By Mary Lou Rosien
How many times do we forgive?
“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:21-22
“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Colossians 3:13
We have heard these words at Mass so many times, and yet how do we understand and teach forgiveness to our students? Forgiveness is a hard thing to comprehend and even harder to really put into practice.
Sharing our own stories of forgiveness can be helpful. Try to relate to a time that you were about the age of your students and either you forgave or asked for forgiveness. I like to tell my kids about the time I accidentally flooded our basement (ruining a lot of things my mom had stored there). It took me years to fess up that it had been me. I thought my crime was unforgivable, but my dear mom, a woman who is very holy and not attached to material things, just laughed and said, “I always wondered how that had happened. Thanks for telling me.” We still laugh about that story today.
Focus on the words of forgiveness. Allowing children to tell you the difference between saying, “It’s okay,” versus, “I forgive you,” will help them remember the lesson.
Discuss the Sacrament of Reconciliation. If your students are old enough, talk to them about the feelings of contrition and the need for forgiveness when we are truly sorry. Invite them to participate on a regular basis in the sacrament that provides this type of healing…Reconciliation.
Guilt vs. Sorrow. If you are dealing with older students, consider an open discussion on feelings of guilt verses sorrow. For example, Peter felt incredible sorrow at betraying the Lord. Judas, on the other hand, seemed to experience guilt, which ultimately led to despair and suicide. What’s the difference and why is it important?
Use fun to teach in a multi-dimensional way. I found this cute craft to show children how many sins should be forgiven. It involves birdseed, paper plates and a messy, fun process.
Review the teaching in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
Article 4 - The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation
1422 "Those who approach the sacrament of Penance obtain pardon from God's mercy for the offense committed against him, and are, at the same time, reconciled with the Church which they have wounded by their sins and which by charity, by example, and by prayer labors for their conversion."
We are so blessed to have God’s infinite Mercy directed toward us. Whenever we discuss forgiveness, we can start with the pain that sin causes and end with the grace of a God who is all loving and wants to forgive our sins. What healing there is in that! God bless.
Mary Lou Rosien writes from outside Rochester, NY. She is the author of Managing Stress with the Help of Your Catholic Faith (OSV) and the soon-to-be-released book, Catholic Family Boot Camp (Bezalel Books). Check out her website at www.catholicfamilybootcamp.com.
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