Friday, March 24, 2017

Daily Lenten Meditation by Michael Dubruiel

The Cross of Christ Transforms. . . How We Forgive

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. EPHESIANS 4:32–5:2 

“You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; and should not you have mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger, his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all of his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart. MATTHEW 18:32–35


 A woman once shared with me that she had a problem accepting God’s forgiveness in her life. She was a merciful woman who willingly forgave others; she just could not believe that God could forgive her past sins. We met from time to time over the course of two years. After that long period of time, she was finally able to talk about what she had done, and why God couldn’t forgive her. What finally enabled her to reveal her sin was an experience she had that I would call a personal revelation. One night as she walked into her kitchen, stopping at the entrance, she witnessed
Jesus nailed to the cross. He raised his head and looked at her, then vanished from the room. That was it, no words, just a look. Yet that look conveyed love and forgiveness that flooded her heart.

 Those of us who grew up with a deep sense of sin may remember our early experiences of confession. In those early days when we were young we confessed that we didn’t always obey our parents and that we didn’t get along that well with our brothers and sisters. Sometimes we even argued and fought with them. As adults, we can smile at such youthful indiscretions. In adolescence we commit a different variety of sins. We tend to judge these more seriously because we take ourselves more seriously at this point in our lives. But what we don’t realize is that these sins are no different from those we committed as small children: We don’t obey our parent, God our Father, and we don’t get along with our brothers and sisters; every sin that we commit is in some way against God or neighbor.

Separation from God 

The consequence of all sin is spiritual death. We should hate all sin, but some sins can nearly destroy our earthly lives, or greatly alter the path God wishes for us to take. The woman that I mentioned at the beginning of this section had committed such a sin; it could have changed the course of her life and greatly hurt the people she loved. Yet by God’s grace, the sin never came to light to those who would have been most affected by it. Even so, her knowledge of that sin became a heavy cross that she carried for over forty years. In that sense, her sin did hurt those that she loved: Though they must have perceived the sadness in her soul, they were never able to relieve her inner pain. Catholics have always taught that there is a temporal punishment attached to sins, a punishment that remains even when God forgives that sin. In some cases it is easy to understand this  temporal punishment: If you rob a bank and get caught, even if God forgives you there will still be a price to pay. If you are caught in adultery and are sincerely sorry, God will forgive you but the damage done to your marriage will be real. Sin is evil because it does bad things to us; just as many physical behaviors can lead to the development of various cancers, so sin leads to our destruction. Eve looked at the forbidden fruit and it looked desirable, but partaking of that fruit made both Adam and Eve terminally ill. Relief Though confession alone does not remove the temporal penalty of sin, healing still is possible by God’s grace.
Prayer, reading the Scripture, giving alms, doing good works all are acts that have had indulgences attached to them by the Church. By obtaining an indulgence, the Christian receives healing from the temporal penalty of even the gravest sins, reducing or eliminating altogether the time of purification needed in purgatory (CCC 1471). Ideally, the Christian is motivated to perform these spiritual exercises not from fear of punishment but out of love for God. As we read in the preceding passage, St. Paul tells the Ephesians to offer themselves as a spiritual sacrifice with Christ, who has paid the debt of our sins. Seeing Christ on the cross and meditating on his love for us should help us to understand how much God loves us.

St. Therese of the Child Jesus thought of herself as an infant when she prayed. She saw God as her Father, bidding her to come up the stairs, something she made feeble attempts to do with little progress. Finally, she said, the Father would come down and carry her up the stairs. This is the perfect image of prayer: God carries us up to the heavens if we allow him to do so. Yet first we must admit our own powerlessness to achieve the heights to which he calls us, so that he might take us where we would not go. We need to confess our sins regularly, and accept absolution fully—trusting in God’s love more than our failings or our sins. Then we must extend that forgiveness to everyone else in our life, knowing that being forgiven is conditioned upon our forgiving in the same way (see Luke 6:37; Matthew 6:15). Failure to forgive means that we do not fully trust God’s forgiveness, as if God might change his mind down the road. Yet God’s love is everlasting.

The Ignorance of Sin 

The greatest example of forgiveness is that of Jesus, who from the cross forgave those who put him there: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” Who is the “them” to which Jesus was referring? The “them” is us. There is great ignorance in every sin willfully committed. If we truly understood the consequences of sin, none of us would have the courage to commit even one. In a moment of clarity we may come to our senses, and realize that by our actions we have “sold innocent blood.” Yet even when we have a deep sense of our own ignorance in the sins that we commit against others, we often are unwilling to extend that same possibility to those who sin against us. Forgiving others is an act of the cross. In the same way that a priest absolves us while making the sign of the cross over us— so it is necessary to trace the sign of God’s love in the direction of those who wrong us. By seeing them through the eyes of our  Savior, we may find the courage to offer them the forgiveness that he has offered to us.


The Power of the Cross is a book well-suited to daily reading during Lent. The book is available here in pdf version. Daily excerpts will be reprinted in this space during Lent.


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