From Father's Desk

Dear Parish Family,

As we welcome the new year of God’s grace, we are spending the first few weeks courageously examining our baggage. Yes, it takes courage to sift through the closets of our heart and remove any past hurts or regrets that weigh us down, just like it takes courage to go through the junk drawer, halve our sweater collection, or even tackle that corner of the basement. But let’s move forward, accentuating the positive and eliminating the negative.

This project however, is not first, ours. Afterall, we are God’s “project.” We belong to God. He is our creator, ruler, guide and savior - and he has a beautiful plan for our lives. Embracing the courage to unburden ourselves of baggage is something God would like for us; thus, his grace and blessing accompanies these efforts. This is not merely an exercise in self-help, but an invitation from our Creator. What has God put on your heart to work on during this past week? Who have you named to strive to forgive?

I mention this greater reality because often we try to repair ourselves, to mend our own ways, to better our condition, and usually in vain. The deep Christian truth is that we need someone greater to fix us, a redeemer, a savior - the one who John calls “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29). Grace is essential to growth.

In order to be saved, we begin by first admitting our sin - our need for salvation. In order to be healed, we first admit our wound. That is why denial is the first stage in forgiveness. Denial is the default position. We live shielded from the burden we carry, which is why moving towards acknowledging our baggage - just naming it - is so important. Once we name it, the second stage, then we can work towards ridding ourselves of any grudges or hurts that we are holding on to. God invites us to greater freedom with true forgiveness: canceling the debt someone owes us, releasing them from what is owed, but also releasing ourselves of the burden. Saint John Paul’s words: “Forgiveness is the restoration of freedom to oneself. It is the key held in our own hand to our prison cell,” are a powerful reminder of our need to release ourselves with keys we possess.

Come to think of it, part of our daily prayer is probably the Our Father. Therein we find a line: “forgive us our tresspasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” It is the only petition with a condition in the whole prayer, the only request with a catch! Sometimes we hear more poetically: “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Just as we would cancel the debts of others, so in that fashion do we wish God to cancel our debt to Him. Jesus summarizes this condition elsewhere: “Forgive, and you will be forgiven…For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.” (Luke 6:37, 38).

As a priest I cherish the gift of God’s forgiveness. And one of my favorite responsibilities is being an instrument of God’s forgiveness in confession, to be a source of mercy for others. My prayer and journaling this week have revealed a few key people in my life who are still in need of my forgiveness. Just as I hope God will forgive me and one day welcome me into his heavenly kingdom, so too it is time to cancel the debts of those I carry. Jesus is our example from the cross: “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34) May those words become ours in imitation of our good and loving God in order that we may also hear: “Today you will be with me in paradise!” (Lk 23:43)

In his merciful love,
Fr. Joel