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Forgive, For Eucharist's Sake: A Lenten Reflection | Carl E. Olson
"To err is human, to forgive, divine." This well-known phrase,
Monsignor Ronald Knox observed,
captures two of the greatest mysteries of the Christian life: "That
man, being what he is, can rebel against God; and the doctrine that God,
being what he is, can forgive man."
It also captures the essence of the fifth petition of the Our Father:
"And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against
us." Like the rest of the greatest prayer of the Christian Faith,
it is deceptively simple. Its very easy to pass over it and to think,
"I know what they means: unless we forgive others, we wont
be forgiven." If so, we flirt with mistakenly turning it into a bargain,
or into a sort of contract: I do this, this happens to me.
But being a child of God is not about bargaining or entering into a business
contract. It is about authentic love and participating in a supernatural
covenant. The difference between the two is immense. A business contract
is a legal agreement that outlines how services are rendered and paid
for. Complete strangers can make contracts with one anotherand can
fulfill those contracts perfectly without ever knowing the other party.
But a covenant is a sacred and intimate union in
which those involved give themselves completely to one another: body,
soul, heart, and mind. If we break a contract, we can expect legal repercussions;
if we break a covenant, we rupture a relationship.
Put another way, and in the context of Lent, it is the difference between
doing something out of obligation and doing it out of love. Do we give
up a certain food or activity during Lent out of a sense of obligation,
or out of love? Are we motivated by the desire to look good in the eyes
of others, or by the desire to more deeply know and love God? Are we fulfilling
legal obligations owed to God or are we pursuing a relationship with our
Seen in this light, the petition takes on a different shape. Far more
than a balancing act, the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells
us, "forgiveness is the fundamental condition of the reconciliation
of the children of God with their Father and of men with one another"
(CCC 2844). Forgiveness is at the heart of the new covenant, for without
Gods forgiveness, man would remain alienated from Him, and without
our forgiveness of others we would not have communion with our brothers
and sisters in Christ.
So forgiveness is always a gift from God; without His grace, we cannot
forgive. This is why forgiveness is intimately linked to the fatherhood
of God, something that can even be seen in the words of the Psalmist:
"Just as a father has compassion on his children, So the Lord has
compassion on those who fear Him" (Ps. 103:13).
There are two well-known parables of Jesus that articulate, in concrete
terms, the Our Fathers exhortation. One is the parable of the merciless
servant (Matt. 18:23-35), in which a slave who owes an unpayable sum of
money to his mast is forgiven of that debt because of the masters
But that same slave then demands that a fellow slave who owes him a small
sum pay it immediately or be thrown in prison. He fails completely to
comprehend or consider the example of his master, whose gracious compassion
far exceeds the demands of justice and the law. The master, angered at
the slaves evil action, throws him back into prison and punishes
him again. Jesus states, "So shall My heavenly Father also do to
you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart."
In the end, these relationships are familial. They are covenantal, not
The parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) is even more familiar
to us. The focus of commentaries and homilies is often on the son, who
spurns his loving father and sets out to live a selfish life of pleasurable
But it is the love and mercy of the long-suffering father that is most
striking. Having every right to be angry with his wayward son and to reject
him, he instead runs to greet him upon his return home, embracing and
kissing him even though he is in rags and covered with filth. And when
the insolent "good" brother complains about this warm welcome
he is met with perfect love: "My child, you have always been with
me, and all that is mine is yours." The prodigal son, having been
humbled and now filled with love, is restored to communion with his father.
His brother, however, does not even address his father as "Father,"
indicating his lack of love. Although outwardly faithful, he severs that
communion because he has been living in a contractual, not covenantal,
The ultimate goal of forgiveness is communion with God and with one another.
It is no coincidence that this petition flows from the petition asking
for daily bread. As we saw last week, one meaning of the fourth petition
is a recognition and desire for the Eucharistfor Holy Communion.
There are numerous connections to be made. Christ is the incarnation of
forgiveness and to receive him in Eucharist, is to be flooded with the
reality of forgiveness. In the Eucharist we receive the very body and
blood of Christ, given for us on the cross for the forgiveness of sins.
Receiving Holy Communion cleanses us of venial sins and helps to keep
us from committing mortal sins. As well, "asking forgiveness is the
prerequisite for both the Eucharistic liturgy and personal prayer"
(CCC 2631). The Eucharist provides the grace needed to forgive others
and to embrace them as brothers and sisters even if our feelings and memories
remain hurt by their actions.
Forgiveness, Romano Guardini writes in his classic work The Lord,
"is a part of something much greater than itself: love. We should
forgive, because we should love." The covenantal communion that man
has with God through Jesus Christ flows from the Communion of the Trinity,
which is the "source and criterion of truth in every relationship"
We will errand others will err against usbecause we are human.
But we will also forgive, for we share in the divine life of God, Who
has forgiven us and made us His children.
(This article was originally published in the March 28, 2004 edition
of Our Sunday Visitor
Related IgnatiusInsight.com articles and columns:
Our Daily, Everlasting Bread: A Lenten Reflection | Carl E. Olson
Benedict and the Eucharist: On the Apostolic Exhortation,
Sacramentum Caritatis | Carl E. Olson
and Purpose of the Year of the Eucharist | Carl E. Olson
Adoration: The Hour That Makes My Day | Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen
Source and Summit of Christian Spirituality | Mark Brumley
The Doctrine (and
the Defense) of the Eucharist | Carl E. Olson
For "Many" or For "All"? | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
On Saying Mass (And Saying It Correctly) | James V. Schall, S. J.
The Mass of
Vatican II | Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J.
at the Feet of the Lord | Anthony E. Clark
The Biblical Roots
of the Mass | An Interview with Thomas J. Nash
Carl E. Olson is the editor of IgnatiusInsight.com.
He is the co-author of The
Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code and author
Catholics Be "Left Behind"? He has written for numerous
Cathlic periodicals and is a regular contributor to National Catholic
Register and Our Sunday Visitor newspapers. He has a Masters in Theological Studies from the University of Dallas.
He resides in a top secret location in the Northwest somewhere between Portland,
Oregon and Sacramento, California with his wife, Heather, and two children.
Visit his personal web site at www.carl-olson.com.
the Insight Scoop Blog and read the latest posts and comments
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