On this, the first day of Great Lent, I ask your forgiveness for all I have done, both in ignorance and intention, to harm you.
God forgives and I forgive!
Every morning we all pray these or similar words;
Lord, save and have mercy on those whom I have offended or scandalized by my recklessness or neglectfulness, those whom I have turned from the path of salvation and those whom I have led into evil and harmful deeds. Through Your Divine Providence restore them again to the way of salvation.
Lord, save and have mercy on those who hate me and deal wrongly with me by doing me harm and do not permit them to come to condemnation because of me, a sinner. (This version is from the UOC-USA Prayer Book).
These two prayers have always affected me strongly, but they have become an even more important part of my spiritual health (and sanity!) since I became a parish priest. The same is true for the Rite of Forgiveness that we begins the season of Great Lent.
To be honest, I can’t imagine priests being able to last long without it. This is because it helps address two difficult realities in their lives;
First, parishioners – whether through ignorance or intention – hurt their priests. Rarely are these huge offenses (although we have all seen such things happen in the lives of our brothers, if not our own), but even the small things – the gossiping about our families, the grumbling about how we serve, the blame for declining attendance, and so on – take their toll. For whatever reason, it is rare for parishioners to apologize to their priests for the sins they commit against them. On Forgiveness Sunday, they do.
Second (and this one is FAR more important), priests really do sin against their parishioners. We don’t pray for them the way we should. We don’t love them the way we should. We don’t listen to or understand them the way we should. We don’t lead and serve them the way we should. We don’t protect and defend them the way we should. We don’t suffer and die for them as we should. As with their transgressions against us, large offenses are rare (although we have all seen brothers commit terrible sins against their parishes; God help us and protect those we serve), but every bit of recklessness and negligence accumulates, burdens, hurts, and divides. Yes, we confess and accept God’s absolution for this regularly in confession. Yes, we ask forgiveness for this in our daily prayers. Yes, we commit ourselves to serve better every time we put on our cassock and cross (once more into the breach!). But is there anything more gratifying than being able to prostrate before a parishioner, look him eye in the eye, and then sincerely and openly ask for his forgiveness? Is there anything more gratifying than being able to do it to every parishioner, one after the other, and to mean it every time? Is there anything more gratifying than being reconciled with the brothers and sisters we are called to serve?
Rituals of forgiveness are built into marriages (e.g. “I’m sorry honey; I just wasn’t thinking. Please forgive me. I love you so much.” “I love you, too. I forgive you.” <<hug>>); healthy couples forgive one another and then make up all the time. These rituals are critical for marital survival (much less bliss!).
Glory to God such rituals are built into parish life as well.