Forgiveness helps us begin anew

By | February 15, 2012

This week’s readings draw attention to God’s initiative to help us begin anew. Through the prophet Isaiah, God promised the people forgiveness of sin — and beyond that — that he would forget the evil they had done. Israel was an unfaithful nation, but the forgiveness offered by God enabled them to begin again.

In the Gospel, we hear of Jesus’ encounter with a man who was paralyzed. We don’t know about his disposition because we hear only the words of Jesus. We know the man had faith-filled friends who brought him to Jesus. And we know that the crowds around the house were so large that the friends had to remove the thatch from the roof and lower him into the room.

Instead of curing the obvious physical problem, Jesus offered the man a deeper level of healing and forgave his sin. And then, he added the second dimension with the cure of the paralysis. The man was able to begin anew.

When we think about forgiveness, we appreciate the sacrament of penance, which is the usual way serious sins committed after baptism are forgiven.

Many people who celebrate penance have not severed their relationship with God through serious sin, but they express sorrow, ask forgiveness for lesser offenses, and praise and thank God.

We sometimes forget the church’s teaching that less serious sin is forgiven in other ways — when we express our sorrow and ask for forgiveness, through acts of penance and charity, and especially in the celebration of the Eucharist.

During Mass, we explicitly ask forgivengess in the penitential rite, during the Gloria, as we pray the Lord’s Prayer, and at the Lamb of God. During the eucharistic prayer, we hear Jesus’ words at the Last Supper … “this is the chalice of my blood … which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sin.”

Several centuries ago the Council of Trent reminded us about the reconciling power of the Eucharist: “The holy Council teaches that this (Mass) is truly propitiatory and has this effect, that if, contrite and penitent, with sincere heart and upright faith, with fear and reverence, we draw nigh to God, “we obtain mercy and find grace in seasonable aid” (Hebrews 4:16). For, appeased by this sacrifice, the Lord grants the grace and gift of penitence, and pardons even the gravest crimes and sins.”

In many ways God offers us healing and forgiveness. As we celebrate the liturgy this Sunday, perhaps we can pray more deliberately for healing and hear more clearly the assurance of forgiveness that God offers us at Mass.

Sr. Rehrauer is the diocesan director of Evangelization, Living Justice and Worship.

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