Forgiveness: the Lenten Face of Love

Each time of the year, in the Church’s perspective, invites us to think about and to imitate another face of charity, of love – God’s love for us, ours for God and for each other. At Christmas, for example, love is about gifts, giving and receiving, about making peace, about letting children and the poor tell us what really matters.

During Lent, we might say that the face of love is forgiveness, reconciliation and healing. Lent is less about flexing our spiritual muscles, about giving up lots of things, or doing things that are hard and sacrificial, than it is about re-connecting, especially with those from whom we were once separated or estranged.

The first thing to remember is that the initiative in all this is God’s. It’s God who first wants to mend broken relationships. Can we believe that? Can we hear God’s voice, inviting us to put on the face of love which is forgiveness?

The second thing to remember is that this invitation is really about making space or room in our lives. Do you always feel like you’re trying to get rid of clutter? You just empty your email inbox when it’s filled again. You finally clear off the top of your desk and it’s messy again. You just cleaned up your kitchen or garage or backyard last Saturday and now it looks as though you never touched it.

That’s true of inner clutter too. Anxiety, resentment, harsh judgment, self-pity and mistrust can occupy lots of inner space. Strident voices, negative thoughts, useless fears and worries, old wounding messages and tapes, the have-to’s and shoulds that feel like bullies inside us – all of these can squeeze out the good. There’s the spouse or friend who didn’t appreciate us enough, the relative who hurt us, the colleague at work who said something thoughtless or harsh about us, the guy in the expensive car who cut us off on the way to work, the people of another race or culture who moved next door to us and whose manner we don’t like. See how we get turned in on ourselves and become smaller, narrower?

Anything can be clutter if it keeps me totally absorbed in myself and unaware of what God may be offering to me. Maybe my heart is closed – can I open it just a crack wider? Can I sweep out the clutter and the cobwebs, can I open the windows to let fresh air in?

As a sign of our willingness to make space in the clutter and to open our hearts to forgive this Lent, may I invite you to open your hands – to hold them out before you – and then to stretch out your open arms. Can you feel your heart opening too?

Now for a few moments, imagine yourself putting on a shelf or an altar some of the clutter you’d like to let go. First, some hurt, or grudge, or resentment you’d like to be rid of – then something that you need to forgive yourself for – then something you need to forgive God for. And into the space that you’ve now made within your heart, welcome the Spirit of light and goodness and love.

Breathe IN forgiveness and peace and new beginnings.
Breathe OUT all that’s negative and tight and constraining and bitter.
Breathe IN and OUT, making space to reconnect with the God who loves you.
Claim the grace you have received, for you have seen and known forgiveness, the Lenten face of love, the Lenten face of God.

– Regina Bechtle, SC

Sr. ReginaSr. Regina is a writer, poet and spiritual/retreat director who seeks to share the spirit and the story of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and the community of Sisters of Charity that she began in the United States in 1809.