Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar,
and there recall that your brother
has anything against you,
leave your gift there at the altar,
go first and be reconciled with your brother,
and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:20-26)
One of my favorite movies is Forrest Gump. The film highlights the enduring friendship of Jenny and Forrest, two children who grow up in Alabama in the sixties. Forrest has mental and physical limitations while Jenny’s handicaps are more hidden.
In one scene, Jenny and Forrest are walking together as young adults. Suddenly, they find themselves standing in front of Jenny’s childhood home, a run-down shack where Jenny was abused by her father for many years.
With full force, Jenny begins to pick up rocks and hurls them at the house, screaming loudly. Finally, she collapses on the ground and begins to sob. Forrest comforts her by saying: “Sometimes I guess there just aren’t enough rocks.”
In the Gospel, Jesus tells us that before we bring our gift to the altar, we must first be reconciled with our brother or sister. But when someone hurts us deeply, reconciliation isn’t always a quick process. We may need to go to counseling to unravel the pain someone has inflicted on our lives. Or we may have to express our feelings to the one who has hurt us through a letter. Some of us might decide to go on retreat where there is space to throw rocks in the woods.
After we’ve done the hard work of healing, reconciliation may happen without even facing the one who wounded us. Sometimes, people experience forgiveness through a quiet prayer spoken in the heart. Catholics often seek healing in the privacy of the confessional. With the help of a caring priest, we can safely surrender our hurt and receive the grace we need to forgive those who may not deserve it. In the confessional, we are invited to put down our rocks and collapse in the arms of Christ. When we are cradled by God, we can forgive ourselves for not being able to freely forgive on our own.
Here are the words of absolution that are prayed over all who find their way to the sacrament:
God the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of your son, you have reconciled the world to yourself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins. Through the ministry of the church, may God grant you pardon and peace. And I absolve you of your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Isn’t that beautiful?
During these Lenten weeks, consider taking a walk through your past. If you meet someone in your memories who has hurt you, allow the Lord to show you what needs healing. Everyone is different, and sometimes forgiveness takes more time and effort than we would like. Valor is often needed to confront broken relationships, especially those in our family. Maybe that’s why one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is courage. When you feel ready, take the pathway that leads to The Sacrament of Reconciliation. In the stillness of the confessional, grace awaits your arrival.
There may never be enough rocks. But thankfully, God’s mercy is never in short supply.
Copyright 2017 Nancy Jo Sullivan
About the author: Nancy Jo Sullivan is a Catholic author and speaker with over twenty five years of experience coordinating Faith Formation programs in the Minneapolis area. She has been published with Random House-Multnomah, Loyola, Reader’s Digest, Guideposts, Catholic Digest, and The Huffington Post. Her newest book, Couriers of Grace; My Daughter, The Sacraments and a Surprising Walk of Faith, was just released ( February 2017) by Ave Maria Press. The book takes a fresh look at the sacraments through the eyes of her late daughter who had Downs syndrome. Visit Nancy Jo at: www.nancyjosullivan.com.