Peace involves a mutual surrender on all sides. In marriages, spouses must learn to let go of hurt and pain, and embrace a mutual communion in which the past is surrendered for the sake of the future. In so many relationships, we must be available to that indwelling of the Holy Spirit which inspires a conversion in which the past can be forgotten for the profound possibility of grace. Thus, the path to cultivating happiness lies precisely within a habit of conversion, an art of perfect self-forgetting.

But does such radical forgiveness seem to exclude the demands of justice? Do we ignore transgressions for a kind of overly optimistic utopia that buries hurts under layers of positive thinking? By no means. For justice to truly flourish, it must be set free from the constraints of the ego. For people to live in harmony, they must be first liberated from the captivity and illusions of their individual perspective.

When Jesus teaches us the Our Father, inviting us to forgive others as we have been forgiven, he is not abolishing courts, trials, lawyers, or the need for laws and justice. Rather, he is proposing a kind of interior freedom which allows society and its systems to operate with a renewed sense of integrity and equilibrium. What ultimately thwarts justice and the right ordering of society is the deep disorders of the human heart which keep us in bondage to sin. The good news of Jesus Christ is that our Lord sets us free from such prisons.

As each generation learns this spiritual freedom in Jesus Christ, society is able to flourish in ways that transcend human intentionality. Perfect self-forgetting informs humility, and humility leads to a society where leaders seek to serve and people learn to put the concerns of others before themselves. As the famous line of John F. Kennedy goes, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” A culture of forgiveness makes such radical service possible because it is sin which keeps us from such noble ideals.

That is why in order to serve, we must embrace forgiveness. Forgiveness by God forms the foundation of our personal interior renewal and forgiveness of each other forms the foundation for a greater society. That is why we must say with confidence, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”