The Word Among Us

December 2013 Issue

Goodwill toward All

How to make this Christmas sentiment a reality.

Goodwill toward All: How to make this Christmas sentiment a reality.

It’s the holiday season! Christmas is coming! This is supposed to be the happiest, most wonderful time of the year.

But for many, it’s a time of added stress, frustration, and anxiety. There seem to be a number of reasons why this happens, but one of the most common has to do with wounded or broken relationships.

With all the talk of “peace on Earth, goodwill toward everyone,” those who are suffering in their relationships can feel even more lonely and sad. As one psychiatrist put it, the holidays “stand as an unforgiving yardstick against which we measure our losses and troubles.”

But this “unforgiving yardstick” isn’t the final word. Jesus is. He is here to bring healing to our wounded relationships. He is with us to strengthen our healthy relationships. He wants to touch us with his grace this Advent so that we can all love each other a little better and become instruments of his peace to the people around us.

All Is Forgiven. There’s an old legend that says that when Jesus rose from the dead, he walked into heaven holding all of our sins. In his right hand, he held all the sins that had to do with relationships: all the ways that people have hurt each other since the beginning of time. In his left hand he held all the other sins: idolatry, gluttony, laziness, and the like. When St. Michael the archangel saw that there were so many more sins in Jesus’ right hand than in his left, he said, “Now I know why you told your apostles to forgive seventy times seven times!” Moses was there too, and he said, “So that’s why seven of the Ten Commandments deal with relationships!” And Jesus replied, “Yes, and that’s why my Sermon on the Mount was so focused on loving one another and turning the other cheek.”

We may laugh at this little scene, but the truth is that Jesus died for all of our sins—and, in particular, our sins against each another! This very good news tells us that we don’t have to deal with these painful situations on our own. By the power of his Spirit, Jesus can help us move past these sins and overcome their painful effects. He can teach us how to forgive, how to offer forgiveness, and how to love one another as he loves us!

We all know how the power of sin, even our own selfishness, can get in the way of loving relationships. We know how susceptible we are to temptation and how easy it can be to sin against each other. Perhaps the best way to describe this cycle of temptation and sin is to paraphrase a saying from St. Paul: “I want to build positive and healthy relationships. But selfishness or jealousy or anger can creep into my mind and take hold of me. As a result, I end up not doing the good I want to do. I end up doing the very thing I don’t want to do. I end up hurting instead of helping” (Romans 7:19).

Nothing Is Impossible. Of course, our lives are not just a tale of wounded and broken relationships. Many of our relationships are happy, peaceful, and fulfilling. But for some reason, we tend to focus on the negative memories and lose sight of the positive ones. It’s these painful memories that cause us to hold onto resentments, to remain angry, or to become bitter. They act as obstacles to our loving one another. And it’s these painful memories that Jesus wants to heal.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could be at peace with everyone? Just imagine how much better the world would be if we were all willing to forgive each other, honor each other, and make loving each other our first priority. It may seem like a pipe dream, but not if we remember the words of the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary: “Nothing will be impossible for God” (Luke 1:37).

Nothing is impossible! That’s because God loves each and every one of us with boundless, unconditional love. He wants to teach and empower us to share that love. He wants to make it possible for us to love just as deeply as he does. And one of the most significant ways he wants to do this is through forgiveness.

When Jesus taught us the Lord’s Prayer, he told us that if we want our heavenly Father to forgive us, we have to “forgive others their transgressions” (Matthew 6:14). Forgiveness acts like a key that unlocks the door of grace and releases blessing and healing balm upon us. Forgiveness has the power to break the hold that past hurts can have on us.

Let It Go! So as we look at the baby in the manger, let’s tell him, “I want to try my best to mend any relationships that I have damaged. I want to try to ask for forgiveness from those I have hurt. I want to try to offer forgiveness to those who have hurt me as well.”

When we ask for forgiveness, we are admitting that we have hurt someone, and we want to try to repair the situation. This is, of course, a good way to make things right. But thanks be to God, we have another source of hope and promise when it comes to healing our relationships: the Sacrament of Reconciliation. When we confess our sins against each other, we are admitting that we can’t fix everything on our own. We are telling the Lord that we need his help and his healing. And immediately, wondrously, God pours grace upon us to help us do just that.

In the privacy of the confessional and surrounded by the grace of the Lord, you can repent of any ways that you have caused other people to be hurt. Get it all out. Release it into the Father’s hands. Ask Jesus to remove the guilt and fill you with his hope and his love. This simple, humble act of confession opens the floodgates of heaven not only for you but also for the other people—family and friends alike—who are in your network of relationships.

In a similar way, when we forgive someone, God releases grace upon us to bind up our wounds. He opens the other person’s heart when we offer to forgive. He releases his wisdom and guidance to both of us, and if there is a way toward reconciliation and healing, he helps to make it happen.

Mercy Begets Mercy. During this Advent season, let’s all make at least one special effort to rebuild, restore, or renew a relationship that has been damaged. If it is possible, try to go to one or two of the people you have hurt and ask for forgiveness. Similarly, if you have been hurt by someone else, try your best to let go of any resentment or bitterness that may be looming in your heart.

Husbands and wives, you may want to focus on one or two specific items. However, you may decide instead to repent in a general way for the ways you have hurt each other over the years. Likewise, you who are parents may want to simply ask your children to forgive you for the times when you acted out of anger or frustration. Members of religious orders can ask forgiveness for longstanding grudges or envy. Longtime friends can clear the air of trespasses from long ago. There is no limit to what we can do—just as there is no limit to the mercy and healing that God can pour out!

Whatever you decide to do, know that asking for forgiveness is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of the humble strength that so many of our great saints have shown us. What’s more, our acts of repentance often lead other people to ask for forgiveness as well. If you take nothing else from this article, then remember this: Love always inspires love. Mercy always begets mercy.

Repentance and forgiveness are the best gifts we can give to each other—far better than any material gift. They are also the best gifts we can give to Jesus in exchange for all that he has done for us.

May God bless you this Advent and Christmas. May he fill all of us with a desire to do whatever it takes to love one another as he loves us.