Forgiveness - As a former Catholic, I have experienced the sacrament of reconciliation. It begins with confessing your sins to a priest. After hearing your confession, the priest will usually offer some advice and penance. After that, the priest will declare you absolved or forgiven by God.

During my junior high and high school years, I was a fairly devout Catholic, and I found this reconciliation experience incredibly powerful. After confession, I had a clean slate and felt pure. What a marvelous feeling, especially for a guilty Catholic boy.

I remember a particularly powerful experience. During a high school retreat, we had the opportunity to ask forgiveness from any classmates we had sinned against. In essence, we asked forgiveness directly from those we'd wronged. WOW! I took this very seriously, and went up to a guy I had really hated...He was a big, strong, jock, and I really didn't like him...I can't remember why now...

But I told him of my feelings--right to his face. After venting, I told him I was wrong, felt very sorry for my feelings, and asked for his forgiveness....I'll never forget his response. This big, tough high school jock wept with me; we hugged each other and wept. He said he was sorry for the things he'd done or thought about me, and asked my forgiveness.

What a powerful moment. What a real moment of reconciliation...of forgiveness.

Since I've left the Catholic faith, I'd say the thing I miss most is that belief and experience of forgiveness.

We All Need Forgiveness

Perhaps we all need forgiveness. What do we do when we make mistakes? What do we do when we join crowd in teasing an innocent and vulnerable person? What do we do when we yell at our child? What do we do if we can't get away from the feeling we did something wrong? The Catholic model offers a possible solution. We need to confess our mistake. We need to discuss what we can do to make up for it. We need to ask for forgiveness.

But there's more...What charged me about absolution was the feeling that I had a "clean slate." Spiritually, no memory of my sin remained. But in the real world, that clean slate is hard to come by. We give it to our children, but once you're an "adult" all mistakes become a permanent mark on your character. Just look at how elections go. Adversaries dig up "dirt" from each other's past. The records are somehow permanent.

We value consistency, and that's fair to a point. But don't we value "growth"? Even "change"?

Aren't there things you've done in your life (maybe even recently) that you'd like to forget or receive absolution?

Maybe I just can't let go of my guilty Catholic heritage. But I know the opportunity of gaining a clean slate is extremely precious, and we need to give that gift to ourselves sometimes...and we need to give it to others, too.

The Gift of Forgiveness
by Charles F. Stanley

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