The wedding garment of our souls becomes soiled and stained as we travel through this…
Made in the image and likeness of God is a phrase which is thrown around quite casually in Christian circles these days. If we are truly made in His likeness, then it would suffice to say that we are “like Him” in all ways… or at least we should be praying, striving and sacrificing to be like Him in all ways. This desire for holiness creates in us the driving force to accept the grace given to us by God in order to traverse this seemingly insurmountable mountain.
At the apex of this mountain is the beautiful fruit called forgiveness. By no means are we able to conquer the mountain of unforgiveness without the gift of grace given to us through Christ. In Scripture, Jesus gives us many perfect examples of how to live in this life. In fact, forgiveness is so essential that it is mentioned over 100 times in Scripture. It is the fruit of grace given to Peter when he denies Christ three times – FORGIVENESS; the fruit of the grace given to the woman at the well – FORGIVENESS; the fruit of the grace given to the woman caught in adultery – FORGIVENESS. Jesus tells us to forgive “seventy times seven” or unto infinity. Well, easier said than done, right?
While forgiveness is not a once-and-done type offering, it is something which can begin small and through prayer, reception of the sacraments and a deepening of our connection to Christ, turn into something that envelopes the heart and becomes a way of life. It is through the participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that I have found to be most beneficial in deepening our connection to Christ in the area of forgiveness. If we follow the order of the Mass, the stages of forgiveness can be clearly seen.
Stage 1: Victimhood – In this stage, we are most vulnerable and exposed and we often feel the most alone. We are feeling betrayed or traumatized and sometimes have difficulty moving out of this stage. Upon entering into the Mass, as we prepare to receive the graces and fruits of the Mass, we can freely bring our victimhood with us to present to Christ on the altar of His love.
Stage 2: Acknowledging and Releasing Anger – In this stage, we know that we have been wronged and we accept it, however we also realize that holding on to the identity of victim is toxic and will begin to poison our heart and our soul. As we acknowledge, we bring our hurts, fears, anger, distrust and all that is associated with this area of unforgiveness and lay it upon the Altar of Christ during the offertory. In this, we allow Christ to bear the burden, to take up the yoke and carry our load. We no longer need to carry it alone and we release our anger unto Him Who takes it and redeems it for our salvation.
Stage 3: Self-Acceptance & Humility – In this stage, we accept our poverty of spirit in this area of unforgiveness and allow ourselves to be humbled in order to be healed. In the Mass, we acknowledge our sins in our confession to God and to our brothers and sisters at the beginning of the liturgy in the Confiteor, and allow Jesus to absolve us of this burden.
Stage 4: Empathy – This stage is realized and penetrates into our hearts during the Transubstantiation of the Body and Blood of our Savior. We witness the intentional act of love and the giving of His Body and Blood in that while we are still sinners, Christ gives us Himself. This empathy in its purest form is witnessed to us by Christ on the altar of sacrifice and as we receive His Body and Blood into our mortal bodies, we are strengthened in His forgiveness and then called to do the same to and for others.
Stage 5: Letting Go -In this final stage, we have found the grace to finally forgive. We experience this in the Final Commissioning at the end of the Mass when the priest sends us out with a final blessing to go and proclaim Christ to all those we meet. We cannot do this as we are called if we are holding onto any hardness of heart. We respond with “Amen” which declares that we believe all that we have just heard and have been commanded to do.