Dear Lord, thank you for the gift of your Son Jesus. And thank you for the men and women who have made a gift of themselves by entering religious life. Holy Spirit, please share your Wisdom and Counsel with us during this novena. We ask you to speak to our hearts now in this time of quiet prayer.
Heavenly Father, we ask for the desire and courage to forgive. We know that unforgiveness creates a wall between your love and our hearts. Please provide us with the supernatural graces we need to forgive those who have hurt us. We especially ask you to soften our hearts towards representatives of the church who have harmed us. Grant us this freedom so we may love more fully. Amen.
Opening Prayer: Father, we have wounded the heart of Jesus your Son, but He brings us forgiveness and grace. Help us to prove our grateful love and make amends for our sins. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Scripture Reading: Romans 12:9-21 Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.
Luke 23: 32-34 and 39-43 Father forgive them; they do not know what they are doing
Reflection: There are some persons we can’t seem to get along with. Tension more than peace comes between us. Perhaps they annoy us and get on our nerves. Our efforts to be kind and friendly to them never seem to succeed. We seem unable to change the situation, we are frustrated and tempted to give up. As a matter of fact, each situation varies; there is no one simple, single solution to solve problem cases.
But one thing is true. In every situation, the Christian is called upon to imitate the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This means we must be patient with others, and must be ready to forgive, not seven but seventy times seven (Mt. 18:21). In spite of his agony and suffering on the cross, the loving Heart of Jesus reached out even to those who hung him there. Father forgive them, they know not what they are doing. That same love reaches out to the good thief and promises him eternal life in paradise.
Be merciful as you heavenly father is merciful (Luke 6:36). True, this is easier said than done, but this is the challenge Jesus puts before us his followers. St. Francis of Assisi once wrote to a superior who had trouble with some of the young men: Love those who disobey you. Don’t ask more of them than the Lord does. Love them exactly as they are, don’t ask them to be better Christians first… Let there be no single person who, however much he may sin, goes away without first looking into your eyes and finding there mercy. And if he does not look for mercy, offer it to him anyway.
Resolution/Practice: 1. Every time we recite the Our Father, we pray for this spirit of mercy and forgiveness. Next time you recite the Our Father, think concretely of someone you have had difficulty with. Pray for that person, that God will bless him or her, and that will be patient and more forgiving too.
2. If you have recently had a quarrel with someone, think of some one way that you might show that you really love and care for that person and want to be at peace with him or her.
3. Resolve to frequent the Sacrament of Penance at least monthly and recall that penance calls for reconciliation not only with God but with all of God’s people.
This Novena in Honor of the Sacred Heart, written by Rev. Peter Schineller, S.J., is taken from Apostleship of Prayer/League of the Sacred Heart, can be found at: http://www.loyolajesuit.org/peter_schineller/resources/novena%20in%20honor%20of%20the%20Sacred%20Heart.doc
Especially during the first several months after I returned home from the convent, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out just what went wrong. Initially, I nearly exclusively blamed myself. I felt like it was my fault that I didn’t stay: I was too proud; I was too lazy; I wasn’t fast enough; I didn’t prepare myself well enough before I entered; I didn’t have enough experience dealing with people and life in general; I didn’t pray enough; I wasn’t detached enough; etc., etc., etc. I could go through a whole litany of other self-accusations that I made, but I think this small sampling gives you an idea of my state of mind.
But after a while, I came to a simple observation – one that now seems very obvious: The Sisters aren’t perfect! Perhaps it goes without saying that even the best, holiest community isn’t going to be perfect, since each community is made up of human, imperfect members. So maybe the system of formation should have been organized better, or communication could have been improved. This Sister could have been more patient; that Sister could have been more understanding. Of course, this isn’t an appropriate place for me to publicize the community’s shortcomings in detail. Nevertheless, I think it was important for me to realize that the blame (if the situation could even be considered to be one of “blame”) was not entirely mine.
During my time in the convent, one of the things I remember Mother and the Sisters emphasizing frequently was the importance of forgiveness. They especially taught us the importance of forgiving our parents for the mistakes they made in raising us. They pointed out that Mary and Joseph were the only perfect parents, and since they were not the ones who raised us, our own parents had most certainly made mistakes. However, we also have a lot to be grateful to them for. They worked hard and sacrificed much to provide for us, giving us the best they had. It took humility to accept this message, but it also brought a lot of peace.
As time has gone by since my return home, I have come to realize that I owe this same forgiveness to my former community. When I look back over the time I spent with them, I am filled with such gratitude for all they gave me, both materially and spiritually. They accepted me, they taught me, they were patient with my mistakes, they counselled me, they prayed for me, they took care of my physical needs. In innumerable ways they showed me love, affection, and support. Moreover, when I think of all the sacrifices the Sisters have made, I cannot help but be in awe of these beautiful, generous women I was blessed to live with for nine months. Yes, they had their shortcomings at times, but I really think they have more to forgive in me than I have to forgive in them. But truly, they gave me the very best they had, and for that, I am forever grateful.
So did I make mistakes during my time in the convent? Could I have done things better? Definitely.
Did the Sisters make mistakes? Were there things that they could have done better? Quite likely, yes.
Do I need to forgive both them and myself? Yes!
A few months ago, on the one-year anniversary of my entrance, I was having a hard time inside. I was blaming myself for all that had happened, feeling that if only I had tried harder, then everything would have worked out and I would still be in the convent like I was “supposed” to be. I was recording my feelings in my journal, then I paused. I offered up to Jesus everything that was in my heart, and I felt as though I and all my past was enveloped in Jesus’ Divine Mercy. At that moment I felt more peace than I had experienced in months; I knew that God had forgiven me and that everything was going to work out in His time and in His way. I just need to trust Him.
I confess that I don’t yet practice this trust perfectly. I still sometimes battle with feelings of guilt or with old hurts that arise once more in my mind. But deep down I know that God is going to use every part of this situation for good, and that everything I’ve been through is in some mysterious way part of His plan. I only need to put my hand in His pierced one, with all the confidence and love of a little child.
This childlike trust is so important. St. Peter Julian Eymard encourages us to “[a]bide in the home of the divine and fatherly goodness of God like his child who knows nothing, does nothing, makes a mess of everything, but nevertheless lives in his goodness.” I remember coming across this quote as an aspirant, and being very encouraged by it, since I so easily got discouraged by my mistakes and failings. It is not that we should deny responsibility for our sins, but rather, we must have total confidence that we are God’s little children. His tender, fatherly love and patience are so much greater than our human failings!