Maybe the highest form of spirituality is simply to bear patiently with our brokenness. In the midst of a world of emotional and psychological violence, perhaps we can at least refrain from violence of any kind toward ourselves. — Heather King
Quite a number of years ago, I was at a Catholic men’s gathering where a seminarian shared a powerful story of his own experience of forgiveness.
Once when he was on a retreat, the priest he met with for Confession recommended he spend the afternoon praying with the story of Christ’s passion and death, asking the Holy Spirit to lead him deeply into the Gospel story. As he prayed, he had an extraordinary experience that, he said, changed him forever. While he was thinking on the scene of Jesus being scourged, he suddenly had a flashback to something that happened to him in middle school. He found himself on the school playground during recess, the day his best friend had been cornered by a group of boys who were intent on “teaching him a lesson.”
He said the flashback was so real he felt like he was there, though he had not thought of the incident in years. As he watched the scene play out, he remembered that as his friend was being kicked repeatedly by the group of boys surrounding him, he did nothing but watch and then walked away. He said, “I felt all over again the burring shame of my cowardice from that day.” But this time, as he relived the scene in his prayer, the group of boys parted so that he could see his friend on the ground, writhing in pain. “I felt so angry at myself for doing nothing. I wanted to die.”
“Then very suddenly,” he said, “my friend sat up and looked at me.” But when he looked at his friend now, his face had become the face of Christ, crowned with thorns. As he looked on with stunned amazement, he said he felt totally paralyzed, until Christ spoke these three words to him with a love unlike any he has ever felt: “I forgive you.” In that moment, he said with deep emotion, he broke down into heaving sobs. “It was the liberating experience of being forgiven in a way I had never experienced before. It was the first time I had ever felt real contrition for sin because of love. And, because of that, the first time I have ever received real forgiveness.”
He said it was in that moment he realized he had to let go of a heavy burden of guilt and shame he had been carrying all those years. In that “place of grace,” as he called it, he discovered new courage to embrace his vocation to be a priest who would also be a good shepherd that doesn’t abandon the sheep. Then he added this powerful insight, which deeply convicted me: “I never realized until that day that being forgiven by God also requires me forgiving myself. Until that moment, I had never made that connection.”
On this Mercy Sunday, receive Jesus’ unreserved forgiveness. Then join him in pardoning yourself for your past failures and sins, placing in his hands the burdens of guilt, loss or regret you carry. Let them go. Jesus, I trust in you.