Scraps falling from the Master’s table (Forgiving my own darkness? edition)


The “Scraps falling from the Master’s table” title of this series which will parallel “Flores for the Immaculate Conception” is in reference to the dogs under their master’s table who eat the falling scraps (see Matthew 15 and Mark 7). I like to think of myself as a donkey, but I’m just a dog most of the time. Anyway…

Besides the sanctuary lamp, I might light a candle stub from the parish next to the tabernacle when spending some time before Jesus. It makes me think of the preface of Saint John’s Gospel, the bit about the second Person of the Trinity shining in the darkness and the darkness not being able to grasp and claw after the light until that light becomes incarnate, thus revealing to us a love that is stronger than death, Jesus purposely taking on our punishment for sin in death so as to have the right in His own justice to have mercy on us.

And the blinding light in the tabernacle shines in my darkness, and, in His grace, I thank Him for His forgiveness and bringing me into this light which I can hardly perceive amidst the continued darkness of the effects of original sin all around me and within. But, there He is, with a good grip on my soul and immediately present. Lots of healing goes on in this way, lots of healing, with me saying Amen once again to the reception of the forgiveness He has provided to me so very many times in the Sacrament of Confession. Because of this healing, spiritual and also psychological and emotional, a healing of the whole person – however weak we all remain in this world because of the effects of original sin – I am aghast, as I always have been, utterly aghast, when presented with statements from people who glibly say that they have forgiven themselves. I HAVE NOTHING BY WHICH TO FORGIVE MYSELF! The thought of it has always seemed instantly absurd. I’ve said that to those who come up with what seems to me to be an individualistic affront to mercy, and they give me hemming and hawing explanations, twisting and writhing in this way and that, and then two seconds later I forget their reasoning because it all seems so abstract from the Incarnate Son of the Living God, the Divine Son of the Immaculate Conception, who laid down His life for me that I just cannot bear to have such a washout of all that is good and holy in my all too small already skull. I’m just little me!

But, having said that, I ask you this: is there a plausible explanation for the just forgive yourself thing? Isn’t this just some sort of surely Jesuit pop psychology of the mid-1970s? Who came up with this and why? Any ideas? I love Jesus and what He did for me, for us. Am I narrow-minded? Not open to new ways? Not hip?


Filed under Scraps

8 responses to “Scraps falling from the Master’s table (Forgiving my own darkness? edition)

  1. sanfelipe007

    I know the Bible instructs us to “forgive one another.” Where in the bible does it say to forgive yourself? I imagine the idea behind “forgiving yourself” comes from this admonition in a twisted manner by way of imagining that if one “has the power” to forgive another then it “must” stand to reason that that same “power’ is available to be applied to one’s self by one’s self. Pretzle logic I say.

  2. The only thing that come to mind for me inthis “forgive myself’ nonsense is maybe something like this. I got out and get a terrible stupid tattoo and after a few weeks wake up and regret this dumb decision. After stewing for a time i decide to make the best of it and forgive myself. Now this scenario is lame and of course silly, but so is forgiving yourself in the case of sin against God or man. Totally silly and no Father you’re not narrow minded – just logical. By the way, you see yourself as a donkey or maybe a dog under the master’s table, and I’d love to be the cat on His lap!

  3. Fr. Dominic

    The other two equally weird statements I have heard are ‘ believe in yourself” and the other ‘ love your self first and only then you can love others’ . Such statements could be springing from a certain type of narcissism.

  4. Cathy

    I think it comes from the cult of self – self-made, self-educated and self-help. It makes no sense.

  5. Pam

    We have no right whatsoever to forgive ourselves. Absolutely no right.

  6. Michelle Russell

    What is the mechanism of forgiveness? If I am to forgive another their trespass against me, I must make an act of the will, saying “I forgive so-and-so.” Doing this, sometimes over and over again until it sticks, allows me to become open to the true forgiveness which only the Lord can (did already) effect. I must cooperate with grace – actively forgiving another is cooperating with grace. Yes? And then in that cooperation, I slowly, and working with Jesus, forgive the other just as God forgives. Of course, this may not be complete in this life, but it is a process. [Actually, don’t worry about emotions. They are fallen like the rest of us. In grace, make an act of the will to forgive the other person and it’s absolutely done and complete, even if your emotions are screaming vengeance and that all the fleas of camels may infest the person who did you wrong! This doesn’t mean you can speak your forgiveness to the other person, who may say that he has nothing for which to be forgiven and then kills you. This doesn’t mean the person will ever receive the forgiveness. This doesn’t mean you allow someone to do the wrong thing again. But it sure does help you enormously both spiritually (immediate) and otherwise (which may well be a process). This latter bit is the cross our Lord commanded us to carry. It is virtue!]

    I wonder if it is the same for forgiving oneself? Except, the words are wrong. Isn’t it more accurate to state I need to allow myself to be forgiven? Or, I need to accept forgiveness? I have sinned against God, and in pride I don’t see how I can ever be forgiven (my sin is too big for God – I’m more powerful than God b/c I can sin bigger than He can forgive), because at some level I think what I have done is so bad that it can’t be forgiven, so I say “I haven’t forgiven myself,” when actually I am not accepting the already offered forgiveness. The gift, forgiveness, is there – already given – but I am letting it sit on the hearth. I dare not pick it up and open it. I don’t know what others mean when they say “I need to forgive myself,” but I think in many ways it can be a short-hand way of stating: “I need to open myself up to God, and accept what he has already freely given to me. I am prideful, help me not to be.” So I say to myself: “I forgive myself.” In doing so, I accept that my sin can be forgiven. It is a prayer, asking God to reduce my prideful inclinations so that His grace can work in me. [No need to try to rationalize this. It’s just 1970s self-help pop psychology. It’s really saying the opposite of what needs to be done, which is a relationship of love with God, and emphasizing ourselves like this holds us back from looking to Him and thanking Him and rejoicing in Him. I think it really makes a person depressed as they just aren’t really good even at forgiving themselves because they still have wild emotions all over the place. No, this forgiveness of self just doesn’t work in any way at all as far as I can see. But, you really did try to put yourself in the shoes of those who say this and that shows a really big heart. I guess I’m just impatient. But, that’s just me.]

    I’m not sure if that’s what you were asking. [You did great.] Technically, no, we can’t forgive ourselves, but we so often use short-hand phrases which mean other things. [But this is part of evangelization these days, I think, to make people think by taking back the languages and phraseology, making for a truly Catholic culture.]

  7. orcasgymnastics

    Father, Thanks for your comments. I teach adult faith-formation, and something which often comes out of my mouth is “do you feel it or think it?” I’m big on reminding people our emotions are fallen and can’t be trusted, at least not by themselves. The problem of forgiveness comes up often in the group. No one wants to believe that they can just say “I forgive” and that is the end of it, so I do encourage them to remind themselves each time they “feel” they haven’t forgiven someone that they have indeed already done so (if they made an act of will).
    I agree that we need to make people think, and to take back the language . . . but that is also a process. If I’m going to teach people, they have to listen to me first! I used to be impatient and perhaps not as charitable as I should have been; women, especially, would not stay in my group very long because I challenged them too hard too fast. I’ve learned that most people need to be brought more slowly into the truth. They’ve lived 60 or 70 years thinking one way – getting them to challenge their own thinking takes more than one or two encounters.
    We are a Mass Station, so without a resident priest, I end up being asked a lot of moral/spiritual questions. And we are in the Pacific NorthWest, which is the most unchurched part of the country. My approach is probably different because of that. I am looking forward to taking Moral/Spiritual Theology in the Fall – perhaps my approach will change again after that class!
    Thanks again, Father. Your posts often encourage me to think in ways I had not thought before.

    • Father George David Byers

      Yes, well, this all applied to seminarians I had for spiritual direction too! They might get the terminology after a couple of months of weekly meetings, but it might take a year for it all to sink in.

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