Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Forgive us our trespasses...

Johnny and Billie were playing catch in the back yard on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Johnny was younger than his brother and couldn’t catch as well. Billie teased Johnny about this and Johnny grew angry. When Johnny could no longer take the teasing he threw the ball as hard as he could at his brother. The ball sailed over Billie’s head and crashed through the kitchen window. The boys ran to the front of the house in the hope that they wouldn’t be caught. The boys’ dad came out of the house and looked at the window. Shaking his head he went back into the house and nothing was ever said to either of the boys.

When the boys came down for breakfast the next morning they found the kitchen full of ladybugs. They were everywhere. They were on the walls, on the table, even crawling on their pancakes.

“Where did all of these ladybugs come from?” Johnny asked.

“They came through the broken window.” Johnny’s mother said with a grumble.

“The repair man is coming.” Johnny’s dad said calmly

Later that night Billie went into Johnny’s bedroom. “You will be doing the dishes for me tonight.” Billie said to his brother.

“I will not.” Johnny replied.

“If you don’t do the dishes for me I will tell mom and dad you broke the kitchen window.”

Johnny hung his head and went downstairs to do the dishes for his brother.

The next night Billie visited Johnny again. “Tonight you will take the trash out for me.” Billie said. Johnny knew better than to argue. He just hung his head and took out the trash.

Wednesday night Billie told Johnny to walk the dog for him. Johnny grew angry and exclaimed, “No I won’t”. He walked out of the room, went downstairs, and found his parents.

“Mom, dad, I broke the kitchen window.” Johnny said through tear filled eyes. “I am sorry.”

“We know.” Johnny’s father said. “I was in the kitchen and saw you do it.”

“So what are you going to do with me?” Johnny asked.

“Son, we love you and we forgive you for breaking the window. But it is still broken and you need to repair the damage you have caused.” Johnny’s dad said both sternly and lovingly. “The repair man is coming in the morning and it will cost five dollars to fix the window.”

“But I only have a dollar and a nickel in my piggy bank.” Johnny said dejectedly. “I know, I counted it on Sunday.”

“Go get your piggy bank and let’s have a look.” His father said with a slight grin on his face.

Johnny ran up to his room and brought his piggy bank to his father. He pulled the plug out of the belly and began to shake the bank. Five, one dollar bills spilled out onto the carpet. Johnny’s eyes got big and his mouth hung open.

“I only had a dollar and a nickel in there, I swear!” he exclaimed in disbelief.

Johnny’s father picked up the money and gave his son a hug. “I will make sure the window gets fixed in the morning.” His father said. Johnny hugged his father tight with a smile that went from ear to ear.
As Johnny ran back to his room his mother looked at his father and raised an eyebrow.
"I put the extra four dollars in there last night." His father said. "I figured he would break and admit it tonight."


A cornerstone in Protestant theology is “once saved, always saved”. Many believe that Jesus died once for the forgiveness of all sins, past, present, and future. Because all sins have already been forgiven there is no need to confess them and seek forgiveness once you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Any transgression they commit has already been forgiven.

Sin is any thought or word, spoken or left unspoken, or any action done or one we have failed to do that damages the relationship between one’s self and God and God’s people. When one damages this relationship a debt is incurred.

Forgiveness is a word that means “to let go”. God is love and forgiveness is a fruit of love. In his perfect love for us God is willing to let go of the debt we owe him when we sin. The key words here are “willing to”. God is “willing to” let go of our debt. It is not automatic as the once saved always saved people believe it to be. If Jesus died once for all sin (which he did) why are all sins not automatically forgiven?

Forgiveness is a fruit of love but it is also a gift given in love. For a gift to be effective the gift has to be accepted, opened, and used. If I give you a gift for your birthday and you hand it back to me and tell me you don’t want it you have not received anything. If I give you a gift and you put it in the closet without opening it you have received nothing. For my gift to you to be effective you have to accept it, open it, and use it.

Forgiveness is a gift given in love. For forgiveness to happen we have to accept it, open it, and use it. Another gift God has given us is our free will. God is willing to give us the gift of forgiveness but he also respects our right to deny this gift, to shelve this gift, and to not use this gift. The only sin God will not forgive is the sin we will not allow him to forgive. This comes in two flavors; despair and arrogance.

Despair happens when we believe that our sin is so great that even God cannot forgive it. God is willing but we cannot believe he can so the gift of forgiveness is never received. Arrogance happens when we believe that we don’t need God’s forgiveness. Instead, many times we believe that it is God who needs our forgiveness instead. In neither case is the gift of forgiveness accepted and therefore the sin is never forgiven. This is always by our choice, our will, and not by God’s. Once saved, always saved violates the principle of free will for it denies the individual the ability to reject God’s forgiveness.

Like with the broken window, although the debt of our sin is forgiven there is still damage to be repaired. When the sin only damages our relationship with God that relationship has to be repaired. God’s love for us is perfect and cannot be damaged. The real repair work is on us and our side of the relationship. This is done through penance. Penance is defined as voluntary self-punishment inflicted as an outward expression of repentance for having done wrong. It is our way of telling God our Father that we are sincerely sorry for what we have done. Penance needs to be serious enough that it stands as a deterrent to us not co commit the sin again but not so grave that it causes further harm.

In addition to causing damage to our relationship with God our sins can also cause damage to the relationships with God’s people. For example, if I lie to someone with the intent to defraud them I not only damage my relationship to God by violating the eighth commandment but I damage my relationship to the person I have lied to. I have to seek forgiveness from God but I also have to seek forgiveness from the person I have lied to.

We are called to forgive as God forgives. Indeed, we are called to forgive even if forgiveness isn’t sought by the person who harmed us. In this case forgiveness actually serves two purposes. It does release the person from the debt incurred by their action if and when they ever are willing to accept our forgiveness. When we forgive we are also released from the affects that sin can cause on us.

When someone sins against us it often creates feelings within us that generate evil intentions. We hate the person for what they have done. We hope that they will get theirs. We pray for bad things to happen to them. In the extreme we seek revenge. All of these responses have an evil intent. When we give in to evil and respond with malicious intent in our hearts we damage our relationship with God. When hate in our hearts is not released and purged it can turn into poison and affect everything we do.

When we truly forgive someone who has harmed us we “let go” of all of the built up evil inside of us. We are released and a huge weight is lifted from our hearts. Forgiving someone and letting go of all malicious intent is not the same thing as forgetting the damage done. We are not called to forgive and forget. We are called to forgive. To forgive does not mean we have to open ourselves up to have the same damage happen again.

The evil one uses our sin that is kept in darkness against us. It gives him power over us in much the same way that Billie used the broken window to get Johnny to do his chores. Once we bring our sins into the light he loses that power over us. Once Johnny told his dad what he had done Billie lost the ability to blackmail him. As a Catholic we bring our sins into the light in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We confess our sins to a priest who is acting in persona Christi capitis – in the person of Christ the head. In effect, we confess our sins straight to Christ.

Why can’t I just confess my sins directly to God? Like Johnny’s father God the Father already knows our sins. He sees all we do. We can go directly to God in an act of perfect contrition, that is, if we bring the sin completely out of the darkness of our hearts and are truly sorry for it. For most of us that is very difficult to do. It is easy to say sorry to God and not actually mean it as long as we are not held accountable for it. The sin never really leaves the darkness of our hearts. As long as it is in our hearts the evil one can use it against us.

When we confess to a priest we bring the sin into the light where it cannot be hidden. Jesus gave authority to forgive sins and that authority has been bestowed upon the priest. When the priest gives absolution it is not the man but Jesus through the man granting the forgiveness and burning the sin away in the light of his love.

In the Lord’s Prayer we pray, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” This is an extremely dangerous part of the Lord’s Prayer. We are petitioning God to only forgive us as much as the forgiveness we offer to others. Mercy will be received in the same measure it is given. If we refuse to forgive someone for a wrong committed against us, if we live with a grudge, or if we harbor evil intent towards someone we are giving God permission not to grant us his forgiveness. If I want to be forgiven for the wrongs I have done toward God I have to wipe the slate clean for everyone who has wronged me. This also violates the principle of “once saved, always saved”. If I am saved simply by my acceptance of Jesus as my Lord and Savior then it doesn’t really matter if I grant my brother forgiveness for anything he has done against me. I am forgiven. Who cares about my brother. God will forgive him as well once he accepts Jesus....

 I cannot do any of this on my own. I do not have the perfect love for my brother that God has for me. God knows this and will give me the grace I need to forgive my brother if I honestly wish to do so. All I have to do is look in my spiritual piggy bank. God will have put the five dollars in there for me to pay the repairman. God grants me the grace, the special favor, to forgive the same way he forgives. How great is our God?

Be a blessing to all you meet and allow them to be a blessing to you….and forgive, forgive, forgive.

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