Year of Mercy – The Power of Forgiveness

Sharing mercy with others, will always include, in a very special way, the process of forgiveness. Mercy and forgiveness belong together. Forgiveness means my arms are open, my home is open, and most of all, my heart is open. When we forgive each other, we prove that there is a love present in our world, that is stronger than any sin or hurt. Jesus gets on this forgiveness thing, and He just won’t let it go. Everywhere Jesus goes, He either teaches about forgiveness or He offers it to someone. Zacchaeus. Peter. The woman at the well. The woman caught in adultery. When Jesus teaches His followers to pray, He tells them to ask for forgiveness and for the strength to forgive other people. Every place you open the Gospels, Jesus is sounding the bugle of forgiveness. The truth is obvious: Jesus, very simply, is all about forgiveness. So much so that His first sermon is just one word, “Repent!” as He makes it plain that we need forgiveness. And His last words are uttered to the Father from the cross on behalf of the soldiers below. In other words, forgiveness provides the first and last word of Jesus’s entire ministry. That alone teaches us how very important forgiveness is to our God. And how important it should be to us. Forgiveness will transform you and your relationships once you release its power into your life. You will find a new and higher level of living and of relationships. Read this inspirational text from Father Mike Schmitz, from Dynamic Catholic: Grudge holding is not one of our most attractive traits. For years, I carried around with me all the people who had hurt me or disappointed me. Like a wheelbarrow full of grudges, resentments, and wrongs to be righted. They went with me everywhere I went, as if I were some kind of supernatural scorekeeper who could track all the wrongs done and remember them in case they were needed at a moment’s notice. That is when I was forced to find the key. A key to let me out of the prison cell of past hurt and wrongs so that I could live in the present and move toward the future. I discovered that the key is forgiveness. One of the Spiritual Works of Mercy is to forgive willingly. How? Three steps:

  1. Acknowledge that there has been an offence. It is necessary. There is something to forgive.
  2. What has this person cost me. In front of Jesus add it up.
  3. Then say: I am not going to make you pay me back.

Mercy – know what you owe me, but I release you from your debt. In justice you owe me – mercy says I release you from your debt. You will be set free by becoming a person of mercy. “Forgiveness isn’t an event, it is a process.” Knowing that forgiveness is a process and not just an event reveals why it is so difficult to forgive. We want it to be over and done with in a single moment, but in reality it takes a serious emotional and spiritual commitment. While difficult, there are few skills more important in life than forgiveness. There isn’t a person on the planet that hasn’t needed to give forgiveness. To help us forgive, we need to be aware of two incredibly simple but transformative truths about forgiveness. The first is, order matters. The three-step process on how to forgive is incredibly helpful, but perhaps the most important part about the process is in adhering to the order. Here is the order:

  1. Acknowledge that there is something to forgive.
  2. Count precisely what an individual has caused you.
  3. Don’t say it’s ok or what they did doesn’t matter. Count the cost and then make a decision to release them of their debt.

Skipping one of these steps or trying to do it in a different order would be to your detriment. Think about it this way. About ten years ago, my dad decided to teach me how to change an electrical socket. He unscrewed the front casing and told me the first step is to pull the socket out from within the wall. The immediate result was a sharp electrical shock that caused my dad to jump back in pain. He looked at me with a sheepish grin and said, “first step, turn off the power!” Order seriously matters when changing an electrical outlet, and order seriously matters when trying to forgive others. The second truth is that forgiveness frees both the forgiven and the forgiver. Withholding forgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Those who are unwilling to forgive are burdened by an unshakable misery. This is a fate that robs us of the joy and the peace we so desperately seek. Go to Jesus, acknowledge the debt, count the cost, and forgive willingly. Remember, this is a process. Perseverance will relieve you and those who need forgiving of the burden you carry. Let’s look at the example of Peter, who betrayed Jesus. So how in the world did this Peter become the rock of the Church, Saint Peter? Because of one defining moment. A moment of extraordinary forgiveness. A turning point in which forgiveness unlocked the door of Peter’s past and prepared the way home to God’s future. Forgiveness turned the bolt and opened a new path. This defining moment of Peter’s life gives us insight into the very heart of God. A God who sees more in us than we see in ourselves. A God who is willing to forget the past and invite us into a bold, divine future. All by issuing a single power, the one most powerful word in the English language and the defining word of the Christian faith. Forgiveness. When Jesus returns to His disciples in His resurrected form, Peter and some of the disciples have been out fishing and are having a fish fry on the shore of the lake. When Jesus returns, He calls Peter over to the side. It is hard, perhaps even impossible, to imagine how Peter felt as he made his way over to Jesus. A walk of shame. With all the memories of his failures and cowardice still bouncing in his cranium, Peter stands before Jesus, his Lord. You remember the conversation: “Peter, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” “Feed my lambs.” A second time. “Peter, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” “Tend my sheep.” And again. A third time. Just as Peter had fallen asleep three times at the garden, and denied Jesus three times, now Jesus three times looks beyond the past and offers Peter a future. “Peter, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” “Feed my sheep.”  Say this prayer today: “Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy”. (From the Saint Francis Prayer)

Year of Mercy – “I will never forget you” Part V

Without doubt, one of the most powerful images of God’s mercy is the parable of the Lost Son – sometimes called, the parable of the Merciful Father. We see here how God’s love and mercy is something that you cannot earn or deserve. And even if we haven’t merited mercy, God still pours out his love in our lives anyway. We see this in how the merciful Father deals with his son. He doesn’t turn him away, he doesn’t even scold him. He waits for him, he hopes for him and when his son finally returns, he celebrates with his son. We have here the most tremendous example of God’s amazing and endless mercy. We have here the faithful love of a father for his lost son. The son did not only leave his father’s house, he also left his father’s heart. However, the father never gives up. In the parable of the merciful Father, we see–in such a powerful way–the essential attribute of God–mercy. This parable is like a “pearl” amongst all the various parables that Jesus taught. It is often called the “gospel within the gospel”, because it is the most beautiful parable of the love of Jesus to the sinner. The love of God and the mercy of God, which is already proclaimed in the Old Testament – for example in the Prophet Hosea – becomes real and concrete again in this parable of Jesus. The parable of the merciful Father is preceded by two other stories, which express the joy of finding what was lost: we can read about the parable of the lost sheep and also the parable of the lost coin (Luke 15:1-10). God rejoices when the lost are found. This theme, and this important message, goes through all these parables. The two sons, that are presented to us in the parable, represent two different types of people. The youngest son runs away from the house of his father, and he goes to a strange land – without the father. The older son remains at home, outwardly with the father, but his heart is not with his father –  his heart has another agenda, namely, how can you get the most out of his father for his own life and his own enjoyment. Jesus directs our gaze firstly towards the younger son. He asked his father for his inheritance. It is interesting, that the younger son excepts the inheritance as something self-understood, and at least in the telling of the parable, the younger son never expresses any gratitude towards his father.  He takes the generosity of his father for granted. The father, at the beginning of the story, says absolutely nothing. He remains silent and offers no comment. The son finds refuge with the pagans, and after a time of pleasure and plenty, he is forced to look after the impure animals, the pigs, in order to survive. These two details of the younger son’s predicament represent symptoms of his distancing from faith, and the religion of his ancestors. However, his misery brings him to a new realization, that he discovers in a kind of conversation with himself. In verse 17, it says that the younger son “came to himself” and realized that even the servants of his father were having a much better life than he was. It is interesting that the son does not complain or point the finger at his friends, or the owner of the pigs, or even his own father; he points the finger at himself and he gives himself the blame. Behind the outward sign of misery and need lies hidden the drama of the lost dignity of the younger son, and how he has allowed his relationship to his father to wither away, because of his own search for independence and pleasure. The lost son experiences in himself remorse for what he has done, however, the remorse is not because of the boundless and forgiving love of his father. It is much more remorse based on his own advantage, and how he can get out of this terrible predicament – in other words, it is a means to survive. However, at the same time this “conversion” is a healing one because one word is said that makes all the difference. This word is “father”. In the short conversation with himself, the son expresses how he wants to declare before his father and before heaven that he has sinned. He makes a distinction here between God – in heaven – and his earthly father. In other words, the lost son wants to make it right with his earthly father, but also wants to make it right with God, and renounce his sin. Continue reading “Year of Mercy – “I will never forget you” Part V”

Year of Mercy – “I will never forget you” Part II

In Part I, we looked at the mercy of God through the yes of the prophet Hosea. In Part II, we will continue the message of mercy from the Prophet Isaiah. The second prophet that reveals God’s mercy in a special way is the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah is the prophet during the Babylonian exile of the people of Israel. Israel experienced the Exile as very difficult time of punishment and loss, where they felt that God had left them altogether and had abandoned them. The people felt completely without hope and their misery and exile comes from the fact that God had turned his back on them. In the middle of this dire situation, a new and unexpected prophetic message comes to the people in exile – this is the second and third generation of Israel living in Babylon. The message is a message of love, comfort and hope: God is returning to his people and has never forgotten them. God is still faithful. There is a new hope. The prophet Isaiah uses a very human and very powerful image to express God’s love and mercy for his people:

“Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.” (Isaiah 49:15).

In this message of the prophet Isaiah, we see again God’s mercy and love towards his people. God compares himself to a mother and reaches out to his chosen people with a mother’s heart and tenderness. Isaiah also says to the people you should rejoice and you should be happy now and you should break into song because God has come back to his people and those who have been broken and humiliated will receive his mercy again:

Sing, O heavens, for the Lord has done it; shout, O depths of the earth; break forth into singing, O mountains, O forest, and every tree in it! For the Lord has redeemed Jacob, and will be glorified in Israel. (see Isaiah 44:23).

He tells his people that he’s never forgotten them, and to prove that he has never forgotten them, he reveals to the people a unique symbol of mercy, that will be completely understood by by any people at any time; and that is the image of the love of a mother towards her child. God, however, even goes further than this. He tells the people that even if a mother should forget her child – which is practically impossible –then God still will never forget his people even though they have sinned against him and even though they have broken the covenant with him. He tells his people: “See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:16). This is a symbol of a faithfulness and a mercy that can never be broken. Isaiah is also the prophet who will later prophesy about the coming of Jesus, the Son of God, who will bring the boundless mercy of the Father in the greatest and most powerful way. It is this Son of God who will take away the sins of the world.

The Easter Tree

A wonderful story from medieval times traces the wood of the cross on which Jesus died, all the way back to the Garden of Paradise, where God made grow “every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.” (Genesis 2,9) The great tree of Paradise is the “tree of life.” Seeds from the tree of life, so our story goes, were planted from age to age, until the time of Jesus, when a tree produced from one of its seeds provided wood for his cross. Once again, God offers new life through the cross of Jesus, his Son, and invites the human family to return to Paradise. Here is a story that may help us understand that, in spite of appearances, the cross of Jesus brings life and not death. Easter means that we believe after all our “Good Fridays”, Easter Sunday will come!

The Easter Tree

In Paradise where life began a wondrous tree grew tall, that stretched its arms to the tiniest bird, and gave God’s gifts to all. And Adam and Eve in the evening shade together sang under the tree.

God sang along in their merry song, a song so light and free. But then one day a serpent came and the beautiful garden grew cold. The tiny birds flew far away and songs were no longer told.

The tree was cased in fiercesome ice, and cried to God on high: “O God, let me shelter your creatures again, let them sing in the evening sky.”

So an angel of God took a seed from the tree and gave it to Adam and Eve. “Take this seed from the garden tree, plant it and always believe. A tree one day shall open its arms to tiny birds again, and all the world shall sing for joy; and children shall sing their Amen.”

Before the flood, Noah planted the seed; from its branches he built the ark. He built it so strong all the animals came, to float on the flood mark. When the waters went down they blessed the tree, and God who showed them a way, And a child took a seed from the saving tree, to plant it another day.

When Jesus was born, Mary planted the seed on a hill near Bethlehem. “God’s peace, God’s peace,” the angels sang, “God’s peace is coming again.” On that day a tiny Child crushed the serpent’s head, and earth grew warm in the winter’s cold, around his manger bed.

They looked for a tree when Jesus died and they found it on Bethlehem’s hill. “Alleluia, Alleluia,” everything sang as he rose from the dead by God’s will. And the Easter tree rejoiced in song, the tiny birds as well. It bore a prize beyond all else, beyond what words could tell.

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you. because by the tree of the cross you have saved the world!

Year of Mercy – “I will never forget you” Part I

The mercy of God was the original experience of Israel throughout the hundreds of years of adventure and drama in its history. Their main experience, in a very special way, was the mercy and love of God. Their entire history is determined by God who, with the love of a father, draws close to people, enters their personal lives, and ultimately sets them free. This merciful God always sees their needs and is determined, out of love, to liberate them. The liberation and the Exodus of the people of Israel from the land of Egypt was, for the Chosen People, the most important experience and their deepest encounter with God. Very close to the story of Exodus is also the story of the Exile of Israel in Babylonia, and how God, without their merit, brought his people home after many many years of imprisonment, suffering and humiliation. The people of Israel always understood these events – even to the present day – as the greatest expression of the forgiving love and the absolute faithfulness of God. Through this merciful love, God reveals again and again his deepest desire and aim to be united with his people in an unbreakable covenant of love – a covenant, that is so unbreakable that even the greatest sin and the greatest unfaithfulness towards him cannot destroy it. In the Old Testament, we notice how God shows his love as the power and faithfulness of a spouse or bridegroom who is united for the ever to his bride. His love is so great and so faithful, that he is always willing to forgive her “adultery” and the ever recurring betrayal of his Chosen People. The prophets, throughout the Old Testament, proclaimed to the people the faithful mercy of God. Mercy, for them, is that special power of love – his fatherly gaze towards us – a power that is stronger than any sin or any unfaithfulness. For the coming Sundays, we will look at three examples of the witness of God’s mercy in the Old Testament: Firstly, the Prophet Hosea, secondly, the Prophet Isaiah, and then thirdly, Psalm 103.

Continue reading “Year of Mercy – “I will never forget you” Part I”

A Christmas Message

In the days and weeks before Christmas, many people worry about what they are going to give their relations and friends as a gift. They search through catalogues and magazines, they trek wearily through the shops and stores until they find the right present. Most of the time we are looking for things that cost money, some expensive, some cheaper. What would it be like if we could also give each other a gift for Christmas, that you cannot buy with money? Something special, something truly original – something that brings us hope, joy and peace! I hope and pray that this Christmas story can be a little like such an “unbuyable” gift. It is called “The King with the Empty Hands”. “It happened in large city. A few young people had got together and planned to put on a Nativity Play. Very soon lots of people became involved: Someone wrote the script, others practiced eagerly, scenes and backdrops were made and painted, and a few mothers made the costumes. However, the evening before the first performance, something quite unusual and unfortunate happened – they had all forgotten about the parts of the Three Kings. They couldn’t just leave them out altogether. The Kings simply belong to the Nativity Story. The Director of the play had an idea. He would telephone three people from the neighbourhood and ask them if they wouldn’t mind standing in as one of the Three Kings. They should just bring a personal gift with them for the Child in the Manger – a gift, that means something special to them. Continue reading “A Christmas Message”

The Mary Prayer

Recently ordained, Fr. Larry arrived at his first pastoral assignment. He would never forget that first night. He was just dozing off when he heard a voice. “Get up, Father. Someone at 55 Water Street is in desperate need of you.” There was nothing mysterious about the voice. He knew that. In those days, long before electronics, there was a speaking tube that ran from the front door up to the bedroom. There was a megaphone at both ends. If there was an emergency during the night, the caller would speak into the megaphone. His or her voice would be heard upstairs. It was so bitterly cold! He ran down the stairs, pulling his bathrobe around him. The frigid wind had drifted the snow waist-high against the door and the side of the building where the outdoor end of the tube and megaphone hung. There was no one there. He knew that voice was real. He dressed as fast as he could, took his little black bag and plunged into the midnight blizzard. It seemed like hours before he found the house. It was dilapidated and obviously deserted. Still, driven by the urgency of the message he had heard, he knocked and then pounded on the door. There was no answer.  The rear door was ajar, but stuck. He pushed it open finally and stepped inside. In the white glare of moonlight seeping through the dirty windows, he could see a man’s body huddled on what had been the kitchen floor. Fr. Larry knelt beside him. The man was dressed in rags. He was a tramp. The smell of stale beer was almost nauseating. The old man was conscious. He was trembling in the cold. Father wrapped him in his overcoat. He was able to hear his confession. He gave him Holy Communion and anointed him. Afterwards, he told the dying man how he happened to be there. Then he asked the man, “You must have done something special in your life to gain this kind of extraordinary intervention. What was it?” “No. Nothing,” the man mumbled. “I’ve never done anything. I’ve wasted away my whole life — never did anything for anybody…” “But you must have done something,” Fr. Larry persisted. The old man just shook his head. “Nothing.” “I’ll get help.” Father started toward the door. As he reached it, he heard the man say, “Well, there might have been one thing…, ‘cept I don’t like to talk about it, ’cause, I didn’t do it well or nothing.” “What was it?” Fr. Larry whispered. “Aw Father, I don’t like to mention it, `cause I did it when I was drunk, sometimes in bars, making fun of it. I’d do it when I’d go to sleep under bridges with other guys…but I did it all these years….badly though….” “What? What did you do?” “When I was a little kid, my mum told me that if I’d say the ‘Mary Prayer’ every day as often as I would think of it, I wouldn’t die alone…that I wouldn’t die without having a priest to confess to and to give me the Last…Oh Father, I’m dying, ain’t I? And what my mum said was true.” He smiled. Then he sighed, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for me, please, now and at the hour of my death.” Then he went home to his Mother, both of them. “The Mary Prayer.” What a simple, hope-filled petition of love! For all of us. Everyday. As often as we think of it.