Lenten reflection - forgiveness and mercy

During Lent, you will find Catholic Churches open on Wednesday evenings for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The program is called the “Light is on.”  Easter is all about God’s unending love and mercy poured out on the Cross of each one of us. God opens with open arms as Christ tells us in the profound parable of the Prodigal Son.  It is humbling to reveal our sins and the ugliest parts of ourselves.  The woman at the well found in Christ a moment where someone see everything about her and still loved her. It is love and the ultimate sense of freedom to know we are still loved unconditionally when we turn back to God.  I have a feeling that we will experience that profound sense of perfect freedom in heaven when we are completely seen as we are by everyone – and it is okay.  No more hiding. Not more presenting our protective false sense with the nagging fear of our true and imperfect self-being rejected.  We are loved as we are and we can begin to reveal the beauty of who God made.  Below is an excerpt from a book I am working on.  Hopefully, it brings some inspiration to move our true selves closer to God this Lent.


Excerpt from The Father’s Son.

On Wednesday, David was feeling ambivalent about going to practice followed by his “religion class,” but he thought of seeing his father in a few weeks and knew he should go.  Practices were running smoother with several of the boys beginning to take on leadership roles, making sure everyone was giving each drill his full attention and effort until it became second nature, not only individually, but also as a team.  After practice, Tom asked David if he was up for class tonight because David “would never forgive himself if he missed this one!”  David did not know what that meant but followed Tom over again to the church and once inside, Tom led him over to the confessional box.  David was not sure what was up, but he opened the door next to the one Tom had just slipped into.  Inside was a seat, a kneeler and some small pamphlets on what the Sacrament of Reconciliation was.  There was a screen in front of him and he could hear Tom slide over the wooden window on the other side.  David still could not see Tom, but now they could hear each other as Tom said, “Aren’t you glad you came tonight?”  

David said, “You aren’t supposed to know who I am, are you?” 

Tom said, “Normally, people like to sit face to face for this sacrament, but some feel freer to talk about difficult things with privacy.  This may not be something that hits you immediately, but the Sacrament of Reconciliation may be one of the most unique and beautiful things about Catholicism.”    

David was silent as Tom continued, ”One of the most extraordinary things about God’s love is that it’s unconditional and abundant in mercy, which is really good because we need it.   Jesus knows us and knows we will fall, and we will sin, every one of us, time and time again.  In the sacrament of reconciliation, we receive the grace, strength, and clarity of sight to see ourselves honestly and humbly.  We always have the opportunity to reconcile our hearts and lives with God. Does that make sense?” 

David said, “Sort of but why do we have to confess to a priest?  Why not just directly to God?” 

Tom responded, “One thing Jesus knew was what we needed.  Humans tend to be a bit weak when it comes to a true and regular examination of conscience, really repenting for our sins, and knowing we are truly forgiven. He knew our human nature needs to confess our sins out loud, to have guidance and to hear those words of forgiveness.  That is why one of the gifts and authority he gave his apostles was to forgive sins.  He did not give them the authority to judge individuals, but to look at our actions and to administer the grace of this sacrament.” 

David said, “Where did he do that?” 

Tom said, “If you read the Gospel of John, Jesus said to the apostles, ‘Peace be with you.  As the Father had sent me, even so, I send you.’ And when he said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”  Tom was silent for a minute to let that sink in then said to David, “Unless you want to make any confession tonight, we can step out of the box.”

            David did not hesitate to step out of the intimate quarters once Tom did the same.  Tom said, “Remember when we talked about the Prodigal Son, and the father came running to his son with unconditional love and mercy?  That is what reconciliation is about.   Most people think God is the one who is changing in this process and he will be willing to forgive us if we can prove we deserve it, but God never withholds his love or mercy.  It is God that initiates and offers forgiveness; we just need to believe that healing gift is there to receive and be truly sorry for our sins.  Many people hold onto a child’s immature view of sin, thinking they did something bad or they are bad and need to be punished for God to love them again.  Sin is anything that turns us inward on ourselves and away from God.  It puts up a barrier that clouds our vision and understanding of truth, of God and of ourselves.  God gives us his laws, not to set us up, but because he knows what will bring us true joy and happiness.  He knows self-focused desire turns our hearts away from him, believing we know better than God what is good for us, and what is evil, and only brings us emptiness.  If God was not incredibly loving and merciful, he would not have sacrificed his only Son to take on the sins of the world in forgiveness.” 

            David looked pensive, “I still don’t get why Jesus had to die so brutally just to satisfy God’s anger and disappointment in our constant sinning?” 

Tom said, “You have a young son, right?” 

David nodded as Tom said, “Say you knew that being honest, responsible and caring was not only the right thing to do but would also make him much happier than being the opposite of those virtues.   Would your rules and teaching be out of love or traps you set for him to fail?” 

David said, “It would be for him, and not me.” 

Tom said, “What if you found him lying, skipping school, and stealing things he wanted from the neighbors?  Would you just fix it for him and move on?” 

David said, “Of course not! If I did that, I would not be doing the best thing for him.” 

Tom said, “What would you do?” 

David thought for a second, “I would give him some consequences, make him apologize, and make it up to the neighbors.  I would teach him to understand why I was concerned and why it was important to do the right thing.” 

“Well,” Tom said, “God loves us even more.  It is true our sins against God deserve justice and we could never repay for that offense on our own.  Since Jesus was both human and divine, he could make the ultimate sacrifice for our sins by giving his own life in love for us and showing us the way by trusting and honoring his Father’s will.  When we are baptized, our sins are washed away, and we are invited into God’s life, but we are not made perfect.  As human beings, with God’s grace, we can join his body in the Church, and participate in our salvation with our free will to sin or not, to repent or not.  If God did not give us free will, he would not be respecting our true dignity in a loving relationship, and he would not be showing us real love just as you would not be for James if you just ‘took care’ of it for him without any personal responsibility on his part.  Your son couldn’t do it without you, any more than we can do with without God’s grace and guidance.”

            David sat in one of the pews and said, “Jesus died for the sins of everyone living then and before him, but how does that help us?”  

Tom said, “I like questions, and that is a good one.  The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit live outside of time, unlike us.  Jesus’ sacrifice for us was for all people and all sins throughout time, and that includes you and me.”  

David looked up at the crucifix above the altar, “Tom, are you saying my sins now were responsible for putting him on that cross, suffering the ridicule, mocking, the wiping and beating, being nailed and dying a death like that?” 

Tom looked up with David at the cross and his eyes welled up with tears unseen by David and said, “And mine too, David. And mine too. I think about that so many times and especially during Lent.” 

David said, “How could God ever love us then?” 

Tom said, “God is love and he can only give love.  He knows we are a bit slow at times, and he wants such joy, love and peace in our lives and to live life abundantly.  God is always ready to run down the road to greet us, put a robe around us, and have a feast in celebration when we turn towards him since he never turns his back on us.  Sin kills the wonderful person he created, and in our turning back to him, we are no longer dead but alive again - even if it takes us till our last breath of life on this earth to get it.”

            David sat quietly looking around the church’s soft and peaceful lights and at all the saints surrounding him and cheering him on and finally asked, “Do you really think making a confession of all my sins is important to him?” 

Tom said, “I do.  And it’s just as important that we are willing to forgive others.” 

David looked surprised, “Forgive whom?” 

Tom said, “Anyone who sins against us.” 

David looked more confused, “No matter what?” 

Tom said, “No matter what. Do you know the Our Father?” 

David said, “I think I know some of it.” 

Tom said, “Jesus actually told us that this is how we should pray to the Father and it’s quite extraordinary. ‘Our Father, Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name; Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’   What stands out to you?” 

David said, “I don’t know. What should stand out?” 

Tom said, “Lots of things, but three always strike me.  The first is Jesus using the word ‘our’ at the beginning.  He is telling us we are his brothers and sisters and God is our loving father.” 

David nodded saying, “That is interesting.  What is the second thing?” 

Tom said, “Thy will be done.  Jesus said this on the cross and modeled this for us his entire life. Mary showed us this so perfectly in trusting God’s will over her own fears and desires. I think about that line every time I say the prayer and that is as often as I can.” 

David said, “I will have to work on that one.  Not understanding it, but trying to actually do it. And the third?” 

Tom said, “The third one is really important as well and we should be careful about what we ask for.  ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.’  Think about that.  If we don’t forgive others completely, we are asking God not to forgive us completely.”  David’s eyes widened a bit with surprise, and his mind flashed back to all the people he had not forgiven over the years.  Tom saw the concern and said, “Don’t worry, David.  God doesn’t drop us off on earth and say, “Life is hard. Good luck to you. Hope to see you in heaven!”

            David laughed, but it was partially a nervous laugh.   Tom said, “Really. Don’t worry, David.  You have a lot of people rooting for you, including the Big Guy.”  Tom leaned over and added, “I heard he likes you.” 

David smiled, “Oh, okay.  I will try to put in a good word for you then.” 

Now Tom laughed, “I would appreciate that and maybe a cold one if you are up for it?”  

David said, “Do you take the rest of the candidates out for a beer?” 

Tom said, “No, and I was hoping you were taking me out tonight?” 

David said, “Only if I can get a ‘get out of jail card’ from you and the Big Guy.  I don’t think anyone would want to spend that much time in the confessional with me.  There must be a Fast Pass or something?” 

Tom laughed again as he closed the church door and said, “I think he likes it the old fashioned way, low tech humbleness, and straightforward honesty.”  As they walked and chatted on this chilly night, David was glad Tom did not mention anything from the previous Friday night.  Tom did not bring anything up at Dempsey’s either, and David appreciated the respect Tom was showing him.