Friday, March 04, 2016 - Updated: 6:00 am
It was Tuesday evening of Holy Week, 2009. Though late in the season, snow was in the air. I had been your bishop a few months shy of two years. A number of people had gathered together at St. Paul Cathedral. I had asked anyone to come to the cathedral that evening who had been harmed in any way by the church. I invited all who wished to do so to come and pray with me, to allow me to apologize, to say “I am sorry” and to seek forgiveness, their forgiveness.
At the conclusion of the night’s service, I asked those in attendance to join together with me in praying the Lord’s Prayer. I then offered a final blessing: “May the God of peace fill your hearts with every blessing, and may God sustain you with the gifts of hope, consolation and the promise of eternal life.”
It was so moving for me, and I hope for all who were there.
In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, it is important to gather again with you in a Service of Apology, to be held at 7 p.m. Monday, March 21, at St. Paul Cathedral.
Let me put it simply: Come to pray with me in this Year of Mercy. It is important for me to apologize for any harm that the church — or anyone representing the church, including myself — may have caused anyone.
There is a necessary examination of conscience on the part of the church and through me:
• Has anyone representing the church acted or spoken to you in a disrespectful manner?
• Have I or any priest, deacon, lay ecclesial minister said or done something wrong to offend you?
• Has there been an experience of abuse in your life — physical, sexual, emotional by any church leader?
• Have you been shut out, forced out, ignored or dismissed in any way by the church?
My prayer is that this Service of Apology be a significant step toward healing. Let me express to you my sorrow at any pain caused you in the name of the church. Let me acknowledge that we are all sinners in need of God’s mercy, God’s grace, God’s forgiveness. Let me acknowledge that hardheartedness, self-righteousness, hypocrisy and cruelty — conscious or unconscious — are sins that live in us. Let me ask your forgiveness, your mercy, your pardon in the name of the church.
In this Year of Mercy, the church wants us, you and me, to encounter God’s infinite forgiveness. As Pope Francis so beautifully phrased it in “Evangelii Gaudium,” think of the church as “a field hospital” where treatment is given to the world’s wounded. And that treatment is God’s infinite mercy, God’s infinite forgiveness.
There are many times in life where we experience God, when we feel God so close to us and vice versa. But two examples of this spiritual phenomena come quickly to mind.
The first is when you and I not only recognize God’s forgiveness, but receive it and embrace it. That’s God’s mercy. It is when we know that the words of absolution in the sacrament of penance are true. God forgives our sins. God touches our hearts when we open ourselves to his mercy. We can never be the same once we have recognized, received and embraced God’s mercy. When we do so, we become again as pure as a newly baptized baby.
The second is when we can forgive another, when we forgive others. Think about it. Think of the freedom. Think of the joy. Think of the peace when we let go of anger, resentment, grudges, revenge from the heart. As St. Francis of Assisi prayed:
“For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life.”
At the same time, the church knows that to experience forgiveness we must be able to forgive. And so I also ask you to join with me at St. Paul Cathedral so that the church may benefit from your forgiveness if you are able to offer it. Our Year of Mercy is not complete unless there is hope and reconciliation among us.
Our Service of Apology on March 21 is an opportunity to pray together: to find mercy; to give mercy; to be open to God’s forgiveness; to share God’s forgiveness; to be pardoned; to pardon from our hearts.
The Service of Apology provides the chance for that to happen. It is a time of grace; a time to reflect; a time to pray; a time to move forward. It is a time where we can pray ever so genuinely those words we should pray every day from the heart: “forgive us our trespasses AS we forgive those who trespass against us.” Mercy and forgiveness — not just a theme for this Year of Mercy in the church called for by Pope Francis — but THE keys to get us into heaven AND the keys that can help us help each other to get there, too!
Prayer of invitation
So! Let me invite you again: 7 p.m. Monday, March 21, at St. Paul Cathedral.
Back in 2009, when I first extended an invitation for the Service of Apology, I concluded the service with this prayer. I share it with you as an invitation:
“Loving and merciful God,
Touch our hearts with Your tender compassion.
Convert us to yourself.
Grant us the grace and courage to ask forgiveness from those who have been harmed in any way by the church and any of her leaders or me, your bishop.
Where sin has divided and scattered, may your love make one again.
Where sin has brought weakness and hurt, may your power heal and strengthen.
Where sin has brought death, may your Spirit raise to life.
Help us all to say tenderly and truthfully those three powerful words: ‘I AM SORRY.’