Do you know what Stephen Colbert likes best about being Catholic? The forgiveness of sins. He told me so when I asked him during a Q&A before a taping of his show, The Colbert Report, a couple years ago. That’s an honest answer from a man who calls himself TV’s most famous Catholic and whose comedy show has a Jesuit chaplain.
I must agree that forgiveness is a pretty great thing, but it doesn’t just belong to Catholics! We Catholics tend to think we have a stronghold on the forgiveness business since we have the sacrament of reconciliation. But truth be told, everyone needs forgiveness and everyone is capable of forgiveness.
There have been courageous stories of people forgiving murderers or maimers. And when it happens the public is shocked. How can someone forgive a person who did such horrid things? It’s not easy, I’m sure.
For most of us, our screw-ups comes from a place of stupidity and carelessness. Sometimes the hardest thing is forgiving ourselves.
At this time of Thanksgiving in the United States, forgiveness of self and other is very much needed. Saint Ignatius placed gratitude at the top of his prayer. But it’s hard to get to gratitude when you’re in the dark state of unforgiveness. Let’s face it, lack of forgiveness blocks the gift of thanksgiving.
Why? Imagine holding a grudge against your mother and then you find yourself at the Thanksgiving table being asked to name something you’re thankful for from your mother. Hard to respond genuinely, isn’t it? Or imagine holding yourself hostage in guilt after hurting the feelings of your spouse who has already forgiven you. How can you accept your spouse’s gratitude when the lack of forgiving yourself is closing you off to freely receiving thanksgiving?
Jesus’ disciples likely thought a lot about the need for forgiveness. Peter asks Jesus, “Lord, if my brother keeps on sinning against me, how many times do I have to forgive him? Seven times?” And Jesus responds, “No, not seven times but seventy times seven.” Basically, this means there’s no limit. Why? Jesus simply says, “because the Kingdom of heaven is like this.” Full stop. There is no other reason other than because that’s just the way it is. In this understanding of Kindgom, we know God is not holding back forgiveness.
We know that this model of infinite forgiveness and letting go applies to our own sins. Once we forgive ourselves and others we become much freer to love and recognise what and for whom we are thankful.
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Music by Kevin MacLeod