Forgiven Sins Must Be Left in the Past

by Simon Rafe  •  •  May 11, 2016   

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I suppose it had to happen sooner or later; I'm disappointed it happened quite so soon (third episode!) but the philosophy of "what is inevitable should be done immediately" is perfectly legitimate (actually, that would make a great subject for an article — someone take a note).

What happened so soon? Making a meta-reference to the purpose of these articles — which is, of course, promoting the talks from the fourth annual Retreat At Sea. I've tried to be oblique about references, talking around the subject rather than engaging directly with the content — and certainly not making references to the time and place the talks were given, or even tangential anecdotes that are part of them.

No such luck today, I'm afraid.

That's because the topic of the talk released, hound-like, on a suspecting (we have a schedule, and keep to it) public is "The Crisis in the Church." Now, it's not that there isn't something to say about that. There is — lots of somethings! But they are somethings already said elsewhere (and, frankly, better than I could) on the site already. And, of course, Michael Voris' talk presents that topic within the context of mercy, the overarching theme of the Retreat At Sea, so you should really go watch that (and sign up for a Premium account if you don't already have one!)


Michael opens with trip down memory lane, reminiscing about his childhood in California and telling the story of his encounter with Abp. Fulton Sheen during the bicentennial. And that — the idea of the past — got me thinking about an important point about mercy.

The focus of the Retreat At Sea was the 51st Psalm, one of the Church's best prayers for mercy, but the Lord's Prayer, the "Our Father," contains a beautiful detail about mercy we often forget. "Forgive us our tresspasses, as we forgive those who tresspass against us."

Mercy is a two-way street. The parable of the two debtors illustrates another facet of this truth. We must be ready to forgive those who have hurt us. We are called to be like Christ, and during His ministry and the life of the Church, the most visible thing He demonstrates is mercy and forgiveness, often to those who are actively wronging Him.

This is pretty basic stuff, Catholicism 101. If you don't forgive, how can you expect others to forgive you? But there is more to it.

We often hear the expression "forgive and forget" — and that is sometimes silly. We must learn from what happened; we can't carry on as if it didn't happen. If someone betrays you, it would be cruel not to forgive him, but it would be the acme of foolishness to let yourself be placed in a situation where you could be hurt again. Forgiveness is about emptying your heart of hatred, not emptying your mind of wisdom.

So, no "forgive and forget" in that sense. But mercy demands that we forget forgiven sins in a different way. Perhaps it would be best expressed as "forgive and don't bring up." Let the past be the past.

We all have sins in our past, things we have done that are wrong and which we have now acknowledged as wrong and have brought to God in confession and for which we have been forgiven. It is not, on the supernatural side of reality, who reminds us of sins forgiven; it is the devil.

And so we, too, if we wish to show mercy, must not bring up things that are in the past. If they have been forgiven, then we not only have no right to remind them or others of them, but it is actively sinful — detraction, temptation to despair, gossip, even scandalous — for us to bring them up. It is not merely unkind, cruel and unmerciful to do this, but actually denies Christ's mercy. To speak of something someone has been forgiven of is the whisper that says sins cannot, or are not, truly forgiven.

Mercy is not merely the reception of forgiveness from God and others, nor is it simply extending that forgiveness yourself. A part of it is leaving in the past things that belong there, things that have been forgiven. Those of us involved on a day-to-day basis in the spiritual works of mercy of admonishing the sinner should keep this always in the forefront of our minds. Are we admonishing them for a sin already forgiven? Are we scourging them for something Christ already took the stripes for?

And, of course, are we doing it a little too publicly?

But that's a topic for another article.


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