During Lent, Catholics are encouraged to rediscover the act of confession. Many members of other faiths are urged to contemplate the act of forgiveness. Why are confession and forgiveness especially important during this time?
The reason that people observe and celebrate Lent is to strengthen their spirituality through practices such as reflection, almsgiving, and fasting. For many, repentance and forgiveness are a key part of the process of deepening their faith or reflecting on their spirituality.
What Does the Bible Say About Forgiveness?
The Bible has many passages on forgiveness. Some of the more well-known are found in the New Testament, including the parable of the unforgiving servant. In this parable, Jesus instructs his followers to forgive “not seven times but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22) and the oft-cited parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15.
There is also a tradition of association between forgiveness and Biblical passages during the Lent and Easter seasons — it is, after all, the season that reflects on Jesus’s sacrifice to forgive sins. At the Last Supper, Jesus offers his disciples a cup and says:
“Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mark 26:27-28)
Examples of forgiveness abound in the scripture, including the forgiveness of the criminal on the cross and Jesus calling for his Father to forgive his crucifiers in Luke 23. With this in mind, it’s easy to see why forgiveness plays such a vital role in this period of reflection. Forgiveness was an inherent part of the sacrifice that the season commemorates.
The Benefits of Forgiveness
While the season celebrates Jesus’s sacrifice to forgive our sins, it also gives us a chance to look at how we practice forgiveness. Practicing forgiveness not only helps grow your spirituality but can also improve your overall health.
The Mayo Clinic has found that forgiveness may provide health benefits such as:
- Healthier relationships
- Improved mental health, including fewer signs of depression
- Less anxiety, stress, and hostility
- Lower blood pressure and enhanced heart health
- A stronger immune system
- Improved self-esteem
It turns out that even in times past, we knew that harboring grudges can be harmful to your health. Stewing over past insults and slights can lead to increased anxiety and depression, and make it harder for you to open yourself to new people and new experiences.
Regularly practicing forgiveness can improve multiple aspects of your life and lead to a more balanced and holistic lifestyle.
Forgiveness or Reconciliation?
Many people ask if forgiveness and reconciliation are the same. From a religious standpoint, the two are frequently used synonymously. The Catholic Church, in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, asserts that God grants forgiveness.
However, in your day-to-day life, some argue that there is a difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. In Psychology Today, Ryan Howes Ph.D., ABPP, asserts that “reconciliation is a separate issue” from forgiveness.
“In my model, forgiveness is an internal process where you work through the hurt, gain an understanding of what happened, rebuild a sense of safety, and let go of the grudge. The offending party is not necessarily a part of this process,” Howes says. “On the other hand, reconciliation is an interpersonal process where you dialogue with the offender about what happened, exchange stories, express the hurt, listen for the remorse, and begin to re-establish trust. … Forgiveness is solo, reconciliation is a joint venture.”
Forgiveness Is a Process
Forgiveness can be more difficult than it sounds. Sure, it helps keep you mentally, spiritually, and even physically healthy, but it’s not easy. That’s why it’s important to keep in mind that forgiveness is a process. You might not be able to forgive every transgression automatically, no matter what your spiritual beliefs or moral principles are - and that’s okay.
Here are a few suggestions to help you with the process of forgiveness this Lent:
- Define what forgiveness means to you. Take the time to reflect on your personal beliefs before applying them to a situation in your life.
- Write about it. Sometimes it’s difficult to express your feelings about betrayal or wrongdoing—whether you were the injured party or the transgressor. Writing about it can help. Try a letter, journal entry, or personal essay to help collect your thoughts.
- Look at it from a different perspective. It can be difficult to understand someone else’s motivations for taking an action that caused you pain. However, it can be helpful to look at it from their point of view or talk it out with them.
Join The Esquiline’s Lenten Challenge
This year we’re inviting everyone to participate in our Lenten Challenge, which offers opportunities for prayer, reflection, and giving throughout the season. You can download the Lenten Challenge here, which contains a Lent activity calendar, takes a closer look at the meaning of Lent, and offers tips for spiritual growth.