My parents drilled a number of things into the heads of myself and my brother and sister. One of them is to apologize. I remember being taught to “say you’re sorry” when you hurt someone and I remember being forced to do it – even when I was still angry.
It was not until much later in my life that I learned a few important things about apologies. When I tell someone that I am wrong and to then chose to apologize for it is hard when I have too much pride. Even when both of us know I was wrong, it is hard for us to move on until I apologize.
Sometimes I fight the apology. I want to explain or rationalize it. I want to justify why my actions that hurt you do not require an apology. It’s a clever use of what the shrinks call deflection. People quickly get wise to that trick.
Other times, I fake the apology – meaning it comes from my intellect instead of my heart. I was trained to give apologies, not to understand contrition. When I am in this state, I haven’t thought about the extent of the wrong I did to someone. Of course, they know they were wronged. If I do not apologize, they may get over it at some point, letting time heal the wound. Or they may never forget the incident and they will not trust me in the same way.
I heard once that for every deed of wrong-doing, it takes 12-20 deeds to restore trust to the level it was before the wrong-doing. I think about this when I have hurt someone. It makes for an easy transition into contrition and when I am contrite, I am apologizing with my heart.
So rather than skirt my responsibility, I learned to man up as they say and apologize. Repeat after me: I apologize. What I did was wrong and I understand it hurt you.
I think the biggest fear I had about making a contrite apology is that the person would not forgive me.
Unfortunately, apologies are only the first step because an apology is simply an admission of wrong-doing. The other important step – forgiveness is the lesson today’s Gospel reading - the story when Jesus heals a paralytic.
This is the time in the Gospel when Jesus was getting notoriety and attention so he was surrounded by people. Some disciples brought a paralytic on a stretcher to be healed by Jesus, but there were too many people crowded around the house. In a move of sheer genius, they lowered the paralytic through the roof of the house Jesus was in.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said,
“As for you, your sins are forgiven.”
This ruffled the feathers of the Pharisees because they believed that only God could forgive sins. To prove them wrong, Jesus healed the paralytic:
But that you may know
that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins?”
he said to the one who was paralyzed,
“I say to you, rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.”
The paralytic was healed, picked up his stretcher and walked home.
He was forgiven.
Although I do not have the power to forgive sins on behalf of God, I can forgive those who have sinned against me. This is the other part of making an apology that I did not understand until my conversion – I need to ask for forgiveness from the person to whom I apologize.
Repeat after me (again): I apologize. I was wrong and I understand that I hurt you. I hope you will forgive me.
I have found that when I make an authentic apology AND ask for forgiveness, then the wounds I may have caused often heal faster. People are forgiving – as long as I remember to ask for it.
I have to thank God for the forgiveness I can receive in the confessional through the Sacrament of Reconciliation – technically called by the Church in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. This is where I apologize to God AND ask for his forgiveness.
This is why we Catholics make an act of contrition in the confessional. Here’s the one I say:
Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended you
and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of
heaven and the pains of hell,
but most of all because they offend you my God,
who are all good and deserving of all my love.
I firmly resolve, with the help of your grace,
to confess my sins,
to do penance,
and to amend my life.
I used to reserve my acts of contrition for the confessional. Now I do it almost everyday because most days, I offend God.
My protestant friends leave the admission of sin as something that is just between them and God – not a formal sacrament like confession. Many of my Catholic brothers and sisters also skirt confession.
I respectfully disagree because these offers of apologies to God do not work for me (practically speaking) and they do not coincide with the teachings of the Church. They do not require me to make a thorough examination of my conscious. They do not help to prevent me from committing more sins because nothing is worse for me than to keep going into Father Marty every few weeks and tell him that I am committing the same sins as before (not that he keeps track, but I do).
In fact, one of the reasons I sit face-to-face with my priest is because I have to look him in the eyes and admit my sins – all of them… even the ones I only know about — otherwise (if I knowingly withhold the admission of a sin, my confession and act of contrition is not valid).
The words of the act of contrition also are a strong reminder of my obligation as a Christian to avoid committing more sins.
I have also thought about certain sins and asked myself: is this sin worth the pain I will cause God and my relationship with him? Is it worth admitting it to Father Marty? When I ask myself these types of questions, it is easy to say no to a sin.
I pray today that I will have a humble heart to help me remember that all of my sins have consequences. They destroy the grace given to me by our Lord. They punish his son. They erode trust and destroy relationships. I can remember that to apologize and ask for forgiveness takes practice and benefits my soul.
- Got 30 minutes? Go watch the movie: 180
- Day 9 of Advent
- Today we remember of St. Sabas.
- Watch a video reflection on today’s scripture readings.
- Pray the Rosary!
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