By John Murphy


forgiveness is not Cheap One day at work, I was discussing with a woman her nephew who had been my student a couple of years ago. Since a company had called me recently to give a reference, I inquired about him. She told me that he had been recently married. She confided that his mother, her sister, and their side of the family were not invited to the wedding. The nephew had joined the Jehovah Witness Church to which his father belonged. They had arranged the marriage and controlled how the wedding was handled. In her conversation, she made the comment that she did not like their attitude but that all is forgiven. However, there is no responsibility taken for the harm done.

Her point was that even though God forgives us, we need to own up to our own responsibility for the harm done by the sin. For example, if we hurt a person by rejecting them or belittling them, we can ask God to forgive us and God forgives us. However, we need to accept the responsibility for that person’s hurt and reconcile with them. We cannot just say, "God forgives me, it is all forgotten and over with."

Jesus said, "If you bring your gift to the altar and there recall that your brother (sister) has anything against you, leave your gift at the altar, go first to be reconciled with your brother (sister), and then come and offer your gift. Lose no time; settle with your opponent while on your way to court with him. Otherwise your opponent may hand you over to the judge, who will hand you over to the guard, who will throw you into prison. I warn you will not be released until you have paid the last penny." (Matt. 5:23 - 26) Jesus mentioned this right after speaking about anger and use of abusive language and calling people names. These are the common hurts between family members and coworkers. Jesus is pointing out that his command to love one another means going back to the one we have hurt and apologizing and reconciling. Jesus is implying that before we seek to be reconciled to God and forgiven our sin we should seek to be forgiven by the one we hurt and own up to the sin.

Traditional Catholic teaching on the Sacrament of Reconciliation includes the concept of restitution when possible and reconciliation with our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is not an act of earning points but an act of responding to the forgiving love of Jesus Christ by loving the one we have hurt as we have just experienced the love of Jesus. The Church teaches that "Many sins wrong our neighbor. One must do what is possible in order to repair the harm (e.g., return stolen goods, restore the reputation of someone slandered, pay compensation for injuries). Simple justice requires as much. But sin also injures and weakens the sinner himself, as well as his relationships with God and neighbor. Absolution takes away sin, but it does not remedy all the disorders sin has caused. Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin: he must "make satisfaction for" or "expiate" his sins. This satisfaction is also called "penance." (Catechism 1459)

We should put those we have hurt in our intercessions. We should pray that they might be healed by God’s love and thereby freed from hurt, from the lack of love that we have shown them. We should pray that they experience the love of Jesus, healing the anguish of our sin against them, and making them whole again. We should do this also for those with whom we have been reconciled.

You may recall that Purgatory is for the temporal effects of sin. Purgatory is to remove the imperfection of venial sins, the left over effects of sin—those that are forgiven but for which we have not completely made restitution. Thus when we pray for those in Purgatory, we are helping with that restoration and reconciliation within the Body of Christ.

Perhaps when we die we remember the things we should have done to make restitution. We accept the time of purification in Purgatory for repairing, as far as we are able, the effects of our sins. Maybe we spend the Purgatory time in prayers and penance for those people on earth and those in Purgatory who have suffered because of our sins. Thus the Church teaches that "To understand this doctrine and practice of the Church, it is necessary to understand that sin has a double consequence.

Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the 'eternal punishment' of sin. On the other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called PURGATORY. This purification frees one from what is called the ‘temporal punishment’ of sin." (Catechism 1472)

Forgiveness is not cheap. Jesus sacrificed himself for our sins. We are expected to do the same for our sins. Even though our efforts and prayers are a small sacrifice in comparison to his, Jesus fills in the gaps and pours forth His abundant love. Let us accept our responsibility and reconcile where we can and invoke His Holy Name for those where we can’t.

John Murphy is a member of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, Charismatic Renewal Board and is a member of St. Gregory’s Parish, San Mateo. He is an Electronics Instructor at OICW, Menlo Park.

Read other articles of spiritual enlightenment in the October 1998 edition of The San Francisco Charismatics or return to the Main Menu by clicking on the blue.