A Catholic Convert in Ottawa

Posts Tagged ‘forgiveness

An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

We may not like everything others do, but when their words and actions generally show that they care for us and want the best for us, loving someone who loves us isn’t much of a challenge.

Loving our enemies, on the other hand…

We may have this idea that Christians love everyone. We’re supposed to, since all people—regardless of their faith (or lack of faith) or the fact that they may have done awful things in their lives—are children of God. But if we’re honest with ourselves, there are people we dislike. People whose attitudes rub us the wrong way. People who use us to move ahead in their careers or betray a confidence or lie, yet aren’t concerned about the effects of their actions.

Jesus told us to love them anyway:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:43-45*)

“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your father is merciful.” (Luke 6:35-36)

We might be tempted to lash out at those who hurt us by confronting them with angry words, speaking harshly about them to others, or looking for a way to make them “pay” for what they’ve done. But we’re called to move past those angry feelings, as the apostle Paul pointed out in Romans 12:19, 21:

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”. . . Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

We too have our moments when we’re selfish and ungrateful, when we don’t worry enough about the consequences of what we say and do, when we hurt others. If we would want them to show us mercy, shouldn’t we do the same? If the angry feelings linger, shouldn’t we pray to reach that point where we forgive those who hurt us? We won’t forget what happened, and we may struggle to trust them again, but we’re freed from being consumed by hate or bitterness or self-pity.

To move away from the anger and hurt and toward forgiveness and mercy, may we remember the fact that we’d want to be forgiven if we hurt others—and remember all that God has forgiven us.

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, 2nd Catholic Edition.)

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Some say that love is a feeling and others, that it’s a decision. A case can be made for both points of view.

We love our parents, spouse, children, and other relatives and our close friends almost without thinking about it—we just know that we love them. If asked why, we could probably list some good reasons.

But when our family or friends prove to be only human, hurting us through their words or actions, love may become a choice.

In our society, so much seems disposable—plates and cutlery, cameras, cell phones, and even relationships. It’s easier to cut ties than to make an effort to find out why others acted as they did and to work at forgiving them and moving forward. It’s easier to forget that we, too, are only human and make mistakes we’d want others to forgive.

Think about these words of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7*:

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Before we decide to end a friendship, distance ourselves from relatives, or close the book on a marriage, we could ask ourselves whether we’ve lived up to this standard. Have we always been patient and kind? Have we been irritable or resentful? Have we tried to make amends for our mistakes or reconcile with others, or have we decided the effort or possible pain wasn’t worth it?

Young children form and end friendships easily and often, but as adults, we can model for our children and youth just what forgiveness and love could look like.

When we think about loving our neighbour as ourselves, we may think about giving to charities that help strangers here and abroad. Maybe it’s time that, when we think of our neighbour, we think about the cousin we stopped talking to; the friend we might unfriend on Facebook; or the sibling, parent or spouse whose actions left us hurt—and remember that we’re called to “Make love [our] aim” (1 Corinthians 14:1). We can choose to forgive and to love.

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

Have mercy on me
You treat me so bad I’m in misery
It’s breaking my heart, can’t you see
Baby, baby have mercy on me

~ “Have Mercy,” The Judds

The world’s major religions and philosophies feature some version of the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” On the Scarboro Missions website, a poster illustrating this truth refers us to Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:12*:

“So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.”

Jesus said these words during his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), when he told us, among other things, to be reconciled to those we’re angry with, to avoid retaliation, and to love our enemies. At that time, he gave us the Our Father, where he taught us to ask that God would “forgive us our trespasses / As we forgive those who trespass against us” (6:12). Jesus also warned us about the consequences of failing to forgive:

“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (6:14-15)

We may find it hard to forgive, whether we’re dealing with slights against us (a thoughtless or an unkind comment about our appearance, our hopes, our beliefs, our vocation; the lack of an invite to a social event) or deep hurt caused by a friend, a family member or our spouse.

God knows that we struggle with mercy and forgiveness, but he also knows that holding onto hurt, anger and bitterness can consume us. He invites us to ask his forgiveness for our thoughts, words and actions through the sacrament of reconciliation and to come to him for comfort and healing.

The next time we say “Kyrie, eleison” or “Lord, have mercy” at Mass, may we call to mind the times we have failed to show mercy and forgive—and ask God to forgive and heal us.

Let this be the pattern for all men when they practice mercy: show mercy to others in the same way, with the same generosity, with the same promptness, as you want others to show mercy to you.

~ St. Peter Chrysologus, quoted in “Celebrate July 2015,” Catholic Digest, June / July / August 2015

(*Scripture quotes and references taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

Reading Psalm 32* the other day reminded me of the value of confession.

The psalmist tells us how he suffered under the weight of his sin:

When I declared not my sin, my body wasted away

through my groaning all day long. (v. 3)

And then he tells of God’s forgiveness when he confessed his sin:

I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity;

I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”;

then you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah (v. 5)

Not for nothing is Psalm 32 subtitled “The Joy of Forgiveness” in the Revised Standard Version:

Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. (v. 1)

So if we know that our sins will weigh on us, that God will forgive us when we repent of and confess them, and that his forgiveness will bring us joy, why wouldn’t we want to receive the sacrament of reconciliation more often?

The second precept of the Church,“You shall confess your sins at least once a year,” obliges us to receive the sacrament. But knowing that (as s. 2042 of the Catechism notes) reconciliation prepares us to receive the Eucharist, why would we limit ourselves to having our confession heard only once a year?

Why not take advantage of our parish’s regular scheduled times for reconciliation? Or if these just don’t fit into our schedule, why not find a church near our workplace or school or errand stops that offers a reconciliation time that does work?

If we think of reconciliation as something just for Lent, something we have to get through, or even something to dread, we’re forgetting about the joy of being forgiven and having a weight lifted from our shoulders, be it large or small. We’re forgetting that the priest isn’t there to judge us but to help us be reconciled to God.

I pray that we would make time for reconciliation not only during Lent, but also at other times of the year so that we may know the joy of God’s forgiveness and draw closer to him.

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

Familiar with the definition of insanity—the one where a person does the same thing over and over and yet expects a different result?

I’ve been living it out on a small scale lately.

Three times I’ve ordered the same dish from a restaurant I liked. The first time, the food was so spicy it made my lips burn and upset my stomach. The second time, there were few vegetables and the protein looked like it had seen better days. And the third time was not the charm. With heartburn on the horizon, I swore off visiting this restaurant again. Three strikes, and it’s out.

Thankfully, God doesn’t work on a “three strikes” rule. He gives us second, third and fourth chances, and many more. God’s way is the definition not of insanity, but of compassion.

When we make poor choices—acting out of anger, frustration, loneliness, and so on—he offers us forgiveness, if only we’ll ask for it.

sleepy kitties

Loki let Skittles snuggle up to him, even though Skittles often nipped at him, pestering him to play. That’s forgiveness.

When we say hurtful things and think unkind thoughts, forgiveness is ours for the asking.

When we ignore the right path and choose our own, we can still seek his forgiveness.

And even though we come to him in need over and over again, he keeps offering his love and mercy and compassion.

Think about Peter’s question about forgiveness in Matthew 18:21-22*:

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.”

This is the mercy God offers us. The kind of mercy we need to extend to our children, spouse, family, friends, and neighbours.

I pray that we would give thanks for the love and mercy and compassion God shows us, and that we would grow in these qualities and in our capacity for showing them to others.

The LORD passed before [Moses], and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy and faithfulness . . . .”

~ Exodus 34:6

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

 

And maybe forgiveness will ask us to call

Someone we love, someone we’ve lost

For reasons we can’t quite recall

Maybe this Christmas

~ “Maybe This Christmas” by Ron Sexsmith

My husband’s family is close. Not only do they seem to get along well, but also most of the cousins on both sides live just a short drive from one another. It seems strange to me.

For one thing, as a military family, we didn’t always have relatives living close by. But mainly it’s because people in my family seem quick to stop speaking to one another. Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of which relatives are on the outs and whether it’s all right to share news with certain family members.

It saddens me that my relatives can’t be part of one another’s lives, the more so as they get older and their health isn’t what it was, and as the holidays come and another year draws to a close with no reconciliation in sight.

But I think we can be inspired by the example of people like Nelson Mandela, who encouraged forgiveness and reconciliation among the people of his country, and take some advice from this quote by G. K. Chesterton, which appeared in the calendar in November’s issue of Catholic Digest:

Love means to love that which is unlovable, or it is no virtue at all; forgiving means to pardon that which is unpardonable, or it is no virtue at all.

With parish reconciliation services being held during Advent, we have the opportunity to ask God’s forgiveness for our failure to forgive others. We can pray for healing and restored family ties. And maybe this is the year we ask someone to forgive us or try mending fences with a phone call, a message on Facebook, a Christmas card. What a gift for that person—and for us.

For those of us with estrangements in our families, I pray that this would be the time we’d ask for and extend forgiveness, whether or not it’s the first time we’ve reached out.

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.”

~ Matthew 18:21-22*

(*Scripture quote taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

As a child, I looked forward to and dreaded receiving report cards: I appreciated my teachers’ positive comments but always feared my grades wouldn’t be what I hoped.

As a parent, I also have mixed feelings about report card day: I hope that my son’s grades will show improvement where it was needed and worry that they won’t.

Yesterday was report card day. The main thing I noticed was that my son’s teachers would like him to improve his work habits so that he can achieve his full potential.

This morning, I was thinking about how common report cards are in our society: workplace performance reviews, ratings of the financial situation of companies and countries, reviews of politicians’ achievements during their time in office, restaurant inspections that result in a passing or failing grade, critiques of the entertainment value of new movies or CDs. But there are no report cards to tell us how we’re doing as Christians.

If we were to assess ourselves, would we find ourselves earning a “Good,” “Satisfactory” or “Needs Improvement” for the quality of our prayer life; the love we show toward others; our obedience to God’s will; or the wise use of our talents, spiritual gifts, and resources? Are we “progressing well”?

Thankfully, we aren’t graded in this way. We know the bar is set high—and, being human, an A+ is far out of our reach. But we also know we have a merciful and loving God who wants us to strive to be more like Christ and come to him for forgiveness and reconciliation when we know we’ve failed.

When I was going through RCIA, I knew I would see the priest for reconciliation before I was received into the Church. Doing some research to learn more about reconciliation, I came across information on how to do an examination of conscience on a daily basis and before going to confession.

BeginningCatholic.com offers advice on conducting a daily examination of conscience. We think about our day—the ways God has blessed us, as well as our faults—and we ask God for his forgiveness and for his help in doing better the next day. More information on daily examinations of conscience is provided at Catholic.net.

BeginningCatholic.com also features “A Detailed Catholic Examination of Conscience” we can use before reconciliation. Following the Ten Commandments (see ss. 2084 to 2557 in the Catechism) and the precepts of the Church (see ss. 2041 to 2043 in the Catechism), this examination can help us reflect on our behaviour and determine how we can improve.

May we use such times of prayer and reflection to help us (as the site suggests) “frame the day in prayer” and “turn to God in the fabric of everyday life.”

Though the power of Omnipotence had been his to wield at that moment, he had too much of its diviner property of Mercy in his breast, to have turned one feather’s weight of it against her.

– Charles Dickens, The Cricket on the Hearth

When children think of mercy, they might think of the game where one person tries to bend another’s wrists back until he or she cries, “Mercy!”

As adults, we know mercy is a gift that we don’t deserve but that God gives us out of love. The Catechism tells us in s. 270 that “God reveals his fatherly omnipotence…by his infinite mercy, for he displays his power at its height by freely forgiving sins.”

With the events of Holy Week still fresh in our minds, God’s love for and mercy toward us should be as plain as day. But as the Redemptorist priest speaking at my parish’s mission said, people may go to confession and receive absolution from a priest and yet find it hard to believe God could actually forgive them.

Since this will be the first Sunday after Easter, Catholics will mark Divine Mercy Sunday. If you are new to the Catholic Church, you can learn more by reading Divine Mercy in My Soul: Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska and visiting The Divine Mercy Message from the Marians of the Immaculate Conception website.

As the site tells us, the message “is that God loves us—all of us. And, he wants us to recognize that His mercy is greater than our sins, so that we will call upon Him with trust, receive His mercy, and let it flow through us to others.”

We need to grasp that truth: our sins may be great, but God’s mercy is greater. We can place our trust in God, who has told us (see Exodus 34:6) and shown us that he is merciful. And we in turn can show that mercy to others.

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Now that the Church has selected a new pope, media attention has turned to the public’s opinion on the choice of Pope Francis and on what his priorities should be.

I’ve read a number of articles stating that many people, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, would like to see the Church allow female priests, end celibacy for priests, expand the role of the laity, and so on. In short, they’d like to “modernize” the Church.

I think these articles miss an important point: as Christians, we’re not called to adapt to the ways of the world but to transform ourselves according to God’s will, as the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 12:2*:

Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

To learn God’s will for our lives, we need to spend time talking and, even more importantly, listening to God in times of prayer, following the example Jesus gave us during his earthly ministry. We also need to spend time reading God’s word to learn what he expects of us. In Micah 6:8, we are told this:

He has showed you, O man, what is good;

and what does the LORD require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,

and to walk humbly with your God?

In the Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew 5-7), Jesus tells us about God’s will on such topics as charitable giving, prayer, and forgiveness. And in Mark 12:29-31, he tells us what the most important commandments are:

Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Scripture tells us that we need to transform our lives by loving God, by acting in more loving ways toward our family members and our neighbours (in the broadest sense of the word), by giving to those in need at home and abroad, by modelling true forgiveness, and by working for social justice. These are areas where our society is often sadly lacking.

And if we do these things, the Church can teach “modern” society so much through the way we its members live.

*Quotes from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition


Food for Thought

(Y)ou do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that.” ~ James 4:14-15

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