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Seasonal Reflection: Lent and Forgiveness

Forgiveness

As the 40-day journey to Easter begins, a friar with experience in education, administration and parish ministry, shares his thoughts about the importance of reviewing “the pathways and ministries where God has led us and walked with us.”

Ash Wednesday begins our Lenten journey to Easter. During this journey we will ask God to deepen our relationships — not only with God, but also with our fellow human beings.

The Lenten season invites us to treat ourselves to those age-old disciplines of regular prayer, fasting — or doing without so that others can have — and sharing our time, talent and treasure. Of course, as Franciscan friars, we already integrate such practices in our lives.

Lent is also a time to reflect upon the many pathways and ministries where God has led us and walked with us. For example, this is the first Lenten season I am serving not in my native New York State — where for decades I served in higher education and Provincial administration — but as a parochial vicar in sunny Florida, where I’m enjoying the treat of regular preaching.

On March 29, we will enter into the chief week of the liturgical year, focusing on Jesus Christ’s journey from this earthly life through the mystery of death into eternal life. The word “paschal” refers to the Hebrew Passover. In a larger sense, the Passover is the exodus or liberation or deliverance from the Israelites’ oppressors.

Learning to Forgive
Palm Sunday brings a reflection on the paradox of triumph and tragedy — the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, and then the Gospel proclamation of the passion and death of Jesus. Even in the tragedy of Good Friday, there is hidden the triumph of Easter — Jesus, crucified, risen, and in our midst, transformed.

Thursday, Friday and Saturday of Holy Week are the Triduum. On Thursday, we commemorate the Lord’s Supper — a sacrificial meal and a symbol of our oneness with God and with the human family.

On Good Friday, we meditate upon the Garden of Gethsemane; the trial; the crucifixion; the burial; veneration of the cross; and a simple communion service.

At the Easter vigil, we reflect on the passage of Jesus from this earthly life through death into eternal life; the resurrection of Jesus is the pledge of our own liberation or deliverance. The vigil includes: fire, a symbol of Jesus as the light who scatters the darkness around us; the proclamation of the story of our salvation in the Scriptures; the renewal of our baptismal promises; and the Eucharist. Easter proclaims that Jesus is risen, alive among us, and especially alive in the sacramental life of our Catholic community.

Forgiveness is an overriding Lenten theme. It invites us to reflect on our own willingness to forgive people who have wronged us, intentionally or unintentionally.

There’s a folk wisdom that says: “forgive and forget.” But sometimes we can’t forgive wrongs done to us unless we remember; for example, a once happy relationship, then a wrong done, and finally, a shattered relationship. At times, we have to forgive ourselves as well as others so that we can move forward with life.

Let me illustrate forgiveness with a favorite book of mine. In The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom describes how she lectured and preached throughout post World War II Europe about the need to forgive one another. Following one of her talks, a former SS guard came up to her. She remembered him: the laughing SS, the frightened face of her sister. And when this former SS guard extended his hand to shake hers, she, who had preached so often about forgiveness, kept her hand at her side. And then she remembered: Jesus Christ had died for this repentant man; and forgives him. Lord Jesus, she prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him. She tried to smile, to raise her hand. But she couldn’t.

And so, again, she breathed a silent prayer: “Jesus, I can’t forgive him for what he did to my sister and so many other people. Give me your forgiveness.”

Ten Boom discovered that forgiveness depended not on her, but on God’s grace.

Finding Freedom and New Life
When Jesus tells us to love our enemies, he also gives us the grace to love, to forgive. To forgive as Christ forgives is sometimes impossible to do on our own. But Christ doesn’t ask us to forgive on our own. He simply asks that we participate in his gift of forgiveness.

God has already forgiven those who are truly sorry — and all he asks us to do is to participate in his forgiveness. Forgiveness is possible when we trust in God to bring healing, forgiveness and reconciliation to our broken relationships. As God constantly searches out the lost, so should we; and as God always welcomes back the stranger, so should we.

Forgiveness can be a long journey, but at the end lies freedom and new life.

May God, during this Lenten season, give all of us the grace to participate in the forgiveness of Christ so that we can be at peace with ourselves and one another, as true disciples of Jesus.

— Fr. Kevin, a longtime educator and president emeritus of Siena College and former president of Mount Saint Mary College and Christ the King Graduate School of Theology, is parochial vicar at St. Raphael Church in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Editor’s note: Friars interested in writing a reflection for HNP Today on a timely topic – a holiday, holy day or other seasonal theme – are invited to contact the HNP Communications Office at communications@hnp.org. The previous reflection, about the Year of Consecrated Life, was written by vocation director Basil Valente, OFM.