US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Forgive us our sins

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By guest blogger Lisa Calderone-Stewart, director of Tomorrow's Present and an author and speaker on youth leadership. She was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer. For more on her story, see "The dying wish of a youth ministry pioneer."

Guest blog posts express the views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of U.S. Catholic, its editors, or the Claretians.

My son Michael called me the other day. Now that I’m sick, both of my sons call me every single day... it’s really marvelous.

He told me he was driving to meet with a client, and he was talking to my other son, Ralph, when part of his hands-free phone device fell onto the floor. Normally a careful driver, he fished for it, stopped watching the road, veered to the right, and hit a mailbox.

I was horrified that he did something careless while driving, but relieved to hear he was OK and no one else was hurt.

He told me he immediately backed up, entered the driveway, and rang the doorbell. The man who came to the door asked him, “Can I help you?”

Michael answered, “Actually, I’m here to ask, ‘Can I help you?’ because I just hit your mailbox by mistake. I’m really sorry, and I’d like to pay for a new one.”

The man hardly seemed upset. He said, “That thing has been hit so many times. But you are the only person who has ever come back to apologize. I really appreciate that. Let’s go take a look.”

After they inspected the damage, the man confessed that the mailbox had already been in pretty bad shape. Since Michael didn’t break the post, the man wasn’t going to ask for any money for a new mailbox. Again, he thanked Michael for being honest and taking the time to stop in and own up to what he had done. When they parted, both of them felt really good.

Yet, Michael admitted, had he not gone back to apologize, the guilt would have haunted him for days or maybe even weeks. He might have always looked back at that situation and wished he had done the right thing.

I told him I was really proud of him, and that I hoped this became one of those stories he would tell his children. Sometimes going back to apologize brings harsher consequences – ones you often deserve. It doesn’t always end in such a light sentence. But to run away from your wrongs and to never apologize and make things right is always a mistake.

I also told him that I thought his story helps to explain heaven… and how there might be a hell, but that God doesn’t exactly send anyone there.

When we die, I’m sure we become painfully aware of all those things we are ashamed about – things we cringe when we think about – things we wish we had done differently. If we are too afraid to face God, then we never get to experience the pure joy of forgiveness, reconciliation, and an absolutely loving connection with the Almighty. If we hide away, for fear of rejection, because of self-loathing, or due to a lack of hope; then we send ourselves into our own personal hell of staying as far away from God as we can get.

Wouldn’t that be a terrible way to spend eternity?

Funny thing… I believe the more “righteous” we are in life, perhaps the more judgmental we are of ourselves in death.

The more forgiving and understanding we are toward those who hurt us, or those we fear, or those we perceive as different, the less afraid we are to approach those we have hurt. We know what reconciliation is like, we apologize more easily and more freely, and we look forward to making things right.

Blessed are the peacemakers… perhaps they are more willing to face God.

Perhaps it’s time we feel a fresh urgency to revisit “forgive us our sins as we forgive others.”