“You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin;…You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people” (Leviticus 19: 2, 17-18).
A question that I am often asked as a priest is: “Do I really have to forgive?” The answer to that question for a Christian is an emphatic: “Yes, you really have to forgive—with all your heart.” The reason why we have to do this is because that is what God has done for each one of us. If we wish to be forgiven, we must be willing to extend this forgiveness to other people. The fact that we must forgive others is plainly stated in the words of the prayer that Jesus has taught us: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” In this sentence, the word “as” functions to mean “like” or in “the same way that we forgive others.”
During the season of Lent, you and I are invited to prepare to renew our baptismal promises on Easter Sunday. At Easter, we will celebrate that Jesus died to forgive our sins and that God the Father accepted His sacrifice and raised Jesus up so that we might all enjoy eternal life. Through baptism, God forgives our sins and we are invited to become temples of God’s Holy Spirit and to live in communion with God. Because God has forgiven us, He calls us to live in communion with Him by forgiving others.
It is because God has forgiven us and invites us to eternal life that we are called to forgive others. When we refuse to forgive, we hold resentment and hatred in our hearts and make it impossible for God’s Holy Spirit to dwell in our hearts. By holding on to anger and bitterness, we destroy the possibility of allowing God to dwell in our hearts and reject the dignity of allowing ourselves to be temples of God’s Holy Spirit. Anger and resentment close the door on the Holy Spirit and prevent God from dwelling in our hearts. God cannot live in a heart that is filled with anger or resentment. To be holy, we must be people who are able forgive others.
Many years ago, I thought that when I forgave someone, I was doing them a huge favour. Only late in life did I discover that to forgive a person was actually to set myself free so that the Holy Spirit could dwell in my heart, and that by doing so I was allowing myself to claim the dignity of a free child of God. This year, the Lenten challenge that I would present to all of us is that we learn to forgive everyone from the heart. Please, this Lent, make a resolution to forgive, from the bottom of your heart, those against whom you hold a grudge. If you do this, you will truly grow in holiness. This is not an easy resolution to keep. To do so, ask for special graces in this privileged season of Lent. If you need help, pray and make sacrifices this Lent to obtain this grace. Consider attending the Stations of the Cross to remember all that Christ did to win your forgiveness. The Stations of the Cross might give you the courage to forgive other people as you recall all that Christ did to forgive you. The parish will have a Lenten retreat on forgiveness on March 16th and 17th. Please think about attending this to learn more about the power of forgiveness. Because it can be so difficult to forgive, sometimes we can only start by praying for the person that we must forgive.
In our own parish, there are several ways that each of us may enter more deeply into this privileged season of spiritual renewal. Every Friday during the Lenten season, the parish will pray the Stations of the Cross at 7:00 p.m. in the Church. On the First and Last Fridays of the month, when the parish has a 7:00 p.m. Mass, the Stations of the Cross will be prayed immediately following the 7:00 p.m. Mass. This year, Father Frank Desiderio, csp, of the Paulist Fathers will lead our community in a Lenten retreat on the theme of forgiveness. This will take place on the evenings of Monday, March 16th and Tuesday, March 17th at 7:00 p.m. in the Church. Fr. Desiderio, csp, will introduce the retreat by preaching at the Sunday Masses on the weekend of March 14th and 15th, 2020. Please mark your calendars for this retreat.
As the season of Lent is a privileged time to turn away from sin, as we prepare to renew our baptismal promises on Easter Sunday, the Church encourages all Catholics to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation before Easter. This allows us to experience God’s forgiveness of us, so that we might learn how to offer it to others. There will be special times to do that here in the parish. Confessions will be heard on Ash Wednesday after the 7:00 p.m. Mass and on Good Friday after the 3:00 p.m. Commemoration of the Lord’s Passion. The parish will also have a Day of Confessions on Saturday, March 28th from 10:00 a.m. until 4:45 p.m.. Confessions are also celebrated every Saturday in the church from 3:45 to 4:30 p.m., or by appointment.
Fasting and almsgiving are two themes that rightly go together in Lent. The purpose of our fasting in this season should never be only for the sake of suffering. God does not ask us for this kind of useless sacrifice. Fasting ought to be done in order that we might deepen in our love for God and our neighbour. If you are going to give something up this Lent, do it so that you might grow spiritually or give to someone in need. If you give up coffee, liquor or candy for Lent, donate the money that you save to help the poor. If you give up television or playing video games, use the extra time that you have to do spiritual reading or to help or assist another person who could use your help.
In the Archdiocese of Toronto, one of the ways in which we are asked to give alms each year is by donating to the Archdiocesan ShareLife campaign. This campaign always takes place in Lent because it is one of the essential ways that our local Church lives the Gospel. All of the charitable outreach that is done in our diocese takes place through the support of ShareLife. Catholic agencies like Catholic Family Services, Covenant House, homes for men and women recovering from addiction, or being released from prison, houses for unwed mothers, the Office of Refugees for the Archdiocese of Toronto, and many international outreach programs are all funded by ShareLife. These charities cannot operate without your support. Your generosity to ShareLife is greatly needed. This year our parish goal for ShareLife is $42,000.00. I would ask each parishioner of St. Peter’s Parish to please give as generously to ShareLife as you are able.
Lent is a time to grow in holiness and pray for special graces. I pray that this Lent will be a privileged season for all of us as we grow in holiness by asking the grace to forgive others as we hope to be forgiven by the God who came to give us the gift of eternal life that we celebrate this Easter.
May God bless all of us this Lent.
Fr. Michael McGourty
Pastor, St. Peter’s Parish—Toronto, Ontario.