“The saints teach a practice of loving ourselves in our failing, an actual art we can all learn with patience. It is so simple that their recommendation offends those who believe that complicated wrestling and psychological probing of our failings must necessarily be involved in our conversion. Like Naaman the Syrian, who was disgusted by the straightforwardness of Elisha’s prescription for his leprosy, they need persuasion actually to embark on the practice the saints recommend.
It consists in ministering the forgiveness of God to our faults instantly and repeatedly without fretting:
“Every time you fall into some pardonable transgression, even if it happens a thousand times a day, as soon as you notice it, do not torture yourself and so waste your time without profit, but at once humble yourself and, conscious of your weakness, turn to God with hope and call to Him from the depths of your heart: “O Lord, my God! I have done this because I am what I am and so nothing can be expected of me but such transgressions or even worse, if Thy grace does not help me and I am left to myself alone. I grieve over what I have done, especially because my life has no righteousness responding to Thy care of me, but I continue to fall and to fall.
Forgive me and give me the strength not to offend Thee again and in no way to digress from Thy will. For I zealously wish to work for Thee, to please Thee and be obedient to Thee in all things.” When you have done this, do not torment yourself with thoughts as to whether God has forgiven you. The Lord is near and listens to the sighing of His servants. So calm yourself in this certainty and, having regained your calm, continue your usual occupations as though nothing had happened. You must do this not once but, if necessary, a hundred times and every minute, and the last time with the same perfect trust and daring towards God as the first. In doing this you will tender due honor to the infinite goodness of God, Whom you must always see as full of infinite loving-kindness towards us.6”
The obstinate repeat offenders in our inner society, in the meantime before grace accomplishes their rehabilitation, can do us a strange service. If we respond to every fresh offense by a renewed act of daring trust in the infinite loving-kindness of God, then we shall grow in faith. We shall also find ourselves doing the same for the repeat offenders among our neighbors as we are learning to do for ourselves.
When our exasperating, recalcitrant sisters and brothers fall and fall again, it will occur to us more and more to throw about their shoulders the mantle of our love. We will be a little closer to grasping the hospitality of God.
Counselor, Spirit of truth, teach me how to forgive my brother and sister not “seven times, but seventy times seven.” I itch to correct and control their behavior, it maddens me that their faults are so ingrained. I long to punish or mock them. My inmost feelings spell out curses on them. Nothing will change as long as I either curse or cover over my own habitual slips. The habit of turning after every fall instantly to the Lord asking for forgiveness, the resilience to do this time and time again, is not going to be easy to acquire. I need the special impulse of your grace to start now and to keep doing it.
MEDITATION Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy times seven.” Matthew 18:21-22
THE SPIRIT Readings for the Days of Lent MARTIN L. SMITH