Happiness

 

Happy

If you pursue happiness on earth, it eludes you. If you do what you feel compelled to do with your life, and it is the right thing for you, happiness will follow. After we die, God will not ask us if we were happy; He will ask what we did with what we had.

This is not to say that God doesn’t want you to be happy; however, God has planned  your life so that when it aligns with His will, you are happy on earth and happy in eternity.

If we aggressively pursue happiness, we risk hurting others and ourselves, and conflict and grief will follow.  Happiness is not a thing you can capture in a bottle and hold to yourself. It is not a treasure to be searched for and found. It is, rather, like a road on which you walk — not a destination in itself, but part of the journey. It is only when we achieve our soul’s goals that we are truly happy — not the human happiness that ebbs and flows, but the inner joy and peace that come with fulfilling one’s destiny.

Never give up on fulfilling your goals. They are as the air you breathe — they keep you alive; they keep you going! Hold fast to them and trust God to lead you to their attainment.

 

 

 

 

In Honor of Mother Teresa

 

Mother Teresa

As you may know, Mother Teresa of Calcutta (actually, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta since her beatification in 2003), will be canonized a saint in Rome this coming Sunday, Sept. 4, 2016. In her honor, I would like to post the following words that she reportedly had hanging in her room and/or in the home for children she ran in Calcutta, India. They are based on something called “The Paradoxical Commandments” by Dr. Kent Keith, but Mother Teresa put her own spin on it. Her version is as follows:

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.

Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.

Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.

Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere, people may deceive you.

Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.

Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.

Be happy anyway.

The good you do today will often be forgotten.

Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.

Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God.

It was never between you and them anyway.

Says it all! Saint Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us. Help us to be unselfish, serene, generous and joyful as you were.

Ordinary Men, Extraordinary Lives-Pt. 3

Spiritual Lessons from the Apostles

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Parts One & Two of this series gave us an overview of the Apostles and discussed the lessons we can learn from them. In Part 3, the final post in this series, we will look at the inspiration that can be drawn from the lives of Matthew,  James the Lesser, Jude Thaddeus, Simon the Cananean, Judas Iscariot, and Matthias.

Matthew

Matthew underwent one of the greatest transformations of any of the Apostles. Before meeting Jesus, his name was Levi. More educated than most of the other Apostles, he could read, write, and figure sums. Due to his occupation as tax collector, he would also have had more money, though no higher social standing. Then, as now, tax collectors were extremely unpopular. They bought their position and were responsible to Rome for a certain amount of money each year. Anything over that amount was theirs, which naturally led to manipulation and dishonesty. Furthermore, because they were Jews working for the Roman oppressors, they were considered traitors and among the most hated people in Jewish society.

As such, Levi was probably the last person anyone expected to qualify as one of Jesus’ select group. Yet, Jesus called him and changed his name to Matthew, meaning “gift of God.” To the other Apostles, it must have been a shocking choice – not only the selection of Matthew but the new given name as well! It’s very likely that they tried to dissuade Jesus, fearing that having a despised tax collector as part of their group would reflect badly on all of them. But Jesus’ selection of Matthew taught the other Apostles about a segment of society with which they ordinarily would never have associated. They had to learn charity and tolerance for the sort of people to whom they would be bringing Christ’s message. This is a valuable lesson for us as well, that Jesus truly came to save all people, even those we consider lowly and despicable.

Despite his comfortable standard of living, Matthew was willing to chuck it all in an instant to follow Jesus. In order to appreciate the implications of this, we need to realize that for Matthew, unlike for any of the other Apostles, following Jesus meant there could be no turning back. The others all had a trade to which they could return; but once Matthew gave up his office, that was it. He would have no career to fall back on if he turned out to be wrong about Jesus. He would no longer fit in with his old friends, who would think he was crazy for giving up his comfortable life to follow some “religious fanatic.” Conversely, he was also despised by his fellow Jews and would not be welcomed into their society, either.

Because of his past, Matthew of all the Apostles probably had the most reason for gratitude at being chosen by Jesus. He never forgot his origins and what Jesus had done for him. In Matthew 10:3, he humbly refers to himself as “Matthew, the tax collector.” From Matthew we learn that gratitude and humility make sacrificing everything to follow Jesus not only possible, but a great joy, no matter what our shortcomings or circumstances.

James the Lesser

Also known as James the Just, or James son of Alphaeus, he is traditionally believed to be a cousin of Jesus; thus he is referred to as “the brother of the Lord.” James’ mother, Mary, was a kinswoman of the Mary the mother of Jesus, and was one of the women described in Mark 15:40 as being present at the Crucifixion. He is called “the Lesser” – meaning the younger or “little one” – to differentiate him from the other Apostle James, the son of Zebedee and brother of John. We do not know much about him. Around 170 A.D., the historian Hegesippus wrote of a James who had vowed to God not to drink wine nor eat meat except where Scripture enjoined him to, not to cut or anoint his hair or take baths, and spent so much time in prayer that it was said “the skin of his knees was tougher than a camel’s.” Although some modern Bible scholars disagree, tradition recognizes him as the same James who became the first Bishop of Jerusalem and wrote the New Testament epistle (Letter of James).

While most of the other Apostles dispersed to various parts of the world after Pentecost, James the Lesser stayed in Jerusalem, eventually assuming the role of Bishop of Jerusalem. He was spokesman in that city for the early Church, and faced much suspicion and many questions by the Jews there. He played an important role in determining how much of the Jewish traditions and obligations needed to be observed by “Followers of the Way,” as the early Christians were called. He eventually determined that only four Jewish traditions be imposed on Gentiles who wanted to follow the Way of Christ. We can assume from his important role in the early Church that he was diplomatic, patient, faithful, wise and fair-minded.

James the Lesser was martyred in 63 AD by being thrown off the roof of a temple and then clubbed to death by the Pharisees.

Jude Thaddeus

Here is another Apostle whose life is veiled in mystery. He actually went by three names: Thaddeus (“strong-chested”), Lebbaeus (“great-hearted”) and Judas of James. He speaks only once in the Gospel [John 14:22]. Tradition has it that he was the brother of James the Lesser, making him also a cousin of Jesus. But as with James, there is confusion about his identity. One 14th century writer claims he was the bridegroom at the wedding feast in Cana, where Jesus performed His first miracle by changing water into wine. Some modern biblical scholars hold the opinion that the Apostle Jude is not the same person who wrote the Epistle (Letter of Jude), as is traditionally believed. Nevertheless, ancient writings tell us that Jude preached in Judea, Samaria and Mesopotamia. St. Paulinus, writing hundreds of years later, tells us that Jude and Simon the Cananean suffered martyrdom in Persia, where they had gone as missionaries. They share the same feast day, October 28.

In the Letter of Jude, the early Christians are urged to persevere under the harsh, difficult circumstances imposed upon them by the world. Regardless of authorship, this advice is relevant to Christians living in our own trying times as well. Despite the obscurity of his life, Jude is today one of the most popular saints of the Catholic Church, and is known as the “patron of hopeless cases.” This should encourage those of us who feel that our lives are lived inconspicuously, that we are not famous public figures whose many words and actions are recorded for posterity. It shows us that we do not have to have the spotlight in order to make a difference in this world, and that God will reward us in the afterlife for deeds that may have gone unrecognized while we were here on earth.

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Painting of the Apostle Jude Thaddeus in the Schottenkirche Church in Vienna, Austria

Simon the Cananean

Simon was also known as “the Zealot,” which means a Jewish patriot, extremist and political radical. The zealots awaited a Messiah who would be the new King of Israel and bring an end to Roman tyranny. They were not averse to using violence to obtain their objectives. Simon needed to learn new ways of dealing with the world, to love and forgive all people, even the Roman oppressors. This must have been very difficult for him indeed; yet he became a loyal follower of the Prince of Peace.

Through Simon’s example, we learn to tolerate and accept other people, to forgive our enemies, to labor untiringly for freedom and peace, and most of all, to be open and willing to follow God’s plan instead of our own ideas.

Judas Iscariot

You may be surprised to find Judas included in an article about learning spiritual lessons from the Apostles. Yet Judas was one of the Twelve and lived in close familiarity with Our Lord for three years. We can learn from Judas’ mistakes as much as we can from the other Apostles. His name was Judas ish Kerioth – meaning “Judas from Kerioth,” a city in Judea. Short and dark, with hair falling in black ringlets, he was probably the most educated of the Twelve. Being the group’s treasurer, Judas would have worn under his outer garment a leather apron with two huge pockets in which he carried the money.

In Judas we have a true enigma. He can be regarded as the consummate villain or a tragically misguided soul. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. It’s unlikely that Jesus would have chosen as an Apostle a thoroughly evil man with no redeeming qualities, as this would have created constant turmoil within the group and would have reflected badly on Jesus’ mission. From what we can tell, Judas got along with the other Apostles and was efficient in his duties as treasurer. It’s certainly true that he had some wrong ideas and had to be chastised by Jesus on occasion, but in this regard he was no different from the other Apostles.

One theory for Judas’ betrayal of Jesus is that he was motivated by greed and did it for the money. This seems unlikely, however, because the 30 pieces of silver he got for his betrayal was not a great amount in those days, surely not enough to induce him to commit such a heinous deed for the money alone. Perhaps he was promised more money or a prominent position of power in the future – we can only speculate about that.

Another, more plausible explanation is that Judas was disappointed and perhaps bitter at the failure of Jesus to immediately establish a successful and powerful earthly kingdom. By bringing Jesus before the Sanhedrin, Judas may have been trying to force Him into claiming the throne of David. Having been witness to so many of Jesus’ astounding miracles, Judas probably felt that if Jesus were really the Messiah, nothing could harm Him — He could simply perform a miracle to vanquish His enemies. Conversely, if Jesus were a false prophet, it was fitting that He should die, in which case Judas would be somewhat of a hero for delivering Him to the authorities. But as the trial proceeded and Judas realized what the outcome would be, he was filled with horror and remorse, trying in vain to call off the plot by returning the blood money.

There are two versions of what happened to Judas after the death of Jesus. Matthew 27 tells us that after his unsuccessful attempt to call off the deal, Judas flung away the 30 pieces of silver, went off and hung himself. But in Acts 1, Peter says that Judas bought a parcel of land with the money, then fell headlong and was disemboweled, probably by falling on his own sword. Whether this was an accident or suicide is not specified. Either way, the end result was the same.

We shall never know, on this earth, what motivated Judas. Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that his greatest sin was not his betrayal of Jesus, as this was part of God’s preordained plan of salvation. Judas’ great mistake was in despairing of God’s forgiveness. God in His mercy would not have preordained the loss of Judas’ soul. Judas could have repented of his disloyalty and gone on to do great works as an Apostle, as Peter did, rather than surrender to despair. It’s impossible to not feel some compassion for this unhappy man, because all of us are fallible. We can only hope that at the last moment, Judas made his peace with God.

The sad example of Judas warns us to beware of the things in our lives which we choose over God, be they goals, possessions or people; to resist our human tendencies toward greed, rancor and blind ambition; and to put our faith in God’s wisdom as to how destiny should unfold. Most importantly, we learn from Judas never to despair, because no sin of ours is ever greater than God’s mercy and love.

judas

Matthias

After the death of Jesus, the Apostles replaced Judas with Matthias, restoring their number to twelve. Matthias had been a disciple since the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. It’s likely that he felt some disappointment when he wasn’t initially included in the original Twelve. He probably never dreamed he’d ever be one of these chosen Apostles. But as it was, God had great plans for Matthias – just as He has for each of us, if we are willing to wait trustingly for God’s will to manifest in our lives according to His timetable rather than our own.

Summary

This brings us full circle in our exploration of the lives, character and personalities of the diverse and fascinating men chosen by Christ to share so intimately in His life and form the foundation of His Church. As we study each Apostle, we recognize many of their flaws in ourselves and are inspired by their virtues. We realize how all of them, with the exception of Judas, rose above their personal weaknesses to become the great saints we honor today. Knowing how Christ transformed them, we are confident that He can and will transform us, as well. We only need to have, as did the Apostles, the willingness to be transformed.

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Photo courtesy of CatholicLink 

 

 

Ordinary Men, Extraordinary Lives-Pt. 2

Spiritual Lessons from the Apostles

 

ChristandAposltes

Part One of this series gave us an overview of the Apostles and discussed the lessons we can learn from Simon Peter in particular. In Part Two we will look at the inspiration that can be drawn from the lives of Andrew, James and John, Philip, Bartholomew and Thomas.

Andrew

Before meeting Jesus, Andrew and his younger brother Simon Peter, along with James and John, were partners in a fishing business. Andrew and John were disciples of John the Baptist; they were the first to follow Jesus when the Baptist pointed him out as “the Lamb of God” [John 1:36]. Later, Andrew brought Simon Peter to Jesus. Yet although Peter, James and John became part of the Lord’s “inner circle,” granted special confidences and privileges, Andrew did not. I often wonder how he felt about this. Was he hurt? Did he struggle to rise above jealousy and envy? Being human, he probably did.

Although perhaps not so strong a leader as his brother Peter, Andrew was active in bringing others to Christ. In contrast to the bemused Philip, he was resourceful enough to tell Jesus about the boy who had the loaves and fishes [John 6].

Andrew also helped the hesitant Philip inform Jesus that a group of Greeks wanted to meet him [John 12:2022]. This suggests that Andrew understood Jesus’ call to save all people, not just the Jews. It’s a safe bet that Andrew was a strong organizer and administrator among the Apostles.

Andrew traveled to Asia Minor, Scythia and as far as Kiev to preach the Gospel of Christ. He was crucified in Achaea in Greece, on an X-shaped cross, upon which he suffered for two days before he died. He is often pictured in art with the X-shaped cross as an identifying symbol.

Andrew inspires us to lead others to Christ and to conquer envy and jealousy in order to serve the greater good. In Andrew’s strong, quiet, solid character, we see a shining example of the humility that acknowledges that God can accomplish great good through those who don’t care who gets the recognition.

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James and John

These brothers were the sons of Zebedee, a respected and prosperous Galilean fisherman with an explosive temper. Because of this, Jesus nicknamed James and John “sons of thunder.” They apparently inherited their father’s temper: when the Samaritans refused to welcome Jesus and the Apostles, James and John wanted to call down fire from heaven to consume the whole village. This attitude, needless to say, was not appreciated by the Master.

Their ambitious mother, Salome, a close relative of  Mary, the Mother of Jesus, joined James and John in demanding that they be given positions of power in Christ’s kingdom. This caused resentment among the other Apostles. As Jesus pointed out, whatever we do in the name of God must be done for the purpose of serving Him and humankind, not for personal gratification or recognition. This teaches us to beware of the hunger for power that exists today, even within the Church, and to realize that along with God’s gifts and privileges come tremendous responsibility and sometimes great hardship.

James, believed to be the elder brother, was a fair-minded, modest man with a quieter nature than John. Although James and John were usually inseparable, James was not with his brother after Jesus’ arrest.

James later became a leading spirit in the early Church and was the first Apostle to suffer martyrdom. James was beheaded with a sword by order of Herod Agrippa around 44 A.D., making him the second martyr of the Christian church (St. Stephen being the first, in 34 A.D.). James did indeed “drink the cup that Jesus drank.”

John always referred to himself as the “disciple Jesus loved.” Of course, Christ loved everyone, but John may have been the “Teacher’s Pet.” The youngest, and perhaps the only unmarried one, John was treated with paternal affection. He was the only Apostle present at the Crucifixion. Affectionate and trustworthy, it was to his care that Jesus entrusted his precious Mother.

John is recorded as the first to recognize Jesus at the Sea of Galilee after the Resurrection [John 21:1-7]. However, it was Peter who jumped into the sea to get to Jesus as soon as he heard John’s exclamation, “It is the Lord!” These little anecdotes, so revealing of personality, are what make the Apostles so endearing.

From John we learn loyalty. Even when the chips were down and the other Apostles deserted Jesus, John remained with Him to the end. In caring for Jesus’ Mother, he is a fine example of how we should care for the grieving, the lonely, the needy, the elderly.

John’s greatest legacy is love. Under the tender tutelage of his beloved Master, John gradually learned to channel his assertiveness into an active and enduring charity for all. This fiery young man, who once wanted to stop someone from casting out demons in Jesus’ name, and who with James once called for vengeance on their enemies, came to be known as the Apostle of Love.

John refers to Christian love more than two dozen times in his Epistles. When we are tempted to strike back in anger and revenge against those who have hurt us, we can look to John and the lessons in love he learned from Christ, who was Love Incarnate.

Philip

In the Gospel of John, Philip is the first to whom Jesus says, “Follow me” [John 1:43]. Philip brought his friend Bartholomew to Jesus, thus recruiting another Apostle.

Although a devoted follower, Philip possessed a childlike nature and sometimes showed a weakness of faith. When Jesus told the Apostles to feed the crowd of five thousand, it was Philip who protested, “Two hundred days wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little bit!” [John 6:7].

Philip reminds us of how often in our own lives we, too, doubt God’s ability to take care of our needs. In John 14:8, Philip tells Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” Even as we smile at this naïve request, we realize how many times we ask God for signs to bolster our own weak faith, how often we lack confidence in the gifts and abilities Jesus promised in answer to Philip: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father….Whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these” [John 14:9, 12].

Bartholomew/Nathaniel

Early lore describes Bartholomew, also known as Nathaniel, as being tall, handsome and distinguished, with his clothing trimmed in fashionable purple. Born in Cana, Bartholomew worked as a vinedresser before joining Jesus. Both he and his friend Philip came from Bethsaida, the same town as Peter and Andrew. Bartholomew was inclined to meditate. Perhaps this is what he was doing when Philip found him under the fig tree.

He was honest and straightforward, though sometimes inclined to be critical and prejudiced. He never hesitated to say what he thought. When Philip told them about Jesus, Bartholomew retorted, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” [John 1:46].

Despite his initial prejudice, he was open-minded enough to meet Jesus, who called him “a man without guile,” and “a true son of Israel.”

Bartholomew quickly had a change of heart and was the first recorded as calling Jesus “the son of God and King of Israel.” After the Crucifixion, he was part of the group that went fishing and saw Jesus at the Sea of Tiberius.

From Bartholomew we learn to have the sincerity to speak our mind while being willing to admit our mistakes, the faith to see the Divine hand in the events of our lives, and the open-mindedness to look beyond our prejudices to see ourselves and our fellow humans in the light of truth.

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Thomas

There is little said of Thomas except in the Gospel of John. This is enough to bring out his skeptical and somewhat pessimistic nature. Although his given name was Judas, he was called by the Greek name “Didymus,” translated Thomas or twin, although nothing is known about any siblings.

Thomas had worked in Galilee as a stonemason and carpenter, so he and Jesus must have had a lot in common. Thomas, though slow to believe and quick to give up, was a brave and reliable man with an ardent love for the Master. He was ready to follow Him even to the grave. When Jesus proposed going to Judea to see Lazarus, Thomas exclaimed impulsively, “Let us also go, to die with him!” [John 11:16].

During the last supper, Thomas asked Jesus, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Jesus replied, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” [John 14:5-6].

The most famous incident involving Thomas is, of course, his refusal to believe in Jesus’ Resurrection until he had seen and touched Him, at which time he exclaimed, “My Lord and my God!”

Thomas asked questions before he acted. He wanted to understand why he was doing something. Jesus may have chosen him for that very reason. Thomas’ healthy skepticism would show the world that Jesus’ disciples were not just blind followers, but had minds that examined and weighed what was presented to them. When his questions were answered, Thomas was a man of devotion and courage.

Pope St. Gregory the Great said of him: “The disbelief of Thomas has done more for our faith than the faith of the other disciples. As he touches Christ and is won over to belief, every doubt is cast aside and our faith is strengthened.”

From Thomas we learn discernment, to challenge and evaluate the sometimes overwhelming information and opinions with which modern society bombards us. In spiritual matters, we need to understand the deeper meaning behind what we do, lest religion becomes for us a matter of empty ritual and boring routines.

Like Thomas, we must realize that no matter how great our knowledge of spiritual matters, we can never fully comprehend them all. Rather, our deep and enduring faith sustains us in times of doubt, helping us to believe even when we cannot see or fully understand the great mystery of God and his plan for our lives.

In Part Three: Matthew, James the lesser, Jude Thaddeus, Simon the Cananean, and Judas Iscariot.

 

Ordinary Men, Extraordinary Lives-Pt. 1

Spiritual Lessons from the Apostles

JesusApostlesWhenever I feel discouraged by my own limitations, I find hope and inspiration in the lives of the Apostles. Each of these men called “The Twelve” had jobs, families, and ambitions, just as we do. But when they met Jesus, He transformed everything about them, giving them new lives, new goals. As writer/historian Daniel-Rops points out in his book, Jesus and His Times, one of the best proofs that the Gospels are authentic is their account of the Apostles, because no one could have invented such human, fallible characters! I’m glad Jesus chose them, rather than brilliant paragons of virtue with whom we could never identify.

Unfortunately, we have little information about some of the Apostles. Often, all we have to go on is popular tradition, because many of the facts are veiled in obscurity. But there’s nothing obscure about the timeless lessons we can learn from the Apostles. That’s what we’ll explore in this series.

Who were the Apostles?

The word apostle means “one who is sent”; the number 12 corresponds to the 12 tribes of Israel. Jesus called his Apostles at the beginning of his public ministry, along with a nucleus of 72 secondary disciples. This was the forerunner of the Roman Catholic Church’s present hierarchal structure. Before choosing the Twelve, Jesus went up a mountain and prayed and meditated all night, asking the Father’s guidance. Jesus did not require genius, wealth, or social prominence from His followers. He sought willingness, a loving, giving nature and total dedication. At the Last Supper, He told them, “It was not you that chose Me, but I who chose you.” This is true for all of us: God has chosen each of us to fulfill a particular purpose that no one else can fill.  No disciples of any other prophets or philosophers, including John the Baptist, were given the power and authority of their master as were Christ’s Apostles.

The traditional grouping of the Apostles given in Matthew is: Simon Peter and his brother Andrew; James and his brother John, sons of Zebedee; Philip and Bartholomew (also known as Nathaniel); Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; Jude Thaddeus and James, son of Alpheus; Simon the Cananean (the Zealot) and Judas Iscariot.

They were simple, ordinary men, typical of the people God usually chooses to do his work. Most were probably of average height — 5’6” inches for a man of that time – and approximately the same age as Jesus, who was 30 at the start of his public ministry. Like all observant Jewish men in those days, they wore untrimmed hair and beards. Most of the Apostles belonged to the social class we would call “blue-collar” workers. Only a few could read or write, but they were by no means stupid or totally uneducated. They knew Aramaic and Greek, and from earliest childhood had been orally taught the Hebrew Scriptures by their parents and the synagogue school. They were no more or less pious than the typical Jew of the day. Because they were not religious scholars, Jesus knew they would be teachable, open to new ideas, and able to understand the average person’s struggles.

None of the Twelve realized at first what their new life would entail. Christ’s followers had to give up everything: family and social life, occupation, familiar daily routine, orthodox ideas. For Jews in Christ’s time, religion consisted of countless rules and regulations. Proud of their status as the chosen of God, they longed for the day when God would wreak vengeance on their oppressors. Yet Jesus asked His disciples to embrace a religion of universal love, brotherhood, and forgiveness towards everyone – even enemies, oppressors, and those they considered “unclean.”

With these twelve humble men, Jesus experienced true brotherhood. Living together for three years as they did fostered a profound and intimate friendship. There were days spent walking the dusty roads, stopping in villages to preach and minister to the throngs; nights gathered around the campfire, sharing food and their deepest thoughts and feelings. The Twelve felt so familiar with Jesus that they often had a possessive, protective attitude towards Him, trying to tell Him what to do, where to go, whom to avoid. As is evident in the Gospels, their vying for Jesus’ attention sometimes generated envy and competitiveness among them. Ardent and emotional, they weren’t above petty squabbles as to who was more important and favored by Jesus, or who should get special honors. They gradually learned to overcome these shortcomings and truly love and support one another. This is a perfect lesson as to how we, as members of Christ’s body, the Church, should behave towards one another.

In their trials and weaknesses, we find encouragement for our own struggles to transcend our limitations and be transformed. They desperately tried to believe, but didn’t know how to trust; wanted to be courageous, but were cowardly. Aspiring to love others and renounce self, they were at times egocentric and manipulative. They wanted to be devoted, but didn’t always succeed. Often, they found Jesus’ words hard to understand and asked naïve, even childish, questions. Only after the Holy Spirit descended upon them at Pentecost were they truly enlightened about the deeper meanings in Christ’s teachings.

Although Jesus told them repeatedly that He would have to die, they were still profoundly shocked, bewildered and despondent when it actually happened. In this we recognize our own tendency to ignore the inevitable and refuse to prepare ourselves, only to complain and despair when the inevitable finally happens.

Yet, despite all their flaws, Jesus saw their great potential. He knew that through their association with Him, these twelve very human, very ordinary men would someday become extraordinary.

Simon Peter

Born Simon bar Jona (son of Jonas), upon meeting Jesus he was given the nickname “Kephas” in Aramaic (“Peter” in Greek), meaning “rock.” This must have amused those who knew him well, because Peter was far from rock-like in those early days! He was a volatile man, constantly wavering between loyalty and inconstancy, faith and doubt, bravado and cowardice. Big and broad, rash and impetuous, he often tactlessly put his foot in his mouth and was admonished by Jesus for speaking out of turn. But as the natural leader and spokesman of the Twelve, Peter was quick to respond to whatever Jesus wanted. When the others were disconcerted by Christ’s teachings, Peter remained firm. Although he found it hard to comprehend the true meaning behind Jesus’ mission, he loved Him heart and soul.

Along with the brothers James and John, Peter was part of the “inner circle” who were greatly trusted and relied upon by Jesus and sometimes singled out for certain privileges. For instance, they were present at the raising of Jairus’ daughter, were the only Apostles to witness Jesus’ Transfiguration, and accompanied Him when He went to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before His crucifixion.

When Jesus asked the Apostles who they thought He was, it was Peter who gave the touching, truthful answer: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” [Matt. 16:16]. At that point, Jesus made Peter the head of His new Church. Yet shortly after this extraordinary declaration of faith and loyalty, Peter tried to talk Jesus out of fulfilling His destiny of going to Jerusalem to die, and was admonished by Jesus with the shocking words, “Get thee behind me, Satan!” Peter had to learn, as we all do, not to question or resist the will of God or apply human argument to His mysterious ways.

My favorite story about Peter is Matt. 14:28-31, which recounts his famous, impetuous dash across the water from the storm-tossed boat towards Jesus on the Sea of Galilee. When Peter’s mind caught up to his heart, he realized what he was doing, panicked, began to sink, and had to be lifted up by Jesus. This shows us that with faith in God and the abilities He has given us, we can do marvelous things. It’s only when we stop trusting God and rely solely on our own resources that we fall apart. It’s also a reminder to focus on the present moment. While Peter was concerned only with answering Jesus’ call to come to Him on the water, he was able to accomplish the miraculous. But when his mind moved off the present moment to dwell on doubt and fear, this marvelous ability fled as quickly as it had come.

The most striking example of Peter’s vacillating nature is, of course, his denial of Jesus, whom he loved so dearly. Yet, as horrified and filled with remorse as he was over his disloyalty, Peter did not despair as Judas did. He trusted that God in His infinite mercy and love would forgive him. Peter put his sin behind him and went on to become the leader of Christ’s Church on earth. This is a lesson in perfect contrition: the honesty and humility to admit our failings and make amends, the confidence that we will be pardoned, as well as the ability to forgive ourselves and move on towards what God has planned for our lives.

After Pentecost, Peter became a powerful leader, but still sometimes wavered in his resolve. In Galatians 2:11-14, Paul admonishes Peter for separating himself from the Gentiles because of pressure from some Jewish members of the early Church. Peter learned to have the courage of his convictions despite criticism and opposition. In our own increasingly secular society, where our spiritual beliefs and moral values are constantly being challenged, we need to look to Peter’s example.

Peter was martyred in Rome by crucifixion during the reign of Nero in AD 64.  Popular tradition says he was crucified upside-down, although historic evidence of that particular detail is inconclusive.

Peter’s finest qualities were leadership, humility, devotion, faith, honesty, perseverance and hope. When first called by Jesus, Simon Peter protested, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” [Luke 5:8]. In our own lives we, too, often respond to God’s call by saying, “Not me, Lord – I’m not good enough!” But like Peter, we can put our past behind us and move forward, firmly believing that God can transform us into something greater.

In Part Two: Andrew, James and John, Philip, Bartholomew, and Thomas.

Photo courtesy of Waiting for the Word (no changes made). Creative Commons License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Thrive Where You Are

Excerpt #3 from “The Writing.”

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“God has put you here in this time for a very good reason. Control the tendency to wish you lived in another time, another place, or in other circumstances. No one knows the true reason why they were put in a particular situation or with a particular family, or why they have a disability, or why they act out their life in a particular pattern. You can only guess, and sometimes your guesses are right, and sometimes they are wrong. God alone knows the real reason. It is up to you to become the best you can be, regardless of your circumstances or why you are in them, regardless of how difficult it sometimes is to give life your best shot.

“As you go on with your life, human situations might change, but on earth nothing is ever perfect — you exchange one trouble for another. So, rather than get discouraged about human situations, ponder on what you can do with your life, and utilize your Light and your gifts.” [Sept. 19, 2006]

 

 

Anthony of Padua: The Wonder-Working Saint

 

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You’ve lost your wallet with your driver’s license, credit cards, and money just withdrawn from the ATM. Quick — who ya gonna call? Chances are, if you’re like most Catholics, you’ll enlist the aid of St. Anthony of Padua, renowned for his ability to recover everything from a missing child to a misplaced set of house keys. But this is only one of the many powers attributed to this extraordinary saint, acknowledged as one of the greatest miracle workers of all time.

He began his remarkable life at Lisbon, Portugal in 1195 and was christened “Fernando.” Little is known of his early years. Experts cannot even agree on his parents’ names, but it is generally believed they were wealthy members of the nobility. He was educated at the Cathedral school in Lisbon, and at the age of 15 joined the Canons Regular of St. Augustine. In 1212 he was transferred to Coimbra in order to devote himself more fully to prayer and study, away from the distraction of frequent visits by family and friends.

In 1220, Don Pedro, Crown Prince of Portugal, brought from Morocco the relics of the first Franciscan martyrs. Seized with a new zeal to be a missionary and martyr, he left the Augustinians to join the Franciscan Order, founded about a decade earlier in Assisi by Francesco Bernardone (who would become known as Francis of Assisi). He took the name Anthony after Antony of Egypt, founder and father of organized Christian monasticism. Shortly thereafter, he was permitted to go as a missionary to Morocco, but God had other plans for him.

Immediately upon his arrival, he became so ill with malaria that he was forced to return to Europe. The ship on which he booked passage was diverted off course by severe storms and docked in Sicily. He recuperated there for several months, then went to Assisi, where he was assigned to the hermitage near Forli, a town outside Bologna. Although a brilliant scholar with a profound knowledge of Scripture, his great humility caused him to say nothing of his scholastic achievements. He lived quietly, serving the other Brothers and working in the kitchen.

One day, he accompanied some other Friars to Forli for an ordination. At the last minute there was no one available to preach, and in desperation the Superior asked Anthony to speak whatever the Holy Spirit prompted. Things would never be the same again! Although timid at first, Anthony was soon preaching so eloquently and fervently that everyone was amazed. Thus began the aspect of his public life for which he would become the most renowned: preaching.  “When the Holy Spirit enters a soul,” he wrote, “He fills it with His fire and lets it enkindle others.”  He had all the qualities of a successful preacher: a charismatic presence, clear, resonant voice, attractive appearance and magnetic personality. Although the Franciscans were guarded in their attitude toward book learning, Francis was so impressed by Anthony’s newly-discovered ability that he appointed him as teacher of theology to the Franciscans.

During the remainder of his short life, Anthony’s achievements were astounding. Crowds numbering over 30,000 flocked to hear him speak. He preached so forcefully against heresy, he became known as malleus hereticorum, “Hammer of the Heretics.” Thousands of conversions followed his compelling sermons, and miracles abounded wherever he went. Many of these miracles are legendary: Along the coast of Rimini, fish rose out of the water as he preached. Poisoned food offered to Anthony by his enemies was rendered harmless after he made the sign of the cross over it. A young man’s amputated foot was miraculously restored at Anthony’s touch.

In 1226, after the death of Francis of Assisi, Anthony eventually made his home in Padua, where he was greatly revered. During Lent in 1231 he preached a powerful series of sermons that were to be his last. Shortly after Easter he became fatally ill with edema, and died in Vercelli on June 13, 1231, at the age of 36. Immediately after his death he appeared to Thomas Gallo, the Abbott at Vercelli. Numerous miracles followed, and he was canonized on May 30, 1232, less than a year later — one of the fastest canonization processes in the Church’s history! Pope Gregory IX, who had known him personally, called Anthony the “Ark of the Covenant,” because of his prodigious knowledge of Holy Scripture.

Thirty years later, Anthony’s body was exhumed and his tongue found to be perfectly preserved. It remains uncorrupt to this day. When St. Bonaventure beheld this miracle, he exclaimed, “O Blessed Tongue, that always praised the Lord and made others bless Him, now it is evident what great merit you have before God!”

So how did he come to be regarded as “Finder of the Lost?” It all began with a cherished book of Psalms belonging to Anthony, in which he kept written notes for use in teaching theology to the friars. One day a novice suddenly deserted the monastery, taking with him, for reasons unknown, Anthony’s precious Psalm book. Anthony pleaded with Heaven for its return. The novice soon had a change of heart and not only returned the book, but rejoined the Franciscan Order. After Anthony’s death, people invoked his help in finding lost and stolen things, and so many of these were recovered that he became known as the patron saint of lost articles.

His patronage also includes: amputees, animals, barrenness, boatmen, donkeys, the elderly, expectant mothers, fishermen, harvests, horses, mariners, Native Americans, the oppressed, the poor, Portugal, the Tigua Indian tribe, travelers, against shipwrecks and starvation. In paintings St. Anthony is often depicted holding the Child Jesus. This custom dates back to a 17th-century legend which says that while staying at a friend’s house, Anthony was spied on by his host, who found him in a state of rapture with the Christ Child in his arms.

Today, more than 750 years after his death, Anthony of Padua is one of the most popular and powerful saints of the Church, the many miracles attributed to him over the centuries earning him the title of “The Wonder-Working Saint.” His Feast Day is June 13th

TRADITIONAL PRAYER TO ST. ANTHONY

Holy Saint Anthony, gentle and powerful in your help, your love for God and charity for His creatures, made you worthy, when on earth, to possess miraculous powers. Miracles waited on your word, which you were always ready to request for those in trouble or anxiety. Encouraged by this thought, I implore you to obtain for me (request). The answer to my prayer may require a miracle. Even so, you are the Saint of miracles. Gentle and loving Saint Anthony, whose heart is ever full of human sympathy, take my petition to the Infant Savior for whom you have such a great love, and the gratitude of my heart will ever be yours. Amen.

“Seventy Times Seven:” The Challenge of Forgiveness – Pt. 2

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at freedigitalphotos.net

In Part 1 of this two-part series,  we defined forgiveness as a process that moves us from the cold, unforgiving emotions of bitterness and resentment to warmer, more altruistic feelings of love and compassion towards the one who has offended us. We discussed why it’s important to forgive and how we can prepare ourselves to begin the process.           

Following are a dozen steps to bring you through the forgiveness process, and ways to follow through and sustain your resolution to forgive. You may need to implement only one or two of these steps, or you might need to use all or most of them. It will depend on your particular situation. They do not have to be done in any particular order; it’s all a matter of what works for you.

 Steps to Forgiveness 

  1.  Personal Encounter: “If you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift at the altar; go first and be reconciled with your brother” [Matthew 5:23-24].  After a cool-down period of mental and spiritual preparation, arrange a discussion with the person who hurt you. Often, much of the anger will dissipate once you are face-to-face. If handled correctly, conflict can lead to positive change.  Ask for an explanation and try to clear up any misunderstandings. It is only fair to others that we clarify what kind of behavior offends us. Do not use confrontational, accusatory language. Be respectful. Preserve your inner peace. Repeat the other person’s words back to ensure you understand their meaning. Don’t argue in circles or bring up past hurts. Keep in mind that you cannot always change someone’s point of view, and forgiveness does not always lead to reconciliation, which needs the cooperation of both parties. If you cannot resolve your conflict with someone by yourselves, call in an objective third party to mediate.

Never arrange a face-to-face meeting where you are alone with someone who has a violent temper, is abusive or otherwise unstable, or if you have difficulty controlling your own temper!  If you have been the victim of abuse, you may need to seek the help of a professional therapist to help you work through the trauma. Your safety is of paramount importance!

2.  Written Communication/Social Media: It’s important to realize that it is much easier for us to offend people or feel offended as a result of written communications as opposed to phone or in-person conversations. In this era of social media, texting and email, where communication is instantaneous, allowing little opportunity for rewrites or careful selection of our words, more and more of us are finding ourselves dealing with real or imagined offenses. 

Since 93% of communication is non-verbal, even if we do not mean to offend someone, the lack of voice inflection, facial expressions and body language in written communication can lead to misunderstandings and feelings of hurt where no hurt was intended. Also, when we are not in personal contact with other people, it is easier to feel angry towards them and say things we probably would never say face-to-face.

When you feel offended by something that was written to you, do not hastily dash off an angry, written reply. Take a break and then slowly re-read the message. You might find that you missed or misread some words, or “read between the lines” something that wasn’t actually there at all. If you still feel hurt or uncertain about the meaning of what was written, call or meet with the other person, if at all possible, and ask for clarification. You will then be in a position to discuss the situation and clear up any misunderstandings.

If verbal communication is not feasible, after a period of prayer and reflection, write a calm reply and ask the person to clarify their meaning, or present your side of the situation in a non-confrontational manner. If the other person insists on being rude and argumentative, the best response from you is none at all. There is no value in arguing with a person whose mind is closed and who does not want to compromise. If certain people are often negative or offensive on social media, it’s usually best to quietly disengage from contact with them. Most of the time, other people eventually will see these people for what they are and disregard their negative comments or cut off contact with them as well. But if other people believe the negative person’s lies or unkind remarks about you, they probably are not the kind of friends you want, anyway!

3. When no contact of any kind is possible: If the incident happened a long time ago, the other person is deceased or their whereabouts unknown, or if meeting/talking with them is inappropriate or unsafe, work through the rest of the steps in the process to bring you to a point of forgiveness and inner peace. It is not always necessary or possible for the other party to know you have forgiven them.

4. Examine your own actions. Ask yourself honestly: “Am I being overly sensitive? Did I do something to cause or exacerbate the situation? Could I have reacted more appropriately?” If you find that you are also to blame for the situation, acknowledge your part in it, apologize to the other party if possible, and above all forgive yourself as well as the other person. We all are human and we all make mistakes. Acknowledge, make amends, and move on.

5. Talk it out with someone whose judgment you trust. Don’t whine, play victim, or place blame, but discuss the event as objectively as you can. Then ask for honest feedback and receive it with an open mind. Sometimes another person’s viewpoint can help you see the situation more clearly. Tell your impartial friend not to allow you to discuss the matter repeatedly, and don’t go complaining about it to everyone you know. Continual rehashing of the incident will only deepen your feelings of resentment. Seek help from clergy, a counselor or a therapist if you continue to be deeply troubled about it.

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6. Keep a sense of proportion. Hatred and bitterness arise out of our failure to realize that “we are not in the flesh, but in the spirit.” [Romans 8:9].  As spirit, nothing and no one on earth can destroy us. Superficial differences and petty arguments become meaningless when viewed in the vast panorama of eternit

7. Shift your perspective. Although we don’t have God’s ability to see into anyone’s soul, attempting to see the incident from the other person’s point of view can often help us to forgive. One way to do this is by writing out an account of the incident as seen from your opponent’s perspective. Were there extenuating circumstances, personal problems or pressures that may have been contributing factors? By putting yourself in the other person’s shoes, feelings of understanding, compassion and empathy may begin to replace the anger and pain.  

8. Release your emotions. Write honestly about your feelings in a journal, or even in a letter to the person who hurt you. Don’t hold back – this is the time to release all the

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anger, hurt and frustration you feel. However – and this is vital – NEVER send the letter! Tear it up or burn it as a symbolic way of letting go of the negative emotions. Watch an appropriate movie or TV program, read a story, or listen to music that will help you vent some of your feelings. Don’t be afraid to cry as you watch or listen — tears can have a healing, soothing effect and soften your heart towards your offender. Some people find it helpful to use physical exercise as a safety valve for pent-up emotions.

9. Focus on the other person’s strengths and qualities. If your relationship basically has been a positive one, recall all the good times you’ve shared, the things you like about the person, the many ways in which the association has benefitted you.

10. Take positive action. Many people find peace by turning their pain and anger into constructive endeavors, i.e. working to change laws, raising public awareness over social injustice, giving time and effort to charitable organizations, etc. This brings good out of the evil that was done to them.

11. Recall a specific occasion when you offended someone and were forgiven. Remember the freedom and gratitude you felt as a result of being forgiven. How would it feel to do the same for the person who hurt you? Remember, at the same time that you are praying to forgive someone, someone might be praying for the grace to forgive you!

12. Find comfort in knowing that Divine justice will ultimately prevail. If someone has treated you unfairly, and no human justice is forthcoming, don’t become discouraged or seek revenge. We have God’s promise that all will be made right, if not on earth, then in the next world:  “The Lord remembers what their enemies have done; he waits for the right time to punish them…The Lord will rescue his people when he sees that their strength is gone. He will have mercy on those who serve him, when he sees how helpless they are.” [Deut. 32:34,36].

Following Through on Forgiveness

Once you resolve to forgive, follow through on it. Write out a pledge to God and the person you are forgiving, and display it where you can see it often. Tell a third party about your commitment. This will make you more likely to stick to it.

After you have forgiven, let the matter rest and don’t bring it up with the person again.  When Jesus said to forgive someone not just once, but “seventy times seven” times (Matt. 18:22), He meant, “Don’t keep a scorecard!”     

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Forgiving doesn’t always mean forgetting. There may be times when you’ll recall the incident and feel the pain all over again. It’s human nature to remember things that hurt us, part of our survival instinct to protect ourselves from being hurt in the same way again. As long as you don’t deliberately dwell on the memory to the point where you stir up bitterness and resentment again, you have not reneged on your promise to forgive. Accept and acknowledge the memories as they arise, then release them and move on.

Everyone’s experience of forgiveness will be unique. It might take time for you to be able to forgive. If you go through all the above steps and still find yourself unable to do it, don’t despair. Just continue to pray for the person who hurt you and do not dwell on hatred or bitterness. The challenge of forgiveness is not one we have to face alone. Give the situation to God and trust that He will restore light where darkness dwells, and peace where there is conflict, by infusing our hearts with the precious gift of forgiveness.

“Seventy Times Seven:” The Challenge of Forgiveness

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Part 1

 

Are you having trouble forgiving someone? Everyone deals with the challenge of forgiveness at one time or another.

Then Peter came to [Jesus] and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”

 “No!” Jesus replied, “Seventy times seven!” [Matt. 18:21-22]

Forgiveness is an integral part of living a spiritually mature life, yet it is a complex and distressing issue for many of us, Christian and non-Christian alike. This two-part series will explore this challenge and present steps to help us in the process of forgiveness.

                                                            What is Forgiveness?           

One big stumbling block is confusion over what forgiveness actually means. The dictionary defines it as “granting pardon without harboring resentment.” Forgiveness is an altruistic outpouring of love and compassion towards the person(s) who offended us. It does not mean ignoring or denying that we have been hurt; condoning, justifying, or making excuses for someone’s actions; nor does it mean that persons committing an offense should not be held accountable for their actions.

It’s normal to feel hurt, anger, fear, or betrayal when someone offends us. But when we dwell excessively upon the offense, nurse our wounded pride and ponder on revenge, our hearts become hardened with the unforgiving emotions of bitterness, resentment, even hatred.  That’s why we must take steps to transform these destructive emotions into positive ones.

We need to realize that forgiveness does not mean we allow someone to continue hurting us through abusive relationships, perpetual irresponsibility and disregard for our feelings, or persistent behavior that is destructive to themselves and others. In such cases, we may need to avoid future emotional entanglements until and unless serious steps have been taken to resolve the problems, but we can still let go of our bitterness. Even after forgiving someone, the relationship and your feelings for the person may never be the same. Forgiveness involves non-possessive, “agape” love [charity], not necessarily an intimate, personal, or physically-demonstrative affection.

The degree of difficulty in granting forgiveness does not always depend upon the gravity of the offense. We may be able to forgive certain actions, yet struggle with others because they injure our feelings more deeply or trigger memories of past hurts. Some people are openly antagonistic towards us for no apparent reason.  This blow to our ego is hard to take. But being spiritually mature means learning to forgive those who do not or cannot love us back.

 Why should we forgive?

Forgiveness is a recurring theme throughout the Scriptures. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” — Christians recite these words every time they pray the Lord’s Prayer. Forgiveness is one of the most compelling lessons taught, and perhaps the most challenging. Why is it so important to forgive others?

  1. It blesses the person who offended us.
  2. We have an obligation to forgive as we have been forgiven by God and by other people; for Christians, forgiveness follows Christ’s own example
  3. Forgiving others benefits us physically, mentally, and spiritually. Our emotions always turn back upon us. An unforgiving attitude makes peace of mind impossible, and some experts believe that harboring negative emotions like bitterness, resentment, and hatred for long periods of time can even lead to physical illness.

Forgiveness is a process that can be broken down into manageable steps.  As with any important undertaking, adequate preparation is essential.

                                                                    Preparation

  • Pray for the gift of being able to forgive: Prayer softens the heart, opening it to receive God s grace. Also pray for the person(s) who hurt you. It’s difficult to stay angry with a person for whom you are praying. Here is a suggested prayer:

“Lord, I want to forgive ______, who has hurt me deeply, but I feel no forgiveness, compassion, or charity in my heart. Every time I try to forgive, I just get more frustrated. I don’t want to honor only my human feelings and continue to live with heartache over this, so I’m asking You to help me. Give me a little of Your great capacity for love and compassion. Help me to act with high-mindedness, not just human emotion. Place within my heart the determination to be selfless and forgiving.

Please bless this person I am trying to forgive, and heal any pain or bitterness that is in his/her heart. If it is Your will that I continue to have this person in my life, heal our relationship and help us to work out our differences with mutual respect and charity. I promise that as You help me, I will help others; as You forgive me, I will forgive; as You believe in me, I will believe in the value of others; and as You love me, I will love others in return.  Lord, make me a soul who reflects Your Light. Amen.”

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  • Seek inspiration: Reading the Scriptures and other inspirational material can also open the mind and heart to forgiveness. Here are some relevant Scripture passages about God’s forgiveness of us, and our obligation to forgive others:

If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?  But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared [Psalm 130:3-4].

For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more [Jer. 31:34].

Where is another God like You, who pardons the sins of the survivors among his people? You cannot stay angry with your people forever, because you delight in showing mercy. Once again You will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under Your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean [Micah 7:18,19].

For if you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins [Matt. 6:12].

Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but repay evil with good. [Romans 12:19-21]. 

  • Make a conscious effort to begin the forgiveness process. Don’t wait for a warm, fuzzy feeling towards your offender. You probably won’t feel like forgiving someone who has caused you pain, and it will take an act of will to take the first step.  If warm feelings toward the other person do happen, it will be the result of forgiveness, not vice versa.

(In Part II, we’ll examine the process of forgiveness as a series of steps, and explore some tips on how to follow through and sustain your resolution to forgive.)

Forgive Note

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