Forgiving is divine

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By Arnold Van Vugt

The Living Spirit

Sunday, July 6, 2014


IN THE Catholic Church confession is one of the seven sacraments. According to the traditional teachings of the Catholic Church, the priest has been given the power to give men absolution from their sins.

Traditionally this is done in the confession box. In recent times this practice has fallen into disuse and has become obsolete. The faithful prefer to talk to a priest and have a conversation with him about their problems in life and maybe even their problems with God.

A penitential service in the community together with a priest is more relevant to many people. This makes more sense also because asking forgiveness and your sins being forgiven is actually a community affair. St. John’s Gospel (20: 19-23) narrates how Jesus appeared to his Apostles and He breathed on them, saying: “Receive the Holy Spirit; if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

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The giving of the Spirit under the sign of breath is directly linked in the Church with the reality of forgiveness. This is the power of giving absolution to those whose Christian lives have failed after baptism, and was transmitted by Jesus to the Apostles along with the Spirit.

Breathing in and out is something you do 24 hours a day. Jesus said, you have to forgive each other seven times seven; that means all the time.

Breath is the symbol of the Spirit. The Spirit comes from the inside and goes to the outside. The Spirit comes from the heart; you have to forgive each other heartily, from the heart. What is of crucial significance to the life of any community is whether or not forgiveness is a fundamental value.

Because where forgiveness is not fundamental, a community will only fall apart; where relationships remain wounded, the wounds attract disease and spoil everything until there is death.

But where there is forgiveness, there is always hope, always goodwill, always openness to the possibility of renewal and genuine healing. As Pope Francis puts it: “The Lord never tires of forgiving.” When then his Holy Spirit comes to dwell in our hearts, what is natural to the Spirit can become second nature to us.

Forgiveness is as fundamental to the life of the Church as breathing is to the life of the body. Without breath, the body dies. Without forgiveness the Church would die too, and so would die all our hope.

At Pentecost the Holy Spirit came down over the Apostles. It changed their lives totally. No fear anymore to preach the Good News in all its facets. They got the power to speak in different languages. They got the power also to forgive sins. The coming of the Spirit at Pentecost guarantees the life of the Church, but also places the life of the Church in our hands. If we do not forgive one another, we die. But if we do forgive, God opens up a new life of possibilities before us, and the hope of a life with Him that will never die.

Together with my wife, I went to the Carmelite community in Cebu to attend the ordination to the priesthood of two Carmelites and the ordination to the diaconate of another Carmelite. It was a beautiful experience. There were the relatives of the ordinandi and so many friends we met. All were visibly inspired by what had happened at the ordination, the coming down of the Holy Spirit on these three Carmelites. The priests received there the power to forgive sins.

For me, I was happy to see so many old friends back again, but to be frank, to meet again also some old ‘enemies.’ There is the saying: having your enemies is human, forgiving your enemies is divine. Indeed, I felt happy to be reconciled again with these old ‘enemies.’ Love will never die.

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[Email: nolvanvugt@gmail.com]

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on July 06, 2014.

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