Every year, for the Jewish fast of Yom Kippur, my father‘s family fasts from sundown to sundown. As part of the fast, they ask one another for forgiveness--and grant forgiveness--for any wrongs done that year. My father takes part out of solidarity and love for his family, although he is Catholic, because asking and granting forgiveness is always relevant in this sinful world.
Prepare your family for Lent with forgiveness.
Eastern Catholics have a similar tradition on the Sunday before Lent. On Forgiveness Sunday (February 18, 2018), we don’t fast yet, but we do ask one another forgiveness for wrongs committed, both known and unknown.
Heal relationships while you have the chance.
One year on Forgiveness Sunday, I remembered having hurt someone 15 years back, when I was a tween. Let’s call my hurt “friend” Heather--only, I wasn’t a true friend to her. I disliked Heather for various reasons and encouraged her in a particular sin. It was many years later when I remembered and wanted to ask forgiveness, so I asked my mom for her contact information.
My mom was silent for a moment after my request. Then: “Oh honey, I thought you knew. Heather died last year from anorexia.”
I felt terrible. Would it have made a difference if I’d been a true friend? I can’t know. But I do know I’ve lost my chance of asking forgiveness in this world, and wasted my friend’s ability to bestow it. My apology to her would have been healing for both of us.
Asking for forgiveness helps with forgiving others.
Over the years of asking for forgiveness, there have been times when humbling myself to ask forgiveness was the last thing I wanted to do. I felt hard-hearted, because the other person had hurt me deeply as well. I have found that the simple formula: “Forgive me any wrongs I have committed toward you, and I forgive you” is a good first step. Asking for forgiveness slightly cracks my hardened heart--a small crack that God will use to soften my entire heart.
Model forgiveness for your kids.
Consider making mutual forgiveness a part of your family’s lenten preparation this year. Modeling forgiveness for your spouse and children could have a huge positive impact on your family dynamic. With each, you can use the simple formula “forgive me any wrongs.” It’s not always necessary to go into detail. I think you will be surprised at the outpouring of blessings you receive with those simple words.
“Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you will be healed. The prayer of a good person has a powerful effect.” (James 5:16)
Forgiveness outside of Confession prepares us to go to Confession.
While reconciliation between humans is the first step, God is the one who is ultimately offended by any wrongdoing we commit, and likewise He is the One who offers true forgiveness. Mutual forgiveness is a great preparation for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and teaches children what Confession's really about. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
Let this Lent be a time of purification. Let us heal rifts with one another and with God. Let us allow ourselves to be healed, and let us pray for one another. While I hope to ask everyone for forgiveness personally, the rest of you I ask with a sincere heart: “Forgive me, a sinner.”
‘“Come now, and let us reason together,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”’ (Isaiah 1:18)
Rebecca O’Loughlin is a Byzantine Catholic mother with 5 children (newborn to tween). She enjoys running her shop (Brushes2Halos), writing, and adventuring with her children--whether on a flight with their airplane pilot dad, or through the pages of Narnia.