Tag Archives: Forgiveness

Speak And Hear In The Flesh

First, imagine that you live in the time of Jesus.  Next, imagine that you have come to believe that Jesus is who he claims to be, namely, God.  Then, you begin to ponder the state of your soul.  You realize that in many ways you have sinned against God and the humanity God created.  It suddenly occurs to you that the very God you have sinned against is in town, right now, in the flesh.  What would you do?

Hopefully, you would go into town and find Jesus.  You would seize the opportunity that awaits you.  It might require some effort on your part, however.  You would probably need to make the journey on foot.  When you finally arrived in town, you would need to figure out where to find Jesus.  Is he walking the streets?  Is he staying in someone’s home?  Is he preaching at the Temple or outside of town?  After some searching and polling of the locals you finally figure out where he is.

Once you get to his location you see that he is surrounded by many obstacles.  There are people all around him.  You must find a way to get through.  After squeezing and prying your way through the crowd you at last find yourself face to face with Jesus.  He looks at you as if he has been expecting you.  He seems to know the effort it took for you to be there before him.  Then he waits.

Jesus knows that “out of the mouth flows the intents of the heart,” so he waits.  He waits for you to open your mouth.  He already knows what is in your heart, but he wants you to say it.  Jesus, the “Word made flesh” wants you to use your fleshy mouth to form the words of your heart and convey them to his ears of flesh.  He wants to hear you say, in your own words, “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

As you speak the words, you sense that every syllable, every inhale and exhale of breath is releasing something you have been holding in.  Even your body language, the nonverbal expression of your message, reveals the depth of your heart as it pours out to Jesus, seeking new life and restoration.  At last, you have come to Jesus with all of your physical and spiritual being.

Finally, you raise your fleshy eyes to his.  Your ears of flesh hear his mouth of flesh declare with God’s authority, “Be at peace.  Your sins are forgiven!”

Transport to present day.  We still live in the time of Jesus.  Jesus said, “I am with you always.”  He still wants us to share our hearts with him through fleshy means.  So, he gave his own authority to fleshy men.  “As the Father sent me, so I send you.  Whose sins you forgive are forgiven.  Whose sins you retain are retained.”  We still get to speak the words and hear his forgiveness.  And it still requires a degree of physical effort.  We have to find a time and a place to meet with a priest who stands in for Christ as we confess to God.  We still have to push through the obstacles.  We still need to feel the humility that can only come from speaking out loud to another.

Of course, we can pray to God anywhere anytime.  God is everywhere.  But, Jesus wants our relationship with him to be more than a spiritual, “telepathic” sort of communication on a golf course, at home or even in a church.  Jesus became a human being.  He wants us to be in full relationship with him, body and spirit.  When we hurt someone, we should apologize to them in person whenever possible.  Jesus makes it possible through the Sacrament of Confession.  Jesus is still in town.  Go meet with him and tell him what’s on your heart, in the flesh.  That’s how he made you.  That’s how he wants to meet with you.

Being Jesus At Home

Sometimes the hardest people to forgive are the ones closest to us.  They are the ones who are supposed to be there for us.  They are supposed to support us, understand us and embrace us.  They are supposed to love us unconditionally.  When loved ones let us down, either on purpose or unintentionally, it hurts the most.  Those wounds cut the deepest.

Some families can really test one’s Christian faith.   They can sometimes be the hardest place for the Christian to “walk the talk.”  “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespassed against us.” (Matt 6:12)  “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)  “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you.” (Eph 4:32)

We all have wounds.  Sometimes, when we are hurt by others, it is because they are struggling with their own wounds.  We are all imperfect.  We all need healing and forgiveness.  Even when he was on the cross, Jesus offered kindness, tenderheartedness, healing and forgiveness.  He calls us to do the same, especially at home.  And when we have hurt another, we must apologize and make amends (Matt 5:23-24).

The Choice Of Christian Love: Where The Rubber Meets The Road

The love that Jesus demands from his disciples is not a feeling or an emotion.  Jesus commands Christians to love as an act of the will.  It is a decision that we make.  It is a decision to desire good for the other.  That is what godly love is.  Godly love is not:

-liking that person

-enjoying that person’s company

-feeling good or warm and fuzzy about that person

-approving of that person’s sin and evil behavior

-completely understanding that person

-an absence of anger toward that person and/or injustice

-an absence of accountability for that person’s actions

Godly love desires the good of the other, which would include the healing of mental, physical and spiritual wounds and the removal of any evil influences that have taken hold of that person.  Hence, Jesus told his followers to love their enemies and to pray for those that despitefully used them and persecuted them for his name’s sake.  Human perpetrators of evil are perhaps mentally ill, deeply wounded or even possessed by powers of darkness we cannot comprehend.  We live in a world that is both natural and supernatural.  We cannot see all ends, but Jesus can.  According to him, love and prayer is an important response.  He showed us that very thing, even from the cross.

Love of enemy is probably one of the hardest commands of Jesus Christ, but also one of the most critical.  The closer to home it hits, the harder it becomes.  I don’t know how I would react to evil acts perpetrated against my own family.  I don’t know if I could find my love of enemy hidden within all of my anger, grief and desire for vengeance.  It is hard enough when evil hits a family I don’t even know.  But, I also know in my heart that such love is precisely where the rubber meets the road where Christianity is concerned.

I think about Pope John Paul II meeting with his would-be assassin and forgiving him.  I think about the Amish folks that expressed forgiveness for the murderous attack to their community.  I think about the United States being called a Christian Nation by so many.  There are lots of prayers for peace.  I wonder how many sermons will be about love of enemy this Sunday.  I hope our prayers for peace include the love of enemy Christ requires of us.  Scripture says that without love, we are nothing.  Yes, perpetrators need to be held accountable.  But, if our prayers for peace are tainted by hatred, they might be more noise than prayer. 

All the Bible knowledge and Christian apologetic skill in the world is nothing if it’s not put into practice in real life.  I’m working on my attitude.  God help me.  God help the victims of evil and violence.  God help the perpetrators of evil and violence.  God help our world.

Love Means Sometimes Having To Say You’re Sorry Out Loud

Imagine that you were born in a primitive part of the world that had no access to technology.  Imagine that you had never seen a cell phone or a television or a radio.  Then one day, a stranger showed up in your land.  Somehow, this stranger knew your language, and he told you about the place he was from and some of the people he knew.  Intrigued, you said to the stranger, “I would like to meet some of those other people, too.”  “Of course,” said the stranger, “I will ask them to come join us.”  Then, the stranger pulled out a little, square, black object from his pocket and began to speak to it.  After putting the object back into his pocket, the stranger said, “They will be here tomorrow morning to meet you.”

Confused, and thinking this person might have a screw loose, you said to the stranger, “I thought you were going to talk to your friends about coming to visit.”  “Yes,” said the stranger, “I just spoke to them.”  “No, you didn’t, you spoke to that thing in your pocket.”  “Well, that is a phone.  It allows me to communicate with my friends.”  “You mean you don’t have to speak directly to your friends?  You can speak to that little phone and it does everything for you?”  Well, no,” explains the stranger, “I was actually speaking to my friends through the phone.  The phone is an instrument through which I speak directly to my friends.”

After a crash course in basic technology you begin to understand how the phone operates.  Once you understand about radio waves and electronic speakers, transmitters and receivers, you can see just how much sense it makes.  At first it seemed like the stranger was a confused, crazy person talking to a little black box.  Now it seems like a good idea.

In a similar way, non-Catholics (and even some Catholics) think it is unnecessary and even silly to confess one’s sins to a priest rather than going “directly to God.”  What is misunderstood is that Catholics are going “directly to God” when they confess to a priest.  The priest is merely God’s chosen instrument.  God realizes that we, being physical and spiritual creations, benefit from actually speaking our sins out loud to another and hearing the words of absolution audibly spoken back to us.

When Jesus walked the earth 2000 years ago, His followers got to use their physical mouths to speak to Him and their physical ears to hear Him say, “Your sins are forgiven.”  Jesus did not communicate to them strictly through telepathic or “spiritual” means.  He spoke and listened like a man to other men and women.  2000 years later, Catholics still have access to this gift through the priest.  Jesus is right there the whole time.  Jesus listens and Jesus forgives through His instrument, the Priest.  This is the system established by Christ.  It is the way Christians are to find forgiveness (especially for mortal sins) apart from “emergency” situations that I will not cover here.  Suffice it to say that the normal way to drive a two lane highway is to not cross the solid, center line.  In certain emergencies, crossing the center line might be necessary.  The normal or “ordinary” way for Christians to find forgiveness for sins (particularly mortal sins) is through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  But there is no reason to avoid the Sacrament for venial sins as well (even though these can be forgiven apart from the Sacrament of Reconciliation).

In a sort of reversal of the phone analogy, people today see the Sacrament of Reconciliation as “obsolete technology.”  In other words, why pick up the “phone” to call someone when you can just instantly “be” with that person (i.e. Jesus in spirit).  “We can talk directly to Jesus anywhere!  Why do we need this ancient, “go-between” priest nonsense?”  This attitude is an outgrowth of the “Jesus and me” theology that is so prevalent today.  This theology emphasizes a one-on-one relationship with Christ at the expense of the corporate, familial, sacramental reality of the Church.  This can be seen in the attitude that says, “As long as I’m not hurting anyone else, it’s ok.”  But sin is not just between the sinner and God.  Sin hurts the entire Body.  If one member of the Body is sick, the whole Body suffers.

We humans tend to deceive ourselves and justify our sins.  It’s too easy to “talk to Jesus” about things and not be truly honest with ourselves.  We can too readily fashion Jesus into who we want Him to be.  We don’t like to confront and admit sin.  The priest can help us discern if we are being too hard or too easy on ourselves.  So then, why not just talk to a trusted friend or a therapist?  We can derive some psychological benefit from doing so, but Christ did not give the authority to “bind and loose” to your friends or to therapists.  Christ did not say to your friends or your therapist, “Whosoever sins you forgive are forgiven and whosoever sins you retain are retained.”  Christ gave that authority to specific men in His Church and to their successors.

It is one thing to “be sorry” and another thing to “say you are sorry” (despite what the Movie Love Story might want us to believe).  I see this frequently in my counseling office.  People tend to be defensive and avoid admitting their faults.  Getting an apology from some folks is like pulling teeth.  So many marriages would be a lot happier if both partners knew how to apologize and how to graciously accept an apology.  As earlier stated, sin affects not only the sinner, but the entire Church, His Body.  Therefore, Christ wants us to make our apology and find healing through the Church, His Body.  He wants us to do the real work of humility and actually speak our sins out loud to the Church.  He wants us to make a full apology through His Church.

When Jesus healed the blind man, He made mud with spit and dirt, put it on the man’s eyes and then told him, “Go wash in the pool.”  Imagine the blind man saying, “Forget all this mud and washing nonsense, just heal me now, Jesus!”  No, the blind man did as Jesus instructed and was healed.  Jesus often gave specific instructions to those He healed.  Jesus told His disciples, “Whoever hears you hears me,” and “Whosoever sins you forgive are forgiven, whosoever sins you retain are retained.”  Yet, we often say to Jesus, “No, I don’t want to go through that process to call upon your Name, express my personal belief in You and find healing for my soul.  It’s too humiliating, too inconvenient, too old fashioned, too complicated, too messy.  I want to do it my way.  Just forgive me now, Jesus.  I don’t need Your apostles or their successors or any of Your Church getting in the way of my relationship with You.”

Want A Happy Marriage? Hoe, Hoe, Hoe!

For the most part, people get married these days because they believe it will make them happy, and that’s ok.  Marriage is supposed to be a joyful relationship.  But, a lot of folks discount a very important piece of marriage that makes it a joyful experience.  They underestimate, or completely ignore, the formative aspect of marriage.  That is, they expect to settle into a relationship where they are loved and coddled and not expected to make any changes.  Growth cannot take place without change.  Change is not always easy or fun.  People generally want their marriages to be fun and easy, not challenging or something to work at.

When working with couples, I sometimes use a vegetable garden analogy.  I ask the couple to imagine that they decided to start a big vegetable garden in order to enjoy fresh veggies that they both like.  The garden will be of a size that requires the work of two people.  Then I have them list all the things that would be required to keep the garden healthy.  They will need to provide water, sunlight, and fertilizer.  The ground must be tilled (hoe, hoe, hoe!).  Weeds, insects and animals will need to be kept at bay.  The vegetables will need to be harvested, cleaned and prepared before being enjoyed.  In other words, it takes a lot of consistent work to reap the benefits that are so pleasurable.  One person cannot do it alone without part of the garden withering.  Want a great garden?  Expect lots of work from both of you!

So, marriage takes work.  We hear that often, but neglect to embrace it.  We don’t want to work, we want to be loved and coddled.  This is where the formative part comes in.  Work builds character.  Individuals with character have a better chance of a happy marriage.  There are lots of unhappy marriages because people lack character.  They want to eat the vegetables, but they don’t want to work in the garden.  They have not discovered their innate love of work and character-building.  Humans are not naturally opposed to work when it yields a reasonable reward.  Work is a healthy, fulfilling aspect of personhood.

We do not usually hear someone say, “I can’t wait to get married so that I can learn to love the work involved and build my character!”  No, people want the romance and the sex, but not the work.  They want the unconditional love, but they don’t want to love unconditionally.  They want their spouses to sacrifice for them, but they don’t want to live sacrificially.  They want respect, but they aren’t respectful.  They look at marriage with a “what’s-in-it-for-me” attitude instead of asking, “What’s best for this marriage God has given us?”  They scrutinize or covet other marriages instead of working in their own “garden.”

To “grow old together” implies that some growth will take place.  Growth means change and change can be difficult.  “For better or for worse” is not just a romantic notion.  It means that you are choosing to enter a relationship that may challenge you in ways you never could have imagined.  These challenges may be emotional, spiritual or physical.  You will need to mature and grow as an individual.  You will need to be accountable to your spouse and hold your spouse accountable when it comes to nurturing the marriage.  You will need to bend your will to God, the institutor of marriage (as in Ephesians chapter 5).  You will need to forgive and ask for forgiveness.  You must swallow your pride and seek genuine, godly humility without degrading yourself.  You must not try to thwart God’s total design for marriage, including the procreative aspect.

The better you become as a person, the better your marriage will be.  Focus on the changes you need to make, not things your partner needs to improve.  God is the potter, and we are the clay.  Let it be!  God will surely use your spouse to mold you.  Some of it will be fun, and some of it might be grueling.  All of it will find an ultimate reward in this life or the next.  Marriage is a vocation.  The goal is for spouses to help each other and their children on the road to sainthood.  Faith, hope and love; the greatest is love (a godly, sacrificial charity), and that is where true happiness abides, for God is love.

The Little Rear View Mirror

I heard an analogy today that left an impression on me.  It launched a train of thought with many tracks.  “Your car has a big windshield, but a small rear view mirror.  That’s because you’re supposed to spend most of your time looking forward, and just a little time looking back.”  Maybe I’ve heard that before, but this time it stuck.  There are lots of ways to apply that analogy, but I’ll just focus on a few that came to mind.

Some people have lives that are wrecked because they spend too much time living in the past.  Maybe they enjoyed their past so much that they feel cheated or apathetic about the present or the future.  Perhaps they were deeply hurt in the past and their inability to forgive prevents them from enjoying life now.  Then there are people who live in the past because it is their familiar comfort zone.  They are afraid to grow.  Looking out the windshield is too scary, too intimidating.

Some Christians read the Bible and study Church teachings without really allowing what has been revealed in the past to impact their present and their future in a meaningful way.  It’s a bit like devouring books on carpentry without ever intending to build anything.  They like the reading and the studying, but the real-life application escapes them.  They are looking in the rear view mirror at revelation and doctrine, but failing to see how it applies to the road they are on.  They know all about Jesus, but they are not following him.  They are not seeing life and people through the eyes of Christ.

Some people use the rear view mirror primarily as a vanity mirror.  They are more focused on self than on the road or others around them.  When they finally do look out the windshield, it is out of concern for their own safety rather than everyone’s safety.  They care more about self than others, even others in the car with them.

When the rear view mirror becomes larger than the windshield, watch out.  Certainly there are times to embrace the memories of the past and reminisce with joy and gratitude.  There are times to examine the past for the purpose of healing and growth.  There is nothing wrong with enjoying the past or learning from the past.  That’s why we write things down and take photos and videos.  In order to really live abundantly, however, we can’t live in the past.  Nor can we live in the future.  We must have our eyes forward and our hands on the wheels of our vehicles.  Christ is in the pace car.  Follow him.  Where he will lead you is better than anything you’ll see in your rear view mirror.

Can You Give And Accept An Apology?

One thing that often comes up when counseling couples is the issue of apologies.  I often ask spouses, “Do you apologize to each other,” or  “What is it like for you to apologize?”  A follow-up question is, “Are you able to accept apologies?”

A sincere apology requires humility because pride must be swallowed.  Some people have such an aversion to being wrong that it obstructs their empathy towards others.  They assume a defensive stance as they think only of self.  It’s hard to embrace someone through a suit of armor or a castle wall.  Apologies require vulnerability.  The armor must come off.  Knights wear armor for fear of swords and arrows.  When the armor comes off, vulnerability increases and so does the fear.  Apologizing can be difficult because one must drop the defenses.

Some folks apologize incessantly.  This is usually a sign of an insecure, passive type of person and/or an abusive relationship, not a healthy relationship.  There’s no reason for a genuine apology unless there has been a genuine offense.

Accepting an apology is another matter.  It’s even harder to drop the defenses and apologize to someone who can’t accept an apology graciously.  Some people use the apologies of others as opportunities to “twist the knife,” as in, “Darn right you shouldn’t have done that, you big jerk!”  A sincere apology is a gift.  The proper response to a sincere apology is, “Thank you, I accept your apology.”  The acceptance should then be followed up with genuine forgiveness.  One who holds a grudge, pouts or gives “the silent treatment” has not really accepted the apology.

I saw a quote once that said, “Marriage is an adventure in forgiveness.”  Peter asked Jesus if he should forgive someone seven times.  Jesus told him, “Not seven times, but seventy times seven.” (Matt 18:22)  Of course, the point is not to forgive a person 490 times and then quit.  The point is to always be forgiving.  Forgiveness is not necessarily a onetime event.  Often we have to say, “Oh yeah, I forgave them for that yesterday, so I need to stick with it.”  Similarly, marriage is a choice we make every day, not just on our wedding day.

Forgiveness is not the same as trust.  If someone whacks me with a stick when I walk past, I can forgive that person.  That doesn’t mean I have to trust that person to cease the stick-whacking.  “Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.”  If the person displays sincere remorse and proper behavior over time, however, trust may be reestablished.  One forgives in order to avoid carrying around a cancerous grudge, not in order to “let the person off the hook” of responsibility.  I can forgive someone for stealing my car, but the car still needs to be returned and/or jail time must be served.  This, by the way, relates to the Catholic understanding of penance, indulgences, Purgatory and the temporal punishment for sin that remains even after we have been forgiven of our sins.  Of course, Christ forgives our sins.  We are still responsible to make amends wherever we can.  That’s the fruit of true repentance.  Scripture tells us to avoid the altar until we have made amends.

So, if a marriage is rocky, each spouse can benefit from asking, “What am I not forgiving my spouse for?” and “What am I not apologizing for?”  Making amends is a sign of true friendship, spiritual humility and a happy marriage.