What does it mean to say, “our sins are forgiven!”? What exactly is sin to us? In the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Ar. 8:2,1849), sin is defined as “an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as ‘an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law’”. The Catechism further explains sin as being an offense against God, which is “love of oneself even to contempt of God”. So, to say the least, sin is immoral, and something we should remove ourselves from as quickly as possible. As this is the case, we don’t remove ourselves from sin because we’re worried we won’t get to heaven, which I’ve heard people say. No, we run from sin, because we want to know the pure love of God, and we can never truly be in the pure presence of love if we are choosing to sin.
Understanding what sin is and how it relates to our daily lives is an absolute imperative to understanding forgiveness. Men, we should be the first to forgive and set the example for a culture which is seemingly devoid of forgiveness, and looks to ridicule, blame, and shame those of us who have had their sins exposed. To begin, it starts with all of us making the effort to look within ourselves and see where the cracks in façade are, or even where are the gaping holes which make up the edifice of our exterior duplicity. Looking deep within the recesses of our soul, and carefully listening to the voice of God in our hearts tell us, we too are sinners and yet he loves us. When we can stop and look within our self, we can know what it truly means to be broken. We are all broken in some way or another, and when you see someone who is truly put together, we must remember, we truly don’t know what they are going through, and although they seem to have it all, they may be screaming for help. So, listen to yourself, I am a believer in our personal ability to recognize the pain in others is a gift which comes from a direct recognition of our own pain, and within this acknowledgement we truly have an ability to heal. God has given us this gift of endurance to withstand the ugliness which creeps into our hearts and seeks like a dark unseen force to destroy by ripping apart those things which would bind us in love. Deceit, anger, envy, and laziness are just a few to give us example into a world of sin, which we all spend our time cowering in the darkness. God’s love is the light which exposes these sins, and gives us the strength to cast them out with the force so powerful as to have no equal.
In my younger days, I was not averse to sinning and openly not caring about my actions, except for I didn’t want to face the negative consequences which so commonly occurred because of my personal decisions to hurt. Hurting is what sin is all about, even if we don’t feel pain from our sinful ways, there are people who do, or who will feel the pain, and what’s worse they feel pain due to no true fault of their own. It stands as an analogous equivalent to us walking up to a family member and slapping them in the face for no reason, and then walking away as though we never cared for them to begin with. When we can look at the whole situation, we can see the awful nature of sin, where It’s hurtful action and coldness, are an indication of a lack of remorse. Sin make us numb to love and life as we see it every day, and how can we even expect to find a loving relationship with God, when we can’t love others or truly love ourselves.
Ok, so if everyone sins, doesn’t this just mean we are all working on stuff, and we don’t need anyone telling us how to live? Well, in short, no! We all need the advice of others who are farther along their spiritual journey than us. Those of us who’ve ascended the mountain, but love us enough to wait and help bring us along with them, even at their own peril. A lesson of humility I try and tell my kids is, “there is always someone faster, better, smarter, funnier, and more popular than you. So, if your focus is on those aspects of life, you will always fail.” I know it sounds a little harsh, but truth does hurt, and love can be even more painful for us as fathers, when we must watch our children learn these lessons. I am good about not bringing up some potential problems without having a solution though. If we can acknowledge we may be deficient in some areas, and in some cases, there is no way past this barrier, it should make us rethink our entire focus of life. Our focus should be on the love of everyone we meet, it should be on the support of those who are good at what they do, even if it means we will never be the superstar in comparison. Our focus should always be on willing the good of the other, charity is and “mankind is our business”, to borrow Jacob Marley’s phrase in A Christmas Carol. God has a plan for each one of us, and when we try to out-think or control our “destiny” we subvert the very graces and love God pours on us, and in this sin, we assume roles of deity, which we are not, because there is always something bigger, better, smarter, faster, and more sought after than us. Even in competition we see how sin moves its way into our lives and corrupts what should be healthy, all because we want control.
Control, is where I always found my short-comings to be at; I wanted control in everything I did, and I assumed I could out-think any situation which ever came along. I was so wrong, and I left the mistakes and the pain in my wake of selfishness. Ok, where did I begin my journey? Confession, I talked to my local priest, a man whom I’d known since I was a child, and who married me and baptized my children. I trusted his spiritual guidance, aside from his impressive compassion and knowledge of all things related to God, he is also very kind. So, I confessed my sins, and when he didn’t stand up and kick me out of the confessional, nor did he act surprised, I was overcome. I wept like a child in front of him, and he accepted me for who I really was. I was so broken, and I hurt so many by my own actions, I felt as though there was no path back to the light. I was so wrong though, not only was he willing to show me the way, he was also willing to walk with me through the fire as well. When I left, I was physically drained, I had nothing left in the tank it seemed. A few days went by, and now I was on my own because I felt this is where I needed to be, I left everything and everyone for my own company (don’t it’s an awful choice). Then just when I thought I could never have anything like what I pushed away ever again, God saw fit to prove me wrong. His graces flowed through those people who I pushed away, and those I derided as my enemy, and slowly and deftly they accepted me and my sinfulness, and then with love held me up. They forgave me.
After my walk through the wasteland of sin, I realized a few things which have always helped me to self-reflect and then to understand those who are struggling themselves. First thing, everyone, whether they are willing to admit it or not, is looking for some form of redemption. God is the only source for redemption, and when you forgive them for their actions, do it with the light of God in your heart, and I promise they will feel it. Even if they refuse to acknowledge it. I know this sounds somewhat mushy, but I’ve seen it work time and again, and I’ve seen strong men, crumble under the magnitude of the weight of sin which assumed a position on their shoulders. What allowed them to feel God’s light, were other men willing to accept their pain and continue to love regardless. The second lesson I learned was, we must be willing to show other men what men of God can do. We, must be willing to hold up our brothers and sisters, in a way they can learn to become “fishers of men” Mark 1:14-20. We aren’t perfect and at one point or another, we need to rely on the efforts and prayers of those around us, we need the community, brotherhood, to remind us who we need to be, and look out for us in every possible way. This is where forgiveness comes into play, we must be willing to admit our fault, and at the same time we must be willing to forgive those who have sinned against us. It can’t work any other way. We should always be humbled by those people who embrace the sinner rather than push them away.
Men, I can firmly say, we have a tough road ahead of us. We should be working to carry the light of Christ through our culture and make sense of the tragedies we see daily. The shootings, bombings, and vitriol which is bombarding us at every turn. People are dying, and we seemingly have no solution for the problems at hand. Sin is running rampant across the world, and it seems very little is being done to combat it. Sacrifice is what is needed here. No culture or movement was ever anything at all without sacrifice. If Jesus had not been sacrificed and then risen from the dead, there would be no Christianity for sure, but then there would be no possibility for redemption in life either. What can you sacrifice to combat the sin you face every day? Can you pray, and sacrifice your time? Can you forgive your opponent in life, and with a heart full of charity will the best for them? Can you let go of your anger and pain from years of sin? Can you finally let God take control, and trust in his love?
I know some concepts are seemingly easy to say, but so very difficult to put into practice. It’s too easy in some cases to tell you to forgive someone who has so abhorrently behaved towards you, and not have you feel like you lost. For me, it felt like I was losing every time. It appears I was the only person trying, but what I completely looked past, was everyone’s efforts prior to my own. Their efforts were more magnanimous than my own, and the growth I was dealing with through my journey to forgiveness of myself, hurt. I needed to give them time, and I needed to understand, a process of trust and forgiveness takes time, like any wound, it needs to be properly cleaned set and then we wait for it to get better. This was exactly how it worked for me, everyone needed time, and I was just going to have to understand them and where they were at with me.
Within sin, we choose to push ourselves away from God, we stop seeking his love and start trying to do everything alone. This never works, no matter how many have tried, there is an emptiness and loneliness which swallows up the soul, and leaves seeking what we can’t find like a drug addict looking for their original high. Love is the only medicine which cures this sickness, and forgiveness is the method which it is administered. It is painful because it is a detox of the soul. It aims to purify us by loving to extinction that which would have separated us eternally from God, and giving us the sense of understanding which becomes purpose in the pursuit of God. So, how do we receive the forgiveness we seek, by giving it to those who seek it from us, by our love of the people we are surrounded by daily, and finally by sacrifice. Sacrifice unto yourself those things which would separate you from God’s love. Don’t be afraid of what anyone might think about your zeal and love for God, if the saints in Heaven had ever been worried about appearances, we would never have had St. Francis of Assisi. St. Francis, was truly a man in search of God’s heart, and just his example is one of wonder and longing. We should all aspire to become a saint. When someone asks you what your goal in life is, your standard answer should be, “to become a saint”. This should be the goal of every human being who ever lives. Forgive often, and don’t let fear keep you from seeing the objective truth as it is before you always. Allow yourself to be forgiven, don’t let the deceiver allow you to believe you’re not worth the effort. You most definitely are worth every effort.
I will leave you with a few thoughts, the last act of Jesus before he expired on the cross, was to forgive those who were putting him to death, Luke 23:34. The divine Christ, forgave his murders, and then in passionate wording looks at the thief who accepted his fate and his sin, and begged forgiveness says, “This day you will be with me in paradise” John 23:43. This is one of my favorite passages in the Bible, it is so loving and so wonderful, while in the midst of so much pain.
If you are having trouble as a father and a husband, be willing to be open and to accept the payment for any poor decisions you’ve made. Then allow forgiveness, all the healing to begin. It may not always work out the way you envisioned, but I would bet those people we’ve hurt never envisioned how we would hurt them either. Trust in God, allow his love to permeate ever cell in your body, and become a true reflection of his light within your soul. If you are facing troubles, just remember what my wife always tells me, “this too shall pass”. Your pain will pass for sure, and your focus and prayers to God will mitigate it. Remember, your prayers are not about you, they are about your relationship with God, and with those around you. Don’t be selfish, and never tell God what you want, humbly ask for his will to be done always. I pray my words, although difficult to take at times have helped you and allowed you to see hope in your life, and I pray God blesses you and your family.
God is good, all the time, and all the time, God is good!!!