say that forgiveness from God is there waiting for my acceptance. I believe
that is true, to some extent. If I say today, “Well, my past is no longer
an obstacle, I have been forgiven.” I would feel as if I was fooling
myself into thinking that I “got away” with the horrible things
I did in my past. Who’s to say, that as long as I accept God’s
forgiveness for my past, that I won’t do something just as horrible
tomorrow and ask for forgiveness and then say the same thing? I know I am
not explaining myself well at all. I am trying to say that I think my past
matters a great deal to God. If I don’t suffer the guilt and horror
and literal revulsion of what I did, I don’t think God would forgive.
Then the question is, “How much is enough?”
ctually, you’re asking the
same sort of question that Martin Luther asked, and we know what he ended
up doing. He couldn’t tolerate the uncertainty and hard work of ardent
devotion, so he formed his own church in which he guaranteed himself
salvation just by saying he accepted Christ
as his savior. Neat, simple, and painless.
Protestants today still believe it. But it’s
The Mockery Made
Yes, Christ paid for our sins
through His Passion and death, and each of us enters into that redemption
at baptism. Most often this is infant baptism,
however, and most parents—whether through outright
disobedience or through ignorance and
apathy—do almost nothing thereafter except indoctrinate their children
into popular culture and a life of continuing
sin. So it is almost inevitable, in most modern families,
that children will imitate their parents’
hypocrisy and commit a multitude of sins after
their baptism. What then?
Well, if you repent and
confess your sins and ask God for
mercy, God forgives anything. God is not like an angry
father who says, “That deserves the belt!” and then beats a child into submission.
God is gentle; He wants us to love Him and return to Him when we commit sin.
Moreover, God forgives any number of times. When His disciples asked how many
times they had to forgive someone—one? two? seven?—Christ told them to forgive
“seventy times seven.” Peter denied Him three times, and still Christ forgave
But notice that after the
Resurrection Christ asked Peter three times, “Do you love Me?”
(John 21:15-19). Peter was obliged to answer three times. And each time Christ
told him, “Feed My sheep.”
So what is this all about? It’s
Forgiveness is one thing—it
means that God won’t push you away for doing bad things if you turn
back to Him with heartfelt sorrow for the evil you
have done. But you still have to “pay” for the evil that you, as
God’s own anointed, have brought into the world through your
When you commit
sin, you defile love. And when you defile love, you blaspheme the name of
God, who is love.
Now, please be careful not to
think that God is like some irrational, angry parent who has to be appeased
out of fear. The point about penance is that
once we recognize the great damage our sins have caused, we become
motivated by love itself
to help others achieve the same understanding about their sins. Christ sacrificed
Himself to save us from our sins, and in turn He asks all of us, just as
He asked Peter, to “feed My sheep”—that is, to love
others—in perfect imitation of Him as the path to spiritual
The best penance to pay for your
mistakes now, before you die, is to spread the seeds of
spiritual fruit. It’s similar to
alms giving, which is a traditional penance. Just as giving alms requires
a giving of money from your resources, spreading the seeds of your spiritual
fruit is also a giving of yourself. Without arrogance and pride holding you
back, you can start to produce spiritual fruit, and the seeds that you
spread—that is, the holy influence you have on others—is a fitting
penance for having previously stifled your spiritual development—and
for cheating others in the process.
Saint Catherine of Genoa showed us that,
if we do repent our sins and seek spiritual
purity now, the price we pay for purification in this life is nothing compared
to the price we would have to pay in
That is, if you repent in this
life, and if you spend the rest of your life in
sacrifice and prayer for the good of others,
that’s true love. That’s what it means
to feed Christ’s sheep.
On the other hand, if your repentance
is imperfect—that is, if it’s largely
intellectual rather than profoundly
experiential—then (assuming you avoid mortal sin and die in a state
of grace) you will learn perfection through the
fire of God’s love in
When is Enough
But what about that reparation
in this life? How do you know when is it enough? Well, there’s no way
In this life,
we must always dwell in the vast gulf between the satisfaction of the good
we have done and the unknowing of what we have yet to do.
Some of us don’t like that
answer. But it’s really the only answer. And ultimately it doesn’t
matter, and here’s where many of us miss the point.
Some of us are correct in perceiving
that, for many Catholics, confession is just an
intellectual superstitious ritual: despite
repeated confessions, some persons keep repeating the same sins over and
over, and their behavior never changes.
Some of us are also correct in
realizing that repentance for sin has to come from the heart, not just
intellectually, and that real love is the key to
man’s relation to God.
But all are wrong who hold the
belief that once a person experiences this repentance from the heart, guilt
is removed, and from there on the person is guaranteed
The truth is that your openness
to love must be understood as a continuous process of growth, a process subject
doubts, and the danger of failing to
persevere to the end. Consequently, the success
of love in your heart cannot be guaranteed; it must be nourished with constant
prayer and sacrifice. Love must be protected
with the sacraments. Love must be defended with sorrow, especially the sorrow
that comes from seeing Christ’s Sacred Heart
constantly wounded by sin.
Love, therefore, can never be
“enough”—at least, not in this life. Only in
Purgatory can love attain the purification necessary
to stand directly in God’s presence.
Notice here that sorrow
and guilt are two different things,
results from childhood psychological wounds of family dysfunction. Parents
all too often fear real love themselves and shrink
from the time and hard work it takes to teach their children real love.
So the parents resort to using guilt to control their children, constantly
telling the children that they are “bad” and threatening the children
with the fear of punishment in
Now, if this happened to you,
in your inability to understand just why your parents were so mean, you most
likely came to believe that something must really be wrong with you and that
you really deserved everything that happened to you. Thus you cultivated
a secret shame—and guilt—yearning to be punished for being
defective. Furthermore, you would have become angry at your parents because
of their dysfunction—and then you would have become so terrified of
your anger that you secretly desired to be punished for your anger.
Call it a sort of double masochistic whammy.
Thus whenever you do (or feel
or think) something “bad” you don’t want to admit it or seek
help because you are terrified of the scorn that will be inflicted on you
if anyone discovers your secret. And so you do
anything to hide from discovery, while your secret
festers in the dark depths of your heart. Moreover, in this forlorn state,
you are far removed from real love because all the
good you do for others is motivated unconsciously by the desire to appease
others to keep them from abandoning you if they should discover your real
thoughts and feelings.
disorders have their own peculiar way of seeking protection from guilt with
their own means, rather than by turning back to God and seeking His
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) hold the belief
that guilt must be neutralized with ritualistic behaviors.
paranoia suppress the awareness of their own guilt by projecting it onto
the environment, thus creating the belief that others are out to get
depression identify with their guilt, thus getting
stuck in the belief that they are
means that you feel the pain of all the hurt you have inflicted on others,
that you acknowledge all of your inadequacy that
you have hidden from God, and then, willing to do anything to remedy the
mess you’re in, you throw yourself into Christ’s unfathomable
Feeling true sorrow, you open
your mind and your heart to move past your mistakes into purification: to
learn, to grow, and to be formed by God.
With guilt transformed into sorrow,
then, instead of doing good for others to make them like you, you can do
good for them for their own sake, because of your
humble joy for what they will gain.
So when you say, “No more
sin. I’m sick of it,” something in your heart changes, even if
your behavior doesn’t change instantly because of it. You simply start
a process of change by which you learn to
surrender yourself completely to divine love,
so that desire for the holy becomes your primary
There’s no way to know how
far you will get; that is, how much will be paid in this life and how much
will remain for Purgatory. All that matters, as
in the example of Mary Magdalene at the empty
tomb, is perseverance. Feel the pain and don’t
run away. Trust in God’s love to do with you what needs to be done.
Let real love—love of God and love
for yourself and others—become your
primary desire, make the
Blessed Sacrament your nourishment, and turn
to the communion of saints for companionship. (And it will be of great benefit
if you consecrate yourself to the Blessed
so as to help you trust in nothing but Christ’s
grow up in dysfunctional families often have
a hard time with this. In compensation for all the abuse they suffer in their
families, they create the mistaken idea that love has no limits or rules
and essentially means total unconditional acceptance
of anything they do. But, as the Bible makes clear, God’s
love has very clear rules and commandments. Why?
Because God is mean and arbitrary, like a bitter, irrational parent? No!
God doesn’t do anything for vengeance; on the contrary, He does everything
to lead us to our ultimate good and purification. In the end, God’s
love has a purpose to it—to free us from our slavery to
sin—and our response must be unconditional love
for, and acceptance of, that purpose.
Some of us, too, have a hard
time with this perseverence into real love. Instead, they put their trust
in common “love” and throw the Blessed Sacrament—along with
the Blessed Virgin—out of their churches into the gutter. And then they
proudly declare themselves “saved.”
1. Fear of hell does nothing
to inspire love for God, and so the children end up being wounded by—and
hating—their parents’s hypocrisy.
2. When really it is their own guilt that condemns
3. Rather than accept the theological truth that
they are essentially good beings who have done bad things.
4. Complete instructions for the Consecration
to Jesus through Mary can be found in Saint Louis Marie de Montfort’s
book, True Devotion to the Blessed