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“The final form of love which is forgiveness”

March 14, 2014

Two things you need to know about this post:

1.  It’s Lent.

2.  I was mean yesterday.

Before I had kids, Lent meant fasting on Fridays and no chocolate.  Now that I have kids, Lent means doing alternative penances, like this brilliant de-cluttering idea.  Always, Lent means introspection.  Soul examination.  Confession.

Confession:  yesterday Jamie fell over the side of the couch because he was leaning too far, and landed head-first on the hardwood.  My first words upon retrieving him were to the person who had been nearest.  “You were watching him, weren’t you?”

Blame.  Guilt-tripping of the highest Catholic degree.

This has been a flaw my whole life:  if something goes wrong, assign blameSomeone must be responsible, held accountable for sin or thoughtlessness or not paying attention.

As Alan says, sometimes when something goes wrong, my reaction is this:

Step 1:  Panic.

Step 2:  Blame Alan.

In the case of Jamie and the couch, this statement was wholly unfair.  His fall was no one’s fault but his own.  It was not “the real me” but the Mama Bear Me who lashed out, assigned blame for my child in pain.

I apologized to the person I wounded with my words.  I told him it was unfair and unkind, and that I didn’t really mean it.  He said it was okay–in other words, that he forgave me.

But I did not forgive myself.

If Lent is about confession, it is also about forgiveness.  I used to go to confession as a kid in Catholic school, and usually emerged from the confessional (having told my priest all my sins:  lying, being mean to my brother, disobeying my parents) feeling lighter, happier.  Forgiven.

As I got older, the weight of wrongdoing never lifted, even after confession.  Even if God forgave me, I could not forgive myself.  My focus was on the penance, the hairshirted need to carry the burden of mistakes with me at all times.

One of my favorite quotes is this:

Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope.

Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith.

Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love.

No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.

–Reinhold Niebuhr

Forgiveness.  The final form of love.  The Catholic version of the Middle Way.  The blessing and gift after confession:  “May God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins.”

Confession is not a one-time deal.  We screw up again and again, and again and again ask for forgiveness.  We promise to try not to screw up again.  But God knows I will.  And still He says, “I forgive you.  I cleanse you.  I love you not because you’re perfect but because you’re you.”

I can’t rewind my words and take them back.  I can’t undo my mistakes.  I can only apologize and ask the person for forgiveness.

And then forgive myself.  Not just say I do.  But really believe in the possibility of soul-cleansing.  That who I am is not the dust and dirt of words said in anger or inconsiderate actions, but the spirit of Light.

Say the prayers of penance.  Let them go like the smoke of Lenten incense, like the silence offered up as Mass ends.  Forgive and heal.

Until next time.  Then do it all again.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. rayaless permalink
    March 30, 2014 2:28 am

    Beautiful Michelle; I would love to see your writing published…..

  2. Dick O 'Hara permalink
    March 16, 2014 12:52 pm

    Michelle, this was wonderful. I’m so glad you wrote it and that I was able to read it. May God continue to bless you as you travel the Lenten pathway.

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