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A sincere apology? Priceless

Kate Barrett | Thursday, November 15, 2012

Have you ever sat down with your family at the dining room table after someone has made a mistake? I mean, really a whopper? Have you ever had to re-enter your dorm room, knowing that you deeply wounded your roommate through a betrayal, a lie or a careless slight? Have you ever encountered a friend to whom you know you must apologize in order to have even a hope of rekindling your relationship?

If you can answer yes to any of these questions – in other words, if you’re a normal human with human relationships – then you know the absolutely critical value of saying “I’m sorry.”  And meaning it.

We have all said dumb things, done dumb things and forgotten our deepest-held values. Maybe we’ve even imposed seriously deep or long-lasting pain or suffering onto a loved one or a stranger through our own inability to act or speak with good judgment or with compassion. Maybe we’ve neglected to recognize that everything we do ends up affecting other people, whether we know it or not.

Because God is God and we’re not, we can count on two certainties: One, we have to acknowledge the fact that no matter how hard we try, we will make these mistakes again and again in the years to come in our lives. Two, when we do, we have to repent and seek reconciliation and healing.

Although “repent” sounds like a word an angry preacher might hurl around, its definition describes the word as simply meaning, “to turn from sin; to be sorry and wish to change.”  Our Christian faith includes the even more important corollary that we turn back to God. We turn from sin in order to turn back to God. As people of faith, we’re not just trying to be good people.  We’re trying to let a relentlessly merciful Lord love us and to orient the direction of our lives by responding to that love.

The story of the Prodigal Son from “The Gospel of Luke” gives us insight into the truth of repentance: As the prodigal son turned back to his father and acknowledged his sinfulness, the father swept him up in his arms and loved him more than ever. The son needed the healing act of saying aloud: “I have sinned against heaven and before you.” And the father could not wait to embrace him, indeed had already begun to run to meet him. So too when we receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation we experience restoration and peace through saying aloud to another: “I have sinned.” At the same time, we can be confident that even as we speak God is running down the road like the father in Luke’s parable, unable to hide his joy that we have come home.

Remember, though, that receiving God’s healing mercy ought to move us to seek to repair any damages we’ve inflicted through our mistakes.  Remember the awkwardness of the family table or the dorm room when the unspoken hurt and the unoffered apology loom large, impeding every attempt to ignore them?
Well, it’s time to begin a conversation. Take the first step on what may be a long but worthy road. It’ll begin with an apology, and then some work: To overcome discomfort, to push yourselves and to rekindle your relationship. When you do, that wound – or the fact that you worked to recover from the wound – will become something that makes your relationship stronger.  

The longer you live, the more a simple truth will come into focus, as if you’re looking through a lens that turns until the images become sharp. You will forget most of your successes fairly quickly. Compliments and fame? Vastly overrated. Far more valuable are the experiences gained from having to confess, to apologize, to repair and to heal. It’s no wonder Jesus spent so much of his public ministry healing and forgiving. He must have known who needed him most. He must have known that his mercy, gratefully and wholeheartedly received, could lead to compassion and forgiveness among family members, friends and even strangers.  
The Church year is ending, and will begin anew with the First Sunday of Advent and our hopeful waiting for the coming of Christ. Take some time to examine where you need to ask God to forgive you, and who you could reach out to with words of healing and hope.


Kate Barrett is assistant director of Undergraduate Ministry in the Office of Campus Ministry. She can be reached at [email protected]   

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.