We all make mistakes. Some are big and some are small. Some we can easily forget while others haunt us much longer than they should. We know we need to forgive others’ mistakes that impact us, but how well do we forgive ourselves?
Our free will gives us the ability to choose, but our fallen human nature means that we won’t always make the correct decision. Some mistakes result in sin, while others are just merely mistakes with no significant impact. Hopefully we will always be able to learn something from the mistakes we make. A mistake is an event in time; you cannot go back to change it. You may be able to correct it after the mistake is made — or perhaps make amends for any damage done. Unless someone actually invents a time machine, you cannot go back and change your action. You have to live with your mistakes: major and minor, catastrophic and insignificant.
For those mistakes that we have trouble recovering from, we need to reach out to God for assistance. God has written the book on forgiveness; it is the Bible. From the beginning, man has offended God and God has forgiven him. He takes the mistakes man makes and weaves an amazing story. Even with the mistakes that David made, God turned him into the greatest king Israel had ever seen. Through his descendants, God brings His own Son, Jesus, into the world as our Savior. We may never see or know the good that God has been able to achieve by the mistakes we make, but we need to trust that He can make something beautiful out of them.
Rather than getting stuck in the moment when we realize our mistake, we must offer it up to God and ask Him to help correct it. The road may be bumpy while God is working, and His timing is rarely our timing, but God will not abandon us in our discomfort. He is walking right beside us, holding our hand through it all. To remain in misery because of a mistake is to turn away from God. He will help us to forgive ourselves, if we allow Him.
In one of the gospel passages for weekday Mass last week was healing of the paralytic man whose friends cut through the roof to lower him into the room with Jesus. Jesus’ initial response was “Child, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:5) We often think of Jesus healing the sick physically, so this account becomes an important reminder of Jesus’ mission.
In times past, physical maladies were often equated with sinning; the worse the sickness, the greater the transgression. It was seen as God punishing those who did wrong. While we no longer believe that to be the case, God continues to allow sickness and suffering to affect change to lead to His Kingdom. Sickness can still be a powerful sign of the corruption of creation from original sin.
When Jesus healed the paralytic man by forgiving his sins, He healed the sickness that was at the root of the man: his broken relationship with God. The physical healing was secondary and the result of the repaired bond. When we repent of our sins and turn back to God who forgives us, we are changed. Like the paralytic, we rise from our old way of life, walking and doing what God calls us to do.
When we pray for a person suffering illness, we often pray for his or her physical healing, just like the friends of the paralytic man. It’s only natural since we live in a physical world. However, that healing is only temporary, since this life does not last forever. If the person we are praying for passes on from this life, we may think that our prayers have gone unanswered. Viewing it not from a temporal perspective but a spiritual one, our prayers have indeed been answered. The ultimate healing occurred when the person’s soul returned to the presence of God. Instead of praying for a specific outcome, we should pray that individual accepts the care of Jesus, so that He can ensure healing that will have the most benefit for the soul.
Jesus’ ultimate mission was to heal the fracture between God and man. In His birth, life, death and resurrection, He covered every realm of man’s existence — physically and spiritually, so that through His grace and mercy, we have the opportunity to spend eternity with Him.
A recent line in the monthly Magnificat really struck me, “With joyful trust, let us own our sins before the Lord, who gladly forgives. (emphasis added) I was struck by the two phrases highlighted, as I don’t think I would have ever put them together like this.
First there is that thought of “owning” sins. How many examples do we have of people blaming others for their actions? It’s not just a recent phenomenon either, even in Genesis Adam blamed Eve for giving him the forbidden fruit, and Eve in her turn blamed the serpent. It seems like we all make excuses as to why we commit sin. Perhaps in analyzing what we did, we think that we could have made a different choice if the circumstances/people/weather/etc. were different. While reviewing our actions is a good thing, explaining them away is not. This idea of taking ownership for all our actions, including and especially those that are sinful, is a powerful step in developing our conscience. When we review what we have done and acknowledge those choices that damage our relationship with God, we are training ourselves to pay attention to what might tempt us and lead us astray. When we can recognize a situation that can lead us to sin, we can be attentive to the choices we are making, and with God’s grace, avoid those that lead us away from God. We cannot undo the actions we have already taken, but we can learn from them to avoid those situations in the future.
Acknowledging our sins is just one part of the equation. When we take ownership of our sins, we turn to God and admit our wrongdoing. We ask for His forgiveness and open ourselves to the penance assigned to us. It may seem a bit arbitrary when a priest assigns a certain number of Our Fathers or Hail Marys to say in atonement for the sins we committed. But it’s not just saying a few prayers; it’s taking the time to set ourselves before God and spending those few moments repairing the damaged relationship. Saying those prayers is the action we are taking to turn away from sin and turn back to God. What we often forget, or can’t imagine, is God gladly forgiving us. He wants so much to have a close and intimate relationship with us. How can He not rejoice when we turn ourselves away from sin and turn our hearts towards Him?
As we begin the penitential season of Lent, we have 40 days to dig deep into ourselves and find those deep-rooted sins that distance us from God. When we take ownership bringing our failings to the Lord for forgiveness, we are building a relationship that will bring us more joy at Easter, but that will only be a shadow of the final joy of being with the Lord forever in heaven.