Our Repentance Is God's Forgiveness of Us...
The titulus Priscae is one of Rome's twenty-five parish churches and was built in the 4th century over a Temple of Mithras, in honour of a 1st-century Roman martyr. A font attributed to have been used by St Peter to baptise St Prisca is found here, and this Station may thus be a reminder of the sacrament of baptism that would be conferred on catechumens on Easter Sunday.
Yesterday, we looked at the forgiveness of Christians after baptism through the sacrament of reconciliation and today, we continue to ponder the wonders of God's forgiveness and the gift of this beautiful sacrament. The Church enjoins her children to receive the sacrament of penance, especially during the season of Lent, as a preparation for the Paschal Mysteries and for the Easter Communion. In doing so, we unite ourselves to the catechumens who are preparing themselves for the grace of baptism and we ourselves undergo an annual journey of spiritual renewal so that we may renew our baptismal vows on Easter Sunday with sincerity and purity of heart and firmness of intention.
Today, this excerpt from Fr Herbert McCabe OP's 'God, Christ and Us' explains what it means when we ask for God's mercy and forgiveness and why the sacrament of penance, in which God's forgiveness is given sacramental form, is such a gift to us and vital to our growth in the Christian life:
"So, when we speak of [God] forgiving, we are using the word 'forgiving' in a rather stretched way, a rather far-fetched way. We speak of God forgiving not because he is really offended but accepts our apology or agrees to overlook the insult. What God is doing is like forgiveness not because of anything that happens in God, but because of what happens in us, because of the re-creative and redemptive side of forgiveness. All the insult and injury we do in sinning is to ourselves alone, not to God. We speak of God forgiving us because he comes to us to save us from ourselves, to restore us after we have injured ourselves, to redeem and re-create us.
We can forgive enemies even though they do not apologize and are not contrite. But such forgiveness, as I have said, does not help them, does not re-create them. In such forgiveness we are changed, we change from being vengeful to being forgiving, but our enemy does not change. When it comes to God, however, it would make no sense to say he forgives the sinner without the sinner being contrite. For God's forgiveness just means the change he brings about in the sinner, the sorrow and repentance he gives to the sinner. God's forgiveness does not mean that God changes from vengeful to being forgiving, God's forgiveness does not mean any change whatsoever in God. It just means the change in the sinner that God's unwavering and eternal love brings about.
The expression of our forgiveness may just be something we say to ourselves which our enemies do not know about or care about and which does nothing for them. Such forgiveness is good for us; it blesses him that gives, even though not him that takes. The expression of God's forgiveness could never be just something God says to himself; it can only be the repentance of the sinner, the death and resurrection of the sinner. For God to forgive us is for us to repent. We just have different names for the same thing. But there is no real gap between the two. Someone might apologize sincerely to you, and you might refuse to accept his or her apology. Indeed, if that were not possible, there could be no true apology (if resurrection is not an unmerited grace there could be no true death). But it would make no sense to speak of God as refusing to accept our repentance. Our repentance is God's forgiveness of us.
The coming into us of God's own life of love shows itself in two aspects: our repentance, and our being forgiven, our death to our sins, and our new life of love. It is not at all that God waits for us to be repentant before he will condescend to forgive us, like someone saying: 'I'll forgive him, provided he apologizes'. We do not express our contrition in order to presuade God to grant us his forgiveness. Our contrition is God granting us forgiveness. Of course, the form of words or signs that we (or, at least, most of my Christian friends) use can give the impression that God needs persuading, that we must beg him for forgiveness, that we should plead for him to turn his anger from us, and so on. But all that is just metaphor, a figure of speech. We speak to God as though he were someone we had insulted or offended, and we have no other suitable way of praying... Not to express our contrition in some such way would simply be a sign that our contrition is bogus, and therefore that is not really the forgiveness of God.
Our sins being forgiven is not, then, distinct from the other manifestations of the life of God in us, the life of love which expresses itself in our forgiving others. It is not that God refuses to forgive our sins unless we first forgive those that have sinned against us. That is only a picturesque way of talking. Our forgiving others is the work of God's forgiveness in us. It is not that God refuses to forgive us unless we forgive others. It would be logically impossible for him to do so. God's act of forgiveness is not a change in him. It is simply the change by which we become, for example, forgiving instead of vengeful. If we remain vengeful, then that is because we have not accepted the forgiveness of God, that we are not yet forgiven.
All that God asks us is that we put aside the barriers, the illusions and the timidity that stand in the way of accepting his love. All that he asks is that we relax and let ourselves be filled with his love, which eliminates our sins and makes us channels and bearers of his love and forgiveness to everyone."
God asks this of us and we pray also for the grace to respond to this. By the intercession of the martyr Prisca and all the saints, may we become more fully and 'Easter people', a people of forgiveness, love and truth.