
  • Outside of Confession, like for our Protestant brethren, it will not.

Under normal circumstances, for a mortal sin to be forgiven, it must be confessed in the Sacrament of Penance, but what happens if confession to God through a priest is impossible —
if, for instance, one is in danger of dying?

Provided a person in such a situation has:

  • perfect contrition for his mortal sin
  • resolves not to sin again, and
  • resolves to receive sacramental Confession as soon as possible

their mortal sin will be forgiven.

Kudos to Catholic Answers for assistance. I Hope this answers your question Mark.

If not, one of my other apologist friends can, and usually do, follow-up on questions. Over the years, I've been very impressed with the quality of their answers.

When we need some pastoral help, local priest-friends have been willing to put in their two cents in as well.

Take care ugly, and come back if you have any other questions.

Tell the kids I said HI!

Mike, aka Uncle Michael

Mary Ann replied:

Dear Mark,

Your brother's answer was great.

  • How can you beat the Catechism?

But there is one thing I would like to isolate, because I think it was part of your question. I think you meant also to include the meaning "in the same way as" or "same degree" in the word "as" —
in other words, how can we forgive sins of each other in the same way God forgives us.
Our forgiveness is imperfect, His is perfect.

The short answer is, "We can't." Not on our own but we enter Christ's perfect prayer for forgiveness, which He has graciously made ours by Baptism, giving us His Holy Spirit who prays within us.

Every prayer and act we do as baptized Christians is joined to the prayer and act of Christ the High Priest. So if we rely on the grace of Christ, we will be able to become more and more like Him in our forgiveness. In the meantime, by relying on the grace of Christ, by desiring to forgive as God forgives, we are, in our will, already doing it in essence. We are deciding to let God's power of forgiveness live in us. It hurts like h_ _ _ sometimes, but as a helper in Reconciliation,
(I help post-abortive people prepare for the Sacrament), I help people not only forgive others, but learn to accept God's forgiveness for themselves, and to do it thoroughly, i.e. to forgive themselves.

Sometimes pride keeps us from forgiving ourselves in the same way as God forgives us. We would really rather be in control through shame and self-punishment. It can be harder to let go of our own sins, than those of others. And sometimes I think we hold on to others' sins against us, because they are easier to face and bear than our own, and they provide a convenient way to avoid the pain of seeing ourselves. So it all comes down to what Mike and the Catechism say about mercy. We don't earn forgiveness, even by the quality of our forgiveness.

We just say, Yes, to mercy.

Mary Ann

Richard replied:

Mark has a real point.

This prayer has a hook to it, a condition that perhaps we can't fulfill.

I could quibble with the idea that as imperfect creatures, we could *only* forgive imperfectly. After all, we aren't operating on our own unaided strength, but do have divine assistance. Our Lord wouldn't give us an assignment that's beyond the strength He gives.

When we're friends of God, friends of Jesus Christ, we are redeemed, and this redemption is not just an external imputation of righteousness (as in Luther's somewhat exaggerated expression: "snow on a dunghill"), but it is also a change that sanctifies us interiorly. Our Lord lives in us:
He makes us "sharers of the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4) and strengthens our good acts with the supernatural virtues He places in us. He enables us to perform acts that are truly virtuous and whole. He empowers us to forgive fully with the help of His mercy.

We're called to do that, and occasionally we do; but alas, often we don't. We often don't cooperate fully with divine grace; we don't live up to the condition in that prayer, and yet we're stuck praying it, because that's what Jesus gave us to pray! He's revealing to us what the Father is like:

He is holy, mighty, immortal, and merciful.

We can live that mercy too, toward others, precisely because He is holy, mighty, and immortal.

— RC

Please report any and all typos or grammatical errors.
Suggestions for this web page and the web site can be sent to Mike Humphrey
© 2012 Panoramic Sites
The Early Church Fathers Church Fathers on the Primacy of Peter. The Early Church Fathers on the Catholic Church and the term Catholic. The Early Church Fathers on the importance of the Roman Catholic Church centered in Rome.