When we are away from Church, or perhaps just lukewarm in faith, we tend to compromise between good and bad, right from wrong, and being selfless and self-centred. The distractions and attractions of the secular world, or the weighty challenges of life add a magnetic spin to our moral compass causing it to go awry. Slowly we amass a catalogue of misdeeds, a litany of sins that will further cut us adrift.
Castaway, somewhat like floating alone without control on the rough seas, tossed up and down by the turbulence of our life, we are filled with a disbelief; disbelieving that we can ever be forgiven. Once I had the privileged of meeting a Catholic wanting to return to Church after years away. His opening line was, “I have done so much wrong and bad that I don’t think God will ever forgive me. In fact, I don’t even think he remembers me”.
But what compass brought him to our meeting? On the stormy seas, there was a call for calm. In this pocket of calm, we hear in the whispering wind an invitation to come home and be reconciled. Deep down in our heart, our compass reset. The work of the Holy Spirit starts. For us Catholics who have been away or lukewarm, we are almost never aware of this stage (then) when our journey towards forgiveness and reconciliation began.
Forgiveness is freely given but needs to be accepted for reconciliation to happen. Sometimes we are hindered to accept, and often it is because we cannot forgive ourselves.
When we return after years of being unfaithful, we will soon enough find out that God had remained faithful despite all these years. When we are welcomed back, received in a non-judgmental way and affirmed as a child of God, we feel rehabilitated. This “feel” is an experience. This “experience” is from God’s forgiveness freely given. This is an experience of our faith; “feeling” the love of God.
For many, this is the first time we are “experiencing” faith; perhaps the first time we are departing intellectual justification for heart experience. When we come home or emerge from the shadows of the Sunday pews, we come with a lot of accumulated baggage, some ‘embarrassingly’ large. But we will quickly realize size does not matter. He takes it away all the same.
But maybe size does matter? Reflecting on today’s Gospel, we are able to appreciate “the one with the larger debt” will love him more. When we reach the extreme point where we are not confident that God even remembers us, we must have a pretty sizeable debt. This experience of love and mercy awaits us. It is available to anyone who till now lived life disconnected from God assuming that we will never be forgiven, or thinking that we can never be closer to him. We only have to accept his invitation to re-connect and our hearts will be filled with the “feeling and experience” of Love.
When our hearts are pumped up with the experience of God’s unconditional love, it propels us into gratitude and allows the Holy Spirit to continue the work of our rehabilitation. He opens up more channels for love to flow and gives us the opportunity to embrace a “new life”. We ourselves have been witnesses of this when we encounter people with a deep passion to express God’s love in all they do. It may surprise us to learn of their personal history; when we learn of their years being away or just being lukewarm, and reading their catalogue of misdeeds.
We can learn what the Pharisee Simon was taught in the gospel. Forgiveness is freely given; freely to us and we must freely give it to others and to ourselves. We use it to welcome those who are away and bring others closer to God. We walk together on our life journey as God draws us closer to him; closer and closer to enter into a dominion where we experience and live his love and mercy freely given.
(Today is Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary 2 Sm 12:7-10,13 Ps 32:1-2, 5, 7, 11 Gal 2:16, 19-21 Lk 7:36 – 8:3)