Our God will never allow us to face a challenge alone, unless of course we exercise our God given free will and reject, turn our back on his grace, help, love. It is essential we keep before us the great gifts offered to us to strengthen us to face the challenge of the here and now living. Celtic spirituality offers us some wonderful prayers that can be strength for our journey. The first is from Lorica - known as "The Deer's Cry",
I arise to-day.
Through a mighty strength,
The invocation of the trinity
Through belief in the threeness
through confession of the oneness
of the Creator of Creation
I arise to-day
through God's strength to pilot me;
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear to me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
Another prayer I like;
Your eyes are watchful,
your ears are listening,
your lips are speaking,
friend at my side.
With all of that, upper-most in our minds, we can now journey into the territory of the toxic-trinity; guilt, fear and shame. This week, we will take a look at guilt, which Erma Bombeck said, "Is a gift that keeps on giving".
Healthy guilt enables us to say, "I made a mistake and I need to make amends, I need to change this behavior". There is also the guilt that we hang onto - never forgetting, never forgiving. It becomes a toxic presence in our spiritual life. We are told that our Jewish brothers and sisters discovered guilt, but Catholics perfected it. I am sorry to say there was a huge assist given in this effort by the Irish monks. John O'Donohoe in his book, Eternal Echoes has written the following; please read it slowly and reflectively;
"Sometimes, we feel guilty about things in the past that should hold no guilt for us. Because we feel bad about something, we exaggerate our part in it and retrospectively ascribe more power and freedom to ourselves than we actually had in the actual situation."
Guilt belongs to the past and the past is over and gone. We have the consoling words from Psalm 103, "As far as the East is from the West, so far, have I put your sins behind you". Do we believe God or not? "When personal guilt in relation to a past event becomes a continuous cloud over your life, your locked in a mental prison. You have become your own jailer." Although you should never erase your responsibility for the past, when you make your past your jailer, you distroy your future. It is such a great moment of liberation when you begin to forgive yourself, let the burden go and walk out into a new path of promise and possibility. Self-compassion is a wonderful gift to give yourself. You should never reduce the mystery and expanse of your presence to a haunted fixation with something that you did or you did not do."
To learn the art of integrating your faults is to begin a journey of healing on which you will regain your pose and find new creativity. You soul is more immense than any one moment or event in your past. When you allow guilt to fester and reduce you like this, it has little to do with guilt. The guilt is only an uncomfortable but convenient excuse for your fear of growth. Guilt then has to do with self-forgiveness. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I have come across so many people who have never forgiven themselves. They have placed themselves in the prison of guilt and shame. Guilt is "I made mistake and I need to change and in some cases make amends" shame is "I am a mistake and I need to be punished". When we do not want to forgive ourselves, that is pride. Pride in the fact that somehow our sin is too big for God's love, his compassion and his forgiveness. We are told today the way we forgive ourselves is the way we allow to forgive us. If I never hear myself say, "I forgive you Joe", how am I going to believe God when He says, I forgive you and I have placed your sins behind you. Isn't there a reason then, that Russeau can, "Man was born free, yet everywhere where I look, I see him in chains."
Many people do not forgive themselves for some action in the present or actions in the past. Whether it is the stealing, the lying, the cheating, the lack of respect for parents and authority figures, premarital sex, adultery, or abortion. You can also carry a burden of guilt not because of an action, but because of your non-action at a crucial juncture. If you had had the vision or courage to say or do something, then someone else might have been spared great pain. (Anam Cara) Once you began to see what your failure to act actually allowed, you feel guilt and shame. Somewhere we need to be able to say, “I forgive you.” We need to bring our guilt and shame to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and then accept the words that we are forgiven. This forgiveness, God’s forgiveness, will depend so much on how we forgive ourselves. Lack of forgiveness will deprive us of enjoying God's gift of forgiveness. Forgiveness is God's gift to us. We must impart the gift of reconciliation to ourselves. Reconciliation is a process not an event. It is a lifelong journey because of the experience of being human.
To help us the journey into reconciliation, it is very helpful to write, not type, a letter of understanding and forgiveness to yourself for the actions of the past which we are finding hard to accept and forgive now. With understanding comes forgiveness. To help us with understanding we need to go back and place ourselves in thoes events and circumstances which are causing us difficulty right now. We are told in philosophy the object of the senses is good. We will never do anything that at the moment of doing does not appear to be good. Five second, five minutes, fives days, fives years later, we see that was not the best decision, but it was the best decision at the time we performed the actions.
We did our best, not, the best in those situations. Again, with understanding comes forgiveness. Hindsight is always 20/20. We can judge ourselves harshly in our 30’s and our 40’s, about actions we did in our teens and 20’s. We need compassion, not condemnation. In Anam Cara on page 117, we read, “Every person has certain qualities or presence in their heart that are awkward, disturbing, and negative. One of your sacred duties is to exercise kindness toward them. In a sense, you are called to be a loving parent to your delinquent qualities.” After you write your letter of forgiveness, burn it, not tear it up, burn it.
So let us use the season of Lent to deal with the guilt of the past and impart in ourselves the gift of forgiveness, reconciliation and freedom. Let us bestow on ourselves the gift of compassion. So we can enjoy God’s gift of compassion and understanding. Paul tells us in Corinthians, “Love is patient, Love is kind, Love takes no offense and is not resentful.” Let us use this season of Lent, to put those four aspects of Love into our daily life, into our daily living. We will then walk beyond guilt, and fear, into freedom and a transformed sense of who we are in God's love. Our goal is always to be able to love ourselves as God loves us. When we do not forgive ourselves, in other words, allow God's forgiveness to penetrate into what can be harden heart. It is wonderful to keep in front of us the following words of Henri J. M. Nouwe;
“God’s mercy is greater than our sins. There is an awareness of sin that does not lead to God but to self-pre-occupation. Our temptation is to be so impressed by our sins and failings and so overwhelmed by our lack of generosity that we get stuck in a paralyzing guilt. It is the guilt that says: “I am too sinful to deserve God’s mercy.” It is the guilt that leads to introspection instead of directing our eyes to God. It is the guilt that has become an idol and therefore a form of pride. Lent is the time to break down this idol and to direct our attention to our loving Lord. The question is: “Are we like Judas, who was so overcome by his sin that he could not believe in God’s mercy any longer and hanged himself, or are we like Peter who returned to his Lord with repentance and cried bitterly for his sins?” The season of Lent, during which winter and spring struggle with each other for dominance, helps us in a special way to cry out for God’s mercy.”
When we have a God of mercy we have a loving God. In fact we have a God that is prodigal in His love for us. He is reckless, extravagant with the merciful love He offers to you and I in each and every moment in our journey to Him and with Him. Conversely, if we do not have a God of mercy, or worse still when we see ourselves as not needing a God of mercy, there is a kind of hell have we placed ourselves in and then blamed others and God for it.
Let us remove the stumping block of guilt so we can see deeper into the cave of our soul where the presence of God is always there to forgive, to reconcile and impart in us the gift of freedom, the gift of new life which will enable us to live more deeply what is ours because of our Baptsim. Please love yourself enough to give yourself this gift of forgiveness. Only you can allow yourself to enjoy the gift of forgiveness already offered to you by your God. Psalm 103, "As far as the East is from the West, so far have I put your sins behind you." In the Old Testament we are told in Isaih, "You have thrown my sins over your shoulder". The following is a quotatation written by Merton to Henri Nouwen, which many people have embraced resulting in a new freedom and a new happiness. "At the center of our being a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure faith, a point or mark which belongs entirely to God...this little point...is a pure glory of God in us...it is life pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of Heaven. It is in everybody."
Our God and Father is a God who is prodigal in His love for us. Let us give ourselves the freedom to leave behind the prison of guilt, so we can walk more freely knowing His eyes are watching, His ears are listening and we truly have a Friend by our side. A Friend who will never leave us or abandon us.
God Bless,Fr. Joe