Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” At the height of his physical suffering, moved with deep love and compassion, Jesus asks the Father to forgive. Who is he asking forgiveness for? Could it be the soldiers who mocked him, scourged him, tortured him then nailed him to the Cross? Or maybe he is asking forgiveness for the high priests, the Scribes or the Pharisees who remained jealous and envious of Jesus and wanted him dead. Or perhaps the forgiveness is for the crowd who only days before praised him in his entrance to Jerusalem. Or maybe it’s for the Apostles, the disciples or Jesus’ friends who said they will die for him but in the end deserted him and left him alone. Or perhaps he is asking forgiveness for us who abandon him every time we sin. The answer is yes to all. Jesus died to bring forgiveness for all our sins. Right up to his final hour on earth, Jesus preached forgiveness. He taught forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer and when asked how many times we should forgive someone, Jesus answered, “seventy times seven” – meaning every time. And even on the night he was handed over at the Last Supper, Jesus said, “this is my body… this my blood poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sin.” Then ultimately on the Cross, Jesus simply says, “Father, forgive them.” The Cross is the greatest and definitive expression of the Father’s love for us and his desire to forgive those who repent, for there is no greater love than this than to lay down one’s life for a friend to bring him forgiveness of his sins. Jesus came to entered into Jerusalem for us, to enter into the Way of the Cross, into the darkness of our world, into our broken humanity. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” He came to be like us in all things but sin, to do the Father’s will, to suffer and die for us, to heal the contrite of heart, to restore us to the image of the Father and to bring us home. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Jesus wants you to enter into the Kingdom God, into the Peace of his presence, into his Scared Heart, into the sacredness of Mass, into Holy Communion, into the New and Everlasting Covenant and into the Father’s arms. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Jesus wants to come into your life, into your home, into your heart, into your family, into your soul. He says, “come follow me” – deny yourself, take up your cross and come follow me.
Reflections from the Heart
“Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart; for I am gracious and merciful.” In the Act of Contrition, from the bottom of our hearts, we express our sadness and sorrow and the pain of hurting God with our sins. We seek God’s mercy and beg for his peace because we have separated ourselves from him. We promise God our Father that with the help of his grace we will not sin again. However, we know that we are weak and prone to sin and we are always in need of God’s mercy. Thank God for the gift of his Sacraments since they heal us and help us avoid sin and become more faithful to our baptismal promises. This is our Lenten call – to repent and return to God with all our heart. To return to his way, his word, his will. Lent is that special time where we allow the Lord to heal us from the effects of our sins. It is the time to ask for the grace of forgiveness and to have a heart of forgiveness toward those who have hurt or wronged us. We do this in preparation to celebrate the Easter Season with great joy knowing that we have been delivered from darkness and have received the light of eternal life. This is the Easter gift we received at baptism, that is restored in the Sacrament of Penance and nourished in the Sacrifice of the Mass. When we are baptized we enter into relationship with God, our sins are erased and we become beloved children of God. God takes our hearts and forms them into the Heart of Christ and the Holy Spirit fills our hearts with his holy fire and the awesome gifts of his love. When we sin, we separate ourselves from God. Without his grace, without his love, without his light, we are blind and walk in total darkness like sheep that have lost their way. That is why this season is so important for our faith, our souls and our spiritual journeys. Our Lord wants us to be holy as he is holy – so he says, “even now… return to me with your whole heart; for I am gracious and merciful.” Our Lord wants to help us. He wants to forgive us. He wants to heal us. We can allow him in the Sacrament of Penance. Lent is a time of God’s infinite love and divine mercy. It is a time to finally forgive and be forgiven. It is a time to return to the Lord so that he can heal your heart and fill it with his love. Please, I beg you, don’t let another season of grace simply pass you by.
“Repent, says the Lord; the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” A retreat is a wonderful opportunity to escape from the busyness of life and enter into the sacredness of silence and encounter Christ on his journey to Jerusalem and our journey from repentance to holiness. Retreating is an opportunity to look at where we have been, determining the wrong turns we have taken and in prayer, ask the Lord for strength, healing and guidance. One of my favorite books to take on retreat is “Journal of a Soul” by Pope Saint John XXIII. It captures the spiritual development of his prayer life and his own journey to holiness. It is a beautiful example of the process a person goes through in turning away from the things that cause us to sin and turning towards the Way of the Lord, mainly following the Lord’s commandments of love and forgiveness. Over time, John XXIII developed a deeply disciplined prayer life grounded on Christian virtues. He celebrated the Sacrament of Penance regularly because he said that even the slightest sin causes a ripple effect to the entire Body of Christ. The Spiritual Father’s described the process to holiness as a journey up a mountain where the bottom is the starting point or the beginning of life and the top represents our end, our goal, which is being reunited with God, our Father. This requires us to go through a purification process whereby we are aware of our sinfulness and through prayer, faithfulness and perseverance, we separate ourselves from worldly things such as materialism, pride, noise, selfishness and we seek and attach ourselves to heavenly things in order to ascend to the top of the mountain where God awaits us with open arms and a loving embrace. Like any journey, we have to plan for the trip by determining how to arrive to our final destination and what is needed for the trip. We want to travel light but sin weights us down; it becomes excess baggage. The Good News is that we have the Sacrament of Penance to help us lighten the load. What a gift it is to experience the Father’s love and mercy. It is like that journey of ascending to the mountain. We are once again reunited to the Father through the sacrificial love of Jesus on the Cross. We begin this process by examining our conscience to identify any hurts we might have caused. Have there been situations of greed, pride, envy, anger, lust? Have you offended your spouse, parents, siblings, neighbor, enemy, friends? With a contrite heart, ask the Lord for mercy, forgiveness, healing, peace. It’s a great way to repent and return to the Lord.
“It was because the Lord loved you and because of his fidelity to the oath he had sworn to your fathers, that he brought you out with his strong hand from the place of slavery, and ransomed you from the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt.” Every person has an “Egypt” – that is a place that tends to enslave and oppress them. For one person, their Egypt may be a job that they dislike or an assignment they are unhappy with. For another, their Egypt might be a bad, neglectful or abusive relationship. For others, it could be poverty, homelessness, underemployment or a serious struggle with an addiction or addictive material. Praise God that he did not create us to live in slavery or oppression but in the freedom of his love. However, sin and poor choices put us in a desert place we can call our Egypt. A desolate place that is dark, gloomy and unpleasant which robs us of God’s joy. But thanks be to God, Jesus came to set prisoners and captives free. He came to set us free. We must choose to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus out of our Egypt and into his peace. If a job enslaves you, then perhaps it’s time for a new job. We know this is not particularly easy. You may have to sacrifice some security like seniority, insurance or healthcare benefits or a good salary. Take it to Jesus in prayer. If a relationship enslaves you, then maybe it’s time to discern if it’s the right one. We must learn to sit down and listen to each other. What are the needs, expectations, responsibilities? Try to work it out. It’s not easy to talk when we are wounded or hurting. Jesus can help us to heal if we ask him. If addictive behavior like alcoholism, substance abuse, over eating, pornography, gaming, or lying enslaves you, we must be willing to say to ourselves, we have a problem and seek help. It’s not comfortable looking into a mirror or looking into our hearts and seeing our shortcomings and vulnerabilities but it’s necessary to follow Christ in order to enter and embrace the new life he offers us. In recognizing what enslaves or oppresses us, we can seek the God who is ready to help us when we cry out to him. He comes to deliver us from our Egypt. He leads us through the stress of finding the right job. He helps us resolve relationships that have become problematic. He helps us recover from addictive behavior and brings us the joy of pardon and peace. Christ awaits all who are willing to follow him out of their Egypt and into his peace.