From a homily delivered decades ago by a now-deceased Texas priest:

The statement, “Yes, I forgive you” can be either a genuine desire to restore a wounded relationship, or it can be used as a power play.  We see this a great deal in sick romantic relationships when one person always plays the role of the screw-up and the other partner plays the role of the morally superior martyr.   Mercy is based in truly desiring to restore relationship with another human being; it is not a way of condescendingly exerting power over another human being.   “Yes, Kobe, I forgive you:  now where is my six million dollar ring?” 

Forgiveness is rooted in trust.  To refuse to forgive in a general sense is to refuse to trust in the providence of God.  Therefore, being a forgiving person does not mean merely saying, “I accept your apology” to those who offend us, it also means forgiving the world, our own histories, our own situations… it means forgiving ourselves.

Trust is such a key component of the reality of faith.   To lack forgiveness is to lack trust.   Therefore, forgiveness is not merely a dimension of our faith; it is an essential component of our faith.  Religious scholars call our faith a “salvation faith” because it is a religion based on the forgiveness, grace, and mercy of God.   The God revealed to us is forgiving as part of his very nature and the story of his forgiveness is the key theme of our scriptures.   Saying that we do not want to forgive is tantamount to saying, “I do not want to be part of the life of God.”  Saying that we do not want to forgive is tantamount to saying, “I do not want to be Christian.”

Though not in the written record, when he delivered the homily at a Saturday Vigil Mass, he added, after the phrase "it means forgiving ourselves," the verbal parenthetical ("which can often be the hardest thing we do.").

I sat bolt upright during his presentation. I had the uncomfortable feeling that he was talking directly to me. He may have been. During the Mass, as he sprinkled holy water over the congregation, he hit me directly in the face with a full shot, then paused on his journey to whisper in my ear, "Got you good, didn't I? You're next." I have no idea what he meant by that at the time, but I'm finally beginning to get an idea.

Forgiving yourself doesn't mean forgetting that the wrong you have done was wrong, nor the reality that your penance for past misdeeds may be severe, in this world and the next. It does mean, however, that you're not greater than God, and that if God has revealed that He can forgive anything, then your refusal to accept this revelation is the ultimate assertion of a fatal pride. You're no better or worse than any other man or woman: we're all entitled to forgiveness.

To my understanding, the act of forgiving is the conscious release of your internal desire for vindictiveness and hatred, for revenge. Forgiving another's transgressions doesn't mean that you accept abuse or that you don't punish others who violate man's laws, but you should do so with a sense of humility rather than of avenging wrongs, and with more a sense of pity than hatred for a fallen man blinded by his nature from realizing God's love and acting accordingly. And you'd better have the responsibility for taking such action conferred upon you by the proper earthly authorities. If you take justice into your own hands or do it out of a sense that you, another fallen man, are meeting out justice or because you feel hatred or anger, you're taking God's work upon yourself, and you're damned by your pride and your usurpation.

This is one (of many) aspects of being Christian I find personally difficult. Anger at injustice, hatred of the dishonest and the evil, putting paid all debts of honor, revenge -- those are natural reactions to me. Kicking ass first, taking names later. That's a way of life. The wrong way, but it appeals to men and women everywhere, because they all want to be God.

As to turning the other cheek, as with most of the parables of Jesus, He seems to me to be talking to us at a level much deeper than we seem to prefer. To me, He was talking about our reaction to injustice. Only God can (and will, eventually) forge good out of evil. Man cannot. He also told His disciples that they should render unto Caesar what was Caesar's, and He told them to obey man's law. As Christians, they should not hate, they should no longer "take revenge" on those who wrong them. They should, in fact, forgive them as they forgive themselves. I may do things and not like myself much for having done them, and I may have to suffer my penance(both spiritual and earthly) as a result. But I must forgive myself. Moreover, I must treat others in the same manner when they do the same. I do not have the option of hating them and still calling myself a Christian.

He never said that as members of a civil society with a constituted legal authority, that we, when authorized by that civil authority, should not lawfully punish those who've broken the law as long as we do so in accordance with the law. Forgiveness is our action with respect to the attitude we choose to have toward another. It doesn't necessarily restrain other appropriate actions we must take against a wrongdoer as human beings living in a civil society.

I've heard before the argument that forgiveness can come only with repentance. It makes logical sense if you equate forgiveness with restoring your relationship with the transgressor to the same place as it existed before he committed his wrongful acts. I don't. As a Christian, I don't find that qualifier to be persuasive, and, as a practical man who's spent his life as an advocate for sometimes less-than-sincere human beings, I realize that I have no way of judging whether a man's professed repentance is or is not sincere. I can't judge that, only God can. Therefore, I'm left with the task of doing the only thing that I can do with any certainty: forgiving the transgressor. I may also sue him in civil court, or turn him over to civil authorities for criminal punishment in accordance with man's laws, or cut off all contact with him for the good of my well-being and/or the well-being of others (my children, for instance). However, I can't hate him and I must forgive him.

Tough issues.

    Tides by Sara Teasdale

Love in my heart was a fresh tide flowing
Where the starlike sea gulls soar;
The sun was keen and the foam was blowing
High on the rocky shore.

But now in the dusk the tide is turning,
Lower the sea gulls soar,
And the waves that rose in resistless yearning
Are broken forevermore.

Stones taught me to fly
Love taught me to lie
Life taught me to die
So it's not hard to fall
When you float like a cannonball

A Night At The Movies With Villeneuve and Heidegger

It's not often that movie reviewers refer to Martin Heidegger and concepts such as "being-towards-death," but this critic managed to reach across the movie aisle and "get serious." I thought of this review last night when I, again, watched Denis Villeneuve's masterpiece "Arrival." Rather than summarize or riff on the review, just read it and give it the reflection you think it merits. I gave it more than a few minutes, but I'm slow on the uptake and getting slower by the week. "Arrival" makes great use of Max Richter's "On the Nature of Daylight."
Richter's music has featured prominently, and been used to great effect, in other movies and in recent streaming series, including The Leftovers and The Last of Us, and I encourage readers who are not familiar with him to seek out his work. I also liked a much different musical take on "Arrival" that uses a song by the group London Grammar. While it's a different genre, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. . The person who created the music video has some editing "chops." Or, perhaps, I'm just easily amused.

The Spirit Sings A Simple Song

The intellect thinks. The body dances. And the spirit sings. A song, a simple song. When love and memory are overwhelming, and the soul, though crushed, takes flight, it does so in a simple song.
Mark Helprin, "A Soldier of the Great War"

The Light Shines In The Darkness, And The Darkness Has Not Overcome It


I have seen fine religious communities that are faithful and fervent. They remind of the Christians who, in the twilight years of the Roman Empire, kept watch over the flickering flame of civilization. I want to encourage them. I want to tell them: your mission is not to save a dying world. No civilization has the promises of eternal life. Your mission is to live out with fidelity and without compromise the faith you received from Christ. In that way, even without realizing it, you will save the heritage of many centuries of faith. Do not be afraid because of your small numbers! It is not a matter of winning elections or influencing opinions. It is a matter of living the Gospel. Faith is a fire. A person himself must be on fire in order to transmit it.  Watch over this sacred fire!
-Robert Cardinal Sarah, "The Day Is Now Far Spent"

Pray more; pray harder; pray well.

What It Is And Is Not

If anyone says, "I love God," but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. This is the commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
--1 John 4:20-21

Hard cheese in a time of polarization and atomization, especially for those who've decided to render unto Caesar what is God's. Then again, as the late philosopher, Fr. James V. Schall, asserted, "We are living in a time where the logic of disorder is at work, rejecting systematically the logic of being a human being." Father Schall was also well-known for asserting that it is important for a philosopher "to say of what is, that it is, and of what is not, that it is not." John, the "beloved apostle," declares what Christian love is and what it is not. If you don't like that, fine. Just don't call yourself a "Christian," because you're not.

As I write this, I'm gazing in a mirror, not as Narcissus would, but as St. Paul might have. 

"The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried."
--G.K. Chesterton

The Black Dog Held At Bay

We Christians, like all other children of planet earth, are born into a reality that will necessarily incorporate grief and lamentation. We accept this actuality and reject any explanation that says our sorrowing is a waste or based on illusion. To unlock the meaning of our ordeals, we climb a hill where God-become-human dies in agony. After that culminating event, everything else in the world's history has a new illumination--a light born out of the darkness of Calvary. We see the awesome spectacle of a God in utmost need, struggling in our pain. St. Therese [of Lisieux] describes the face of Jesus as " the midst of wounds and tears" (Letters, Lt 95, p.580).       

The primal sin was accepting the serpent's promise, "You will be like gods, knowing good and evil" (Gen 3:5). And from that human decision came suffering and death. Who would have conceived of a divine response to this original betrayal whereby God would embrace the very penalty imposed upon sin: suffering and death? The Psalms of the Hebrew Bible sing over and over of God's abundant kindness, of God's steadfast love. Yet we Christians sing of a mercy that not only pours out compassion but enters into the experience of our desolation. We have an infinite God who has willed to feel our limitations, even our small ones.

Jesus does not explain human existence from afar. He allowed Himself to be restrained by the boundaries of the humanity He shares with us. But in so doing, He transforms those very limitations and endows them with power.

He looks at us in whatever lameness is holding us back from moving forward with Him. His words sound in our ears. "Get up and walk" (Mt 9:5). With His power energizing us, we know the path before us this very day-yes, with all its difficulties--leads to eternal life.

---Sister Margaret Dorgan DCM, "The Message of Jesus About Human Pain"

If a non-believer prefers a more secular perspective, perhaps the following passage by Harvard psychologist Gordon Allport, from the preface to Viktor Frankl's book, "Man's Search for Meaning," will help him or her.

[T]o live is to suffer, to survive is to find meaning in the suffering. If there is a purpose in life at all, there must be a purpose in the suffering and the dying. But no man can tell another what this purpose is. Each must find out for himself, and must accept the responsibility that his answer prescribes. If he succeeds he will continue to grow in spite of all indignities.

Cold comfort to many of us. To the rest, a warm hearth on a bitterly cold night.

Too Many Different Needs To Satisfy

I Knew A Woman
---by Theodore Roethke

I knew a woman, lovely in her bones,
When small birds sighed, she would sigh back at them;   
Ah, when she moved, she moved more ways than one:   
The shapes a bright container can contain!
Of her choice virtues only gods should speak,
Or English poets who grew up on Greek
(I’d have them sing in chorus, cheek to cheek).

How well her wishes went! She stroked my chin,   
She taught me Turn, and Counter-turn, and Stand;   
She taught me Touch, that undulant white skin;   
I nibbled meekly from her proffered hand;   
She was the sickle; I, poor I, the rake,
Coming behind her for her pretty sake
(But what prodigious mowing we did make).

Love likes a gander, and adores a goose:
Her full lips pursed, the errant note to seize;
She played it quick, she played it light and loose;   
My eyes, they dazzled at her flowing knees;   
Her several parts could keep a pure repose,   
Or one hip quiver with a mobile nose
(She moved in circles, and those circles moved).

Let seed be grass, and grass turn into hay:   
I’m martyr to a motion not my own;
What’s freedom for? To know eternity.
I swear she cast a shadow white as stone.   
But who would count eternity in days?
These old bones live to learn her wanton ways:   
(I measure time by how a body sways).

Waiting For A Shouting Light

AVE MARIA, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus. Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc, et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.

Winter's Night
--Thomas Merton

When, in the dark, the frost cracks on the window
The children awaken, and whisper.
One says the moonlight grated like a skate
Across the freezing river.
Another hears the starlight breaking like a knifeblade
Upon the silent, steelbright pond.
They say the trees are stiller than the frozen water
From waiting for a shouting light, a heavenly message.

Yet it is far from Christmas, when a star
Sang in the pane, as brittle as their innocence!
For now the light of early Lent
Glitters upon the icy step -
"We have wept letters to our patron saints,
(The children say) yet slept before they ended."

Oh, is there in this night no sound of strings, of singers!
None coming from the wedding, no, nor
Bridegroom's messenger?
(The sleepy virgins stir, and trim their lamps.)

The moonlight rings upon the ice as sudden as a
Starlight clinks upon the dooryard stone, too like a
And the children are again, awake,
and all call out in whispers to their guardian angels.

Sit Tempus

The hymn "Ubi Caritas" dates from the late Eighth Century A.D., and is traditionally sung in the Western Church as one of the antiphons during the washing of the feet on Maundy Thursday of Easter Week. Here is a nice version of the traditional hymn.

The lyrics are as follows:

Latin text
English translation
Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor.
Exsultemus, et in ipso jucundemur.
Timeamus, et amemus Deum vivum.
Et ex corde diligamus nos sincero.
Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Simul ergo cum in unum congregamur:
Ne nos mente dividamur, caveamus.
Cessent iurgia maligna, cessent lites.
Et in medio nostri sit Christus Deus.
Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.
Simul quoque cum beatis videamus,
Glorianter vultum tuum, Christe Deus:
Gaudium quod est immensum, atque probum,
Saecula per infinita saeculorum. Amen.

Where charity and love are, there God is.
The love of Christ has gathered us into one.
Let us exult, and in Him be joyful.
Let us fear and let us love the living God.
And from a sincere heart let us love each other (and Him).
Where charity and love are, there God is.
Therefore, whensoever we are gathered as one:
Lest we in mind be divided, let us beware.
Let cease malicious quarrels, let strife give way.
And in the midst of us be Christ our God.
Where charity and love are, there God is.
Together also with the blessed may we see,
Gloriously, Thy countenance, O Christ our God:
A joy which is immense, and also approved:
Through infinite ages of ages. Amen.

A few contemporary composers have rearranged the hymn or based longer works on the theme of the hymn. Three of my favorite contemporary works on this theme are by Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo, a contemporary chorale and symphonic composer whose various compositions often "strike a chord" within me (pun intended). The following are versions of Gjeilo's "Ubi Caritas" and "Ubi Caritas II" (which he has stated are, to his mind, "bookends," meaning that they work as stand alone pieces or performed together in order), the first sung by the exquisite British a cappella group Voces8, and the second performed by the Central Washington University Chamber Choir, with the composer accompanying the choir with an improvised piano part. While choirs also perform the second piece without a piano accompaniment, I usually think that it's interesting to see the composer of a piece perform it. I hope that readers enjoy these versions as much as I do. The advertisements are annoying, but a small price of admission, I think.

As much as I love versions I and II, I most love Gjeilo's third variation on this theme, entitled "Sacred Heart (Ubi Caritas III)." The following version is sung by the Dutch professional chamber choir Cantatrix, with orchestral accompaniment. The pictures that are featured in the video are well-suited to the music. As we approach Christmas day, I hope those of you whose hearts are open to it are touched to some degree by the beauty of this music.

Sit tempus (Blessed be the moment).

The Cult Of The Shadow

God leaves us free to be whatever we like. We can be ourselves or not, as we please. We are at liberty to be real, or to be unreal. We may be true or false, the choice is ours. We may wear now one mask and now another, and never, if we so desire, appear with our own true face. But we cannot make these choices with impunity. 

Causes have effects, and if we lie to ourselves and to others, then we cannot expect to find truth and reality whenever we happen to want them. If we have chosen the way of falsity we must not be surprised that truth eludes us when we finally come to need it! 

Our vocation is not simply to be, but to work together with God in the creation of our own life, our own identity, our own destiny…. 

The seeds that are planted in my liberty at every moment, by God's will, are the seeds of my own identity, my own reality, my own happiness, my own sanctity…. 

Every one of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self. 

This is the person that I want myself to be but who cannot exist, because God does not know anything about him. And to be unknown to God is altogether too much privacy. 

My false and private self is the one who wants to exist outside the reach of God's will and God's love - outside of reality and outside of life. And such a self cannot help but be an illusion. 

We are not very good at recognising illusions, least of all the ones we cherish about ourselves - the ones we are born with and which feed the roots of sin. For most of the people in the world, there is no greater subjective reality than this false self of theirs, which cannot exist. A life devoted to the cult of this shadow is what is called a life of sin. 

All sin starts from the assumption that my false self, the self that exists only in my own egocentric desires, is the fundamental reality of life to which everything else in the universe is ordered.

Thus I use up my life in the desire for pleasures and the thirst for experiences, for power, honour, knowledge and love, to clothe this false self and construct its nothingness into something objectively real. And I wind experiences around myself and cover myself with pleasures and glory like bandages in order to make myself perceptible to myself and to the world, as if I were an invisible body that could only become visible when something visible covered its surface…


We have the choice of two identities: the external mask which seems to be real...and the hidden, inner person who seems to us to be nothing, but who can give himself eternally to the truth in whom he subsists.
--Thomas Merton, "New Seeds of Contemplation"

I think that so many of us spend our lives in the cult of the shadow, wearing our masks and wondering why, even if others buy the facade, we--in our heart-of-hearts--do not. Come home to reality, before it's too late.