The Spiritual Works of Mercy guide us as we help our neighbors with their spiritual needs. In doing so, we also help ourselves. Forgiving those who have offended us may be difficult because we do not have God’s limitless mercy and compassion. Jesus teaches us, however, that we can forgive as God forgives if we rely on him to help us show others the mercy of God.

Life is not easy; we humans make mistakes over and over and over. In the Catholic Church, there are always second chances and forgiveness. What did Jesus command us? We must forgive, not seven times, but seventy-seven times (Mt 18:22).

Feb. 14 is the feast day of St. Valentine of Rome, the patron saint of love and happy marriages. A marriage described as happy without an extraordinary amount of effort by both parties is, well, a miracle. It is also God’s plan for us. A happy marriage is one where spouses love to forgive.

Marriage is a sacrament a fount of grace. It is the original cell of the social body, the central social institution of life. Married life may not always feel abundantly full of grace. Couples may fray from the friction of two persons in intimate and constant proximity because they are not-yet-perfect humans who repeatedly make mistakes, often the same ones.

The Gospel of Life demands that we love our neighbor as ourselves; love does no wrong to a neighbor. To forgive as the Lord has forgiven us means we always see the person and not just the fault. We forgive our spouse because underneath the faults, we see the person worthy of love. We forgive because we know we too need people to see us and not just our sins. We learned as children to say sorry. We must learn as adults to really mean our apologies because asking for forgiveness and granting it transforms hearts and lives. And marriages.

Harboring a grudge is like picking at a scab: we never allow the wound to heal. The person who wronged us might be unaware that their actions were harmful and our unwillingness to forgive serves only to hurt us. Leave the scab alone and let the wound heal. Let go of grudges, consider the salve of forgiveness instead.

Being positive with someone you are having a difficult time with is an act of mercy. In building the Kingdom of God, a hardened heart has no place; it is too brittle. The semi-passive decision to let go of a grudge differs from the intentional act of forgiveness. Peace in the world must start with peace in the heart of each man and woman; we must reconcile the cleavage between faith and action, and reconciliation happens when we forgive those who have offended us. Reconciliation occurs faster for those who are slow to anger and quick to forgive.

Pray for the intercession of St. Valentine for those who have wronged you and for the courage to forgive and to ask for forgiveness. Relate to the Lord your need for greater love; and have a happy marriage.

Cato is director of the Office of Life, Justice and Peace for the Archdiocese of Portland. Fr. Libra, pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish, is director of pro-life activities in the archdiocese.