by Father Jim St. George
We are in the holiest season of our Christian calendar, the season of Lent. Lent offers us the opportunity to grow in our relationship with God and to deepen our commitment to our baptismal covenant. Lent allows us to reflect upon our patterns, to pray more deeply, to experience sorrow for what we’ve done and failed to do, to reach out to a loving God and to be generous to those in need or those being marginalized.
It is a time to make a change from where we have been to become what we should be.
Almost every Lent, I find myself dwelling on all that has happened in my life. I marvel at where I am and what my life has become, despite the errors of my past. In many ways, I am living proof of the redemptive nature of God, which we honor during Lent. I find it hard to let go of certain of my wrongdoings. I know that, intellectually, I am forgiven, but in my heart, I still grieve in my brokenness as a human.
Recently, my past from 22 years ago resurfaced in a very public way. At the young age of 23, I served jail time for foolishly misappropriating funds from a family business I once co-owned. The incident was not something I have hidden. In fact, I often use it to illustrate to my college students and parishioners the awesome love, forgiveness, and redemption of God.
Deep down, however, I still hurt. I still feel as if I am back in my early 20s, dealing with all the pain and anguish that my actions caused. I do not think that I was a particularly bad person, just one that made a few bad choices.
And here I am now in my mid-forties, having been a priest for several years and serving those whose lives are broken, too. Yet, I cannot find a way to heal myself. Ironically, I have helped others to find what I seek. I have embraced the dying when their last wish was to hear words of forgiveness from a priest. I have been in a prison cell and touched the hands of someone who felt he was irredeemable. I have blessed unions of couples who felt distant from God, and I have forgiven murderers on their deathbeds. But I cannot forgive myself.
So this Lent, I committed to figuring out why. My conclusion was as startling as it was real: It is my fellow Christians. You see, as my prior conviction surfaced, so did vitriol and hate from people who don’t even know me. The words that were levied at me stung. The banter reopened wounds I thought were long healed. I reflected that sticks and stones would have been more welcomed than barbed words that are never supposed to hurt.
Do we, as Christians, really know the meaning of redemption? Do we actually embrace forgiveness at our core? Do we truly wish to become more like Jesus and walk in his footsteps? If so, why do we not help those in need, or pay only lip service to our baptismal covenant? Why do we not lead the lost, embrace the leper, call the wrongdoer into the bright light of our God, and help people embrace the love of God?
Why do we not use these fleeting moments of our lives to uplift, rather than to land one more kick to someone who’s already down?
I finally realized this Lent that the pain of my past is not coming from within my own soul; it’s coming from those who cannot forgive. So I sit now in prayer and reflection and try to forgive them as I wrestle with trying to forgive myself. And I pray that consolation will come, and that one day we will all be better Christians, and hopefully – prayerfully –far more loving human beings.
Father Jim St. George is pastor of St. Miriam’s Old Catholic Apostolic Church in Blue Bell.