Friday, July 6, 2012

On Forgiveness

After I went to Confession this morning I began to consider forgiveness. As I did, I returned again and again to myself—but I don't mean egotistically. I reflected on the moment when we sin, especially when it's that embarrassing, stupid, and every-time sin. And after we fall into that same sin (time and time again) we tend to get upset with ourselves, feel ashamed, and many other things. For the one who has faith, however, he looks to Christ to forgive him. This in itself is not bad at all.

I then began to wonder: We reach out to be forgiven and we entreat God with sighs and tears. But the truest fruit of that forgiveness (and mercy) is a conversion, a change of heart. But I think that in order for a conversion of heart to occur we also have to allow ourselves to be forgiven as well. If there is a gift that someone gives it must also be received. And how do we receive a gift? With gratitude, of course.

The gift of forgiveness, however, is no mere gift. It is one of the greatest gifts.

We should consider how the Lord sees us when He forgives us: he is like the bridegroom who rejoices in his bride (e.g., Ez 16:6-14, 59-60; Is 54: 5-8). He is the father who lovingly embraces his son (Lk 15:20-23). He is the shepherd who sacrifices himself for his sheep.

But let's reverse the image. How ought the bride, the son, and the sheep feel about themselves?

My friends, it is hard to forgive others at times, even when they're truly sorry. How much harder is it to forgive ourselves!

What I mean is this: we know God loves us and is ready to forgive. We (laymen), sadly, lack the ability to readily forgive sins in our ministry. We can, however, love and forgive others. But how can we really practice this if we're not prepared to love ourselves—to love ourselves as we are loved? There are those who say that there is nothing good in man, but what they are saying is that man is not worth loving. Man is, by his nature, good—our bodies themselves are temples for the Holy Spirit! See that “God formed man to be imperishable—the image of his own nature he made him” (Wis 2:23).
Christ Himself prayed for us even as he trembled at the prospect of death.

In this way if we are to fully receive forgiveness we must learn to love ourselves as God loves us. (Note that I do not say “truly” which would mean “we won't be forgiven unless we love like this.” We need to learn to love in this manner which is why I say “fully”).

God loves us, so he chastises us. We must also chastise ourselves.
God has mercy so we must be merciful with ourselves.
For remember that “you [God] taught your people … that those who are just must be kind” (Wis 12:19). Even kind to ourselves.

As such, the full reception of forgiveness is the reestablishment of a lost or damaged relationship. Something wounded or broke that relationship and love, mercy, and forgiveness want that relationship to be fixed. Yet, at the same time, though we can really want someone to reconcile with us only that person (who betrayed our trust/love/confidence) can complete that reconciliation.

You can see the difference that takes place after someone is forgiven: it is just as when the crippled man walked, the blind man saw, and the mute man spoke. There is a real change. I'm not saying that every time we forgive someone the mountains should shake, but if the person receives your forgiveness and is affected by a your constant love there should be a change in the person. This is what brings that forgiveness to completion—but note that this can be immediate or gradual.
Some journeys and climbs are difficult, but with patience and time we reach the end. So too with our souls and our bad habits--we have to attack them slowly and with patience. Be prepared for a climb.

But how can we tell a change has taken place in someone else (for the better)? How do we discern this?

The answer may rest within us. With some introspection and self-reflection we can discern a few things:

If we desire forgiveness, do we accept it and love ourselves? If not, do we dwell on our shame or end up hating ourselves? Self-hatred in this case is a form of self-absorption. We care more for our opinion of ourselves than the love of He who gives it freely.
We can end up in this state but do not remain in it.

When one loves us they want what is best for us. When we love ourselves with a holy love we want what is best for us too. Those who dwell on their sins are a slave to that sin. The one who hates himself is a slave to himself. As such, do you change yourself in a visible way so as to get better? If your weakness is pornography do you remove yourself from the situations that lead you to view it? If your weakness is gossip do you avoid situations where you can hear it? Do you make an effort to remove yourself from the environments that lead you to sin with the appropriate caution and care necessary for it? Or do you lament the sin and, in effect, change very little except the bitterness with which you hate the sin or yourself? Conversion occurs in little steps and, over time, you will see change. Change for the better is a sign of self-love and conversion.

Consider the parable of the Prodigal Son: The father loves his son with love inexpressible and worries for him with an anxiety that's unbearable. This alone does not make the relationship whole, but the ground is fertile. It is not until the son returns that the story is resolved. He expects only to serve the father—he knows the weight of his guilt. But the father raises him up and rejoices. He embraces him and prepares a feast. The son is transformed by his desire to be forgiven. First he just desires to be under the father, but when his father declares a feast for him he accepts it, not with pomp or haughtiness, but with silent gratitude.
Consider the story, consider still the response of the son.

This reconciliation should be considered as a model for us with respect to others and with special regard to the Church. Some are removed from the Church, but as the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) says, “There is no offense, however serious, that the Church cannot forgive. "There is no one, however wicked and guilty, who may not confidently hope for forgiveness, provided his repentance is honest. Christ who died for all men desires that in his Church the gates of forgiveness should always be open to anyone who turns away from sin”(982).

And so if we love ourselves we will be changed. When we're loved by others and accept it more fully we will be transformed. How much more will we be transformed when we learn to love ourselves, allow ourselves to be loved by others, and allow ourselves to be loved by God? Love effects a change in us, but only when we also realize that it will make us vulnerable and humble.

Remember, then, that we cannot be grateful for a gift we don't accept.

Peter denied Christ three times. But three times Christ asked him “Do you love me?” With each “I love you” came a command—when we respond to God's love he desires both action and conversion. He said to Peter “Feed my lambs … [and] follow me.”

And so, shall we truly say “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”?
Do we truly believe that we should love God with our whole heart, mind, being and soul and “love your neighbor as yourself”?


As a side note, I'll be in Guatemala in less than 18 hours. Please comment and I hope to put up a lot of nice pictures while I'm there. Reflections too!


(Edit 8/9/2012: cleaned up some diction)