As we prepare to enter into the full fast and the start of Great Lent, we end this preparatory time with Forgiveness Sunday (Cheese Fare Sunday) or the Sunday of Forgiveness. The Church gives us this opportunity to reconcile ourselves to our fellow parishioners, as well as with others we may have a disparity with, and to further prepare us to enter more fully into a prosperous and healing Lenten period.
“Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent.” Matthew 5:23-28
This was brought to an enhanced, and very clear, meaning in a homily of St. John Chrysostom: ” As it is not to be imagined that the fornicator and the blasphemer can partake of the sacred Table, so it is impossible that he who has an enemy, and bears malice, can enjoy the holy Communion.… I forewarn, and testify, and proclaim this with a voice that all may hear! ‘Let no one who hath an enemy draw near the sacred Table, or receive the Lord’s Body! Let no one who draws near have an enemy! Do you have an enemy? Draw not near! Do you wish to draw near? Be reconciled, and then draw near, and touch the Holy Thing!’“
As I have gone through a spiritually-changing journey (which is why I write this blog in the first place) and have come to see things a little more clearly in my life, I have been enabled to let go of things that have hampered my spiritual growth – issues in my life that have kept me nailed to the place I was, the person I was. There is a great book I have quoted from many times by renowned Catholic author Peter Kreeft, where he deals with Heaven. He talks so many times about what we bring with us to our own, personal judgement. He talks about our baggage, literally contained in a suitcase. They are full of past sins we have not forgiven ourselves for, whereas God has gone back into our personal timeline and ripped those sins out of it, so when He looks at us, it is as if those sins never occurred. It is us, us feeble and weak humans, full of pride and free will, who drag things with us that God has let go. He also talks about true forgiveness and things in our lives that we cannot handle. He says to create a “God closet” with shelves with little shoes boxes on them. In these boxes we place issues that are too hard for us to deal with. And we label the boxes, shut the lid, close the door, and offer them all to God. I am tempted at times to open that door, get into a box or two, and wallow in those issues. But I remind myself that I gave them, truly gave them, to God. And I find that peace once again, and I close the door and walk away…out from under the onus of things best left to God’s care and attention.
Forgiveness is like that. We often say we forgive. We have cry sessions, we yell, we stomp our feet in our tantrums, and then we tell the offender that we forgive them. But quite often, when the time is “right, ” (or ripe) we pull that old hurt back out and we sling it at the offender. Husbands and wives, siblings, parents and children, good friends – all fertile territory for such things to happen. But what if forgiveness is something that we just cannot seem to manage on our own? What if we’ve left that hurt festering for years? What if we have secretly been waiting to whip it out and sling it into the face of our offender, still hurting as badly as when the offense took place? If that is true, how can we approach the Altar of God? How can we even begin to tackle our spiritual issues that we want to focus on during Lent? How can not drinking coffee or eating chocolate, or fasting for 40 days, do us any good when that hurt is still festering deep inside of us? We can’t – it taints everything.
Many, many years ago I suffered a hurt in my life. That particular event has colored my decisions in my life since it took place in my 20s!! It was, for many years, a festering wound deep within me. It was not what I had pictured for my life; it was not the storybook fairytale I had envisioned for my life, then or now. It ruined my life – to my way of thinking. It changed how I looked at “forever.” And I use to fling it out in times of hurt, and anger, and frustration. Many times it was flung at the wrong people, at the wrong time. And then I would seek forgiveness from them, for that erroneous spurt of anger. The vehemence of it often took those around me by surprise. And one day, after reading Peter Kreeft’s book, and praying, praying, and praying some more, and then after seeking spiritual guidance, I actually forgave those who hurt me. And I totally gave the entire issue to God, in its own box, in God’s closet, in my heart. I cannot fully express to you the weight that was lifted from my back. I did not realize that the hurt and pain I had carried for years was felt in my physical reality, in the physical realm, because I had assumed it was an emotional pain. It is, it was, but I also carried it like an extra pound or two of weight on my back. It was a tangible thing. And once I spoke the words, allowing forgiveness to enter in…and I mean honest, sincere, real forgiveness, it is like God lifted it off of me and I felt light-headed from the release of the pressure that hurt and pain had been in my life. God took that annoying backpack of issues off of me! And when I think of those involved or the situation and things that happened around it, I feel nothing – a cool breeze and still that lightness of being in my heart. I finally feel free of it. And I truly, honestly forgive.
Getting to the core of who we are, and releasing the “ick,” the “sludge” of all those negative feelings of hurt, pain, betrayal, anger, etc. really makes a remarkable difference inside of you. And it shows on your face, in how you embrace the day, in how you love other people. This Sunday, as we step into Great Lent, the Church, in her wisdom, asks us to forgive everyone who has wronged us, and to let the pain of that betrayal go. But also in Her Wisdom, the Church asks us to seek forgiveness from those around us, and from those we perhaps are not standing next to in His Temple, but those who live miles from us, those who have passed into their Eternal Rest, and even those we are most close to….we need to seek their forgiveness and ask them, “Please forgive me if I have wronged you in any way.” (The response is usually something like, “God forgives you; I forgive you”).
From a blog called “Voices from Russia”:
On Forgiveness Sunday, the priest reads a special prayer after the conclusion of the Vespers service that beseeches God to assist the faithful in the keeping of the fast. After it is read, all the clergy, starting with the priest, request forgiveness from all the faithful present in the church, and the laity request forgiveness from the clergy, and from one another personally. One says to another, “Forgive me”, and the traditional answer is “God forgives. Please, forgive me, as well”.
In addition to the church ritual, believers request forgiveness of all those in their households and of all their friends so that they may enter the Great Lent with a good spirit, without holding anger in their heart against their neighbor. The Gospel of Matthew tells us, “If you shall not pardon the sin of your brother, neither shall the Father forgive you your sins”. The custom of mutual forgiveness before starting the Great Lent arose in the very first centuries of Christianity. In the early monastic abodes in Egypt, the monks gathered together, they prayed, and they requested forgiveness of one another before they departed into the desert. Some of them did not return.”
As we begin to enter deeply into these 40 days of Great Lent, I do ask forgiveness from those I may have wronged. I do not pretend to be a great theologian or historian, but a person who expresses herself through words. And if my words, here or in person, have caused injury, anger, or pain, I seek forgiveness from you. My intention is to share, not to disrupt, or anger, or divide. I pray that these next days be days of forgiveness realized, and an increased closeness in a simple relationship with God, with our loved ones, with our friends, with our fellow journeymen along this path to our eternity; the beauty of eternity in the presence of God.