Friday, December 06, 2019 - Updated: 5:06 pm
One of my callings has been to teach family caregivers how to care for themselves, and forgiveness is one of the first and most frequent topics we discuss.
Those who care for sick or elderly relatives tend to second-guess and beat themselves up for things they didn’t do, or think they should have done better. After their loved one passes, the caregiver’s tears at the funeral are often not only for the pain of their loss, but because they feel guilty and are questioning how they handled the caregiving journey.
The medical community recognizes these long-lasting, deep, negative emotional struggles as a contributing factor to serious physical illness. Research shows that 60 percent to 90 percent of all disease is linked to unmanaged stress. So, sometimes, the most beneficial way we can start to practice forgiveness from a health and wellness perspective is to focus on forgiving ourselves. By doing so, we’re able to release toxic emotions, open our hearts and take a big first step in healing.
When we become frustrated with family and friends, we react in different ways. Sometimes we yell things we don’t mean. Other times, we don’t know what to say, so we don’t say anything. Often, we know that we should apologize and ask forgiveness, but we don’t know how, or we feel too much tension around it, so we don’t. Before long, the relationship crumbles.
Think about how this translates into your relationship with God. Have you been avoiding him because of something that has strained your relationship? If so, you suffer, and so does he. He wants a relationship with you.
Forgiveness is part of reconciliation, but to truly reconcile with someone goes beyond forgiveness. Reconciliation speaks to repairing and rebuilding a relationship, making it stronger. And, while forgiveness can occur even if it’s not accepted by the other person, reconciliation requires both people to be willing to move forward together.
God gave us the gift of the sacrament of reconciliation to help us maintain a healthy relationship with him. Although the thought of confessing your sins to a priest may make you nervous, especially if you haven’t done it for a long time, many Catholics who do it regularly find that it helps them both spiritually and emotionally:
• “It’s like free therapy!”
• “I feel so good after. It’s like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders.”
• “I look forward to it. It keeps me centered, balanced and connected.”
Those are quotes from college students describing confession. As part of a course I teach on marketing, advertising and promotions, we examined how to attract more young people to Mass and keep them active in their parishes. Several of the students identified the sacrament of reconciliation as something that provides great value to people of all ages and would help to “build lifelong customers of the church.”
As we move through Advent and prepare ourselves to celebrate the birth of Christ, we are called to reconcile with God by going to confession. Psychologists say we have a “compulsion to confess,” meaning that our conscience guides us to want to clear our hearts of guilt. When we do what we are compelled to do and confess, we are rewarded with positive results almost immediately. These include an improved mood, fewer feelings of stress, fewer illnesses and increased spiritual well-being. The greatest reward, of course, is the absolution of our sins so we may unite with Jesus in the Eucharist and, for all eternity, in heaven.
Although confessing and being forgiven doesn’t change the past, it provides hope for the future by allowing us to experience God’s healing love through reconciliation with him. It’s faith-based relationship-building at its finest.
The Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh is once again offering all Catholics an opportunity to reconnect with God during an evening of reconciliation hosted at every parish. Called “The Light Is On for You!,” it will be Wednesday, Dec. 11, from 6-9 p.m. Further information on spiritual preparation for confession and locations where it will be offered is at diopitt.org/lightison.
Antkowiak is executive director of community relations for the Diocese of Pittsburgh. She is also a member of the Church Healing Commission.