Neighbour, forgive thyself

Guest post by Owen Swain.

A long time Internet acquaintance wrote about overstepping the boundaries of friendship and the pain that resulted from such presumption.

I think now of the “Lord’s Prayer”. In it, as you know, is that powerful line about being forgiven as we forgive others. You have been forgiven but forgiving yourself is, as we know too well, not an easy thing.

Since becoming a Catholic, while still far from perfection, I have grown in Christ’s grace of being able to forgive myself as never before in my Christian life. Oh yes, it’s a process, a painful one if also a joyful one and again, I stress, I have not arrived. That said, the new freedom I have as a Catholic Christian comes specifically because of regular celebration of the sacrament of Confession (or Reconciliation). In this sacrament which I receive true absolution, from Christ, via the priest who is there in persona christi (in the person of Christ, Christ is truly, literally present). I also receive grace to continue on in my ongoing conversion. I can only speak for myself but this sacrament has been a key to learning to forgive myself, to let go of self-doubt, self-anger, self-disappointment, guilt of past and so on.

Can I detail it like a writer of fine apologetic? No. Well, perhaps a little but that is not my heart these days. There are better apologists than I and I am not looking for an argument. I am sharing a story, a journey.

When I consider my three-plus decades in-Christ, the element which is unique for me in the whole journey of learning to forgive well is the sacrament Reconciliation (Confession) and the effectiveness of it convinces me of its truth as much as any worthy apologetic.

Now, if it’s true that I must love my neighbour as I do myself means in part that I must first love myself rightly, that is according to the manner in which God loves me, it seems true as well that in order to be able to truly forgive others I must forgive myself as God forgive me. Forgiveness is freedom. How can I free another if I am not free myself? Yes, God forgives but I must co-operate with that grace, walk in it and I think that means learning to forgive in myself what God has forgiven me.

Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch Protestant Christian who sacrificed much to be a used of God to spare many Jewish souls by offering a way of escape from the Nazis during World Ward II famously said, “God tosses our sins into the sea of forgetfulness and then posts a sign, “No Fishing!””.

Dear Reader ask yourself, is it possible the anger you hold toward others including other Christians (Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox), that anger so carefully veiled as a kind of righteousness about doctrine or liturgy or dear God in heaven knows what, that you do not even see it for the anger it is, isn’t perhaps really your own anger and lack forgiveness towards yourself?

If you say, Yes, or even, Maybe, I can think of no better place for you than to the sacrament of Reconciliation and at your earliest opportunity and God’s love be with you.