Lenten Meditation 6 March 2012
“I think forgiveness is the only event in which you simultaneously experience three great graces: God’s unmerited goodness, the deeper goodness of the one you have forgiven and then you experience your own gratuitous goodness too….There is really nothing else quite like it for inner transformation, which is why all spiritual teachers insist upon it, both in the giving and the receiving.” (page 37)
Sts. Anne and Joachim Catholic Church, Fargo,ND
Lent began almost two weeks ago with a reminder of our mortality and an extended confession. Each year, as we prepare for the great celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord, we are challenged to set our lives on a path which draws us closer to God and one another. Lent gives us the opportunity to take stock of our own lives; we are called to look at how we have fallen short of the full stature of Christ in our relationships and dealings with others. It may be as much of a challenge to recall those for whom I feel animosity because of their behavior toward me in order to forgive them. It is not enough to make our confession, either in our heart or with another person, sacramentally or as a 5th step from a 12 step program. Our call is to be reconciled. Now I know that is an extremely difficult task; how can I forgive someone who has hurt me deeply, especially if they have not come groveling at my feet, begging to be forgiven? Or how can I receive forgiveness from one who I believe I have not hurt and even worse who I believe has hurt me?
We have before us the “God task” of forgiveness. I call it a God task, because God offers us forgiveness and reconciliation before we even realize that we are in a state of broken relationship with God. I may have been aware at the time of a sin that I was not acting appropriately, but then immediately my defenses kick in and I can justify virtually any behavior. Remember Genesis Chapter 3? “Adam, did you eat of the fruit?” “It’s not my fault. It’s the woman’s fault—and yours because you gave her to me.” “Woman is this true?” “It’s not my fault. It’s the serpent’s fault—and yours because you created it.” (My own paraphrase.) Sound familiar? Perhaps you have not accused God quite so blatantly for your sin, but there have been occasions when I have fallen into the trap of blaming anyone and everyone (God included) so I can feel better about myself. “Oh, I am not so bad after all.”
Long before I come to my senses and realize that I am wallowing in my own sin, God has prepared a banquet for me, calling me back into the relationship of beloved child being welcomed home. By the time I am ready to admit that I have sinned against God and those human beings that I have hurt, God has put my sins far from me. My confession allows me to recognize the reconciliation which I have been offered, and hopefully to accept it with open arms.
Forgiveness and reconciliation, as I have alluded, are not just for me. As I receive God’s forgiveness, I must give forgiveness away prodigiously. There is a phrase in the Disciples’ Prayer—usually called the Lord’s Prayer—which says, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” That is a very sharp two-edged sword. Some years ago I realized the import of that phrase and re-phrased it to say, “Forgive me my sins only as much as I am willing to forgive those who sin against me.” As the little old lady said, “You’ve quit preaching and gone to meddling.” But that is exactly what I believe Jesus is saying to us in the prayer He teaches His disciples—then and now. We can only accept what we are willing to give away—which is why it is a God task.
In the past two years I have heard repeatedly, “I cannot forgive _____ for the way he/she treated me and the things that were said.” “I cannot forgive the lies that have hurt me and my friends.” “I cannot forgive them for taking my church building from me.” Perhaps you have heard the same things, or even said them yourself. I challenge the speaker every time I hear that because I know from personal experience that when I refuse to forgive I am the only one who is hurt; the one who has offended me goes merrily on their way. My soul, on the other hand, becomes calloused with unforgiveness and my spiritual health suffers. Like the proverbial bad apple that spoils the barrel, a lack of willingness to forgive belies what I preach and the way I want to live.
Forgiveness may be a task that takes me a long time; it may not be immediate. I have had to forgive someone repeatedly over a course of years before I was completely ready to let go of the pain and truly be reconciled. By the time I had reached full forgiveness the person had died, but I was no longer chained to the hurt, anger and fear that had burdened me for so long. It is possible now to look back to the original hurt and know there was hurt but not be enraged by it. I can even celebrate the relationship which was broken and rejoice in God’s joy in my own forgiveness.
This Lent, I want to challenge you to look at your own life to see your sins which need to be acknowledged; then accept the reconciliation that God offers. Then look for those individuals that you need to forgive and begin the hard work, the God task, of forgiving them. “There is really nothing else quite like it for inner transformation, which is why all spiritual teachers insist upon it, both in the giving and the receiving.”