Is my soul OK?

I smiled as one of my young students volunteered to lead prayer. Someone requested we pray for one boy’s sister. He frowned and said, “I don’t want to do that.” The older sister part of me said (to myself), “Yes, I’ve been there. There are days when siblings can be annoying.” The teacher in me stepped forward and said, “Someone once told me that if you pray for someone and they don’t want or accept it, then God’s blessing bounces back to you. Can we pray together for your sister?” He smiled and said, “With that in mind — yeah we can.”

 Later in the day I had the chance to remember some of the squabbles my brothers and I had so many years ago. Do you remember the Bible verse about forgiving one’s brother 70 x seven times (Mt 18:22)? Can you believe that one day my brother and I got so angry that we actually started to count the times we forgave each other? We were teen-agers who knew the math and took things literally. To be honest, we planned to close the door to forgiveness after those 490 times! 

I do not remember what started us off on that count, but I do remember how angry my mom was when she found out. With the wisdom of my adult years, I finally understand why, even though she was upset, she did not stop us. Our teen-age minds had wrestled with the question of what’s in it for me in forgiveness? Not only did my brother and I discover for ourselves how draining it was to keep track of all those details, but we quickly found that it was more fun just to go back to playing. The answer we found was that in choosing to forgive another, we received the gift of joy in living. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. expressed this well when he said, “He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.” 

The underlying spirit of the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays is sharing love and companionship in community. Any outstanding issues stand in direct contrast to that expressing and receiving love. The writer Corrie ten Boom says that forgiveness is an act of the will. In her book, “Tramp For the Lord,” Corrie provides a template for each of us to use when we decide to try to make changes. 

During World War II, Corrie and her sister were arrested for housing Jews. They were sent to the death camp Ravensbruck. Corrie’s sister Betsie died there. Shortly after the war, Corrie visited Germany on a ministry of healing and forgiveness. She said, “When we Confess our sins, God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever. I believe God then places a sign out there that says, no fishing allowed.” One day, after one of these talks, she came face to face with a man who had been one of the cruelest Nazi guards at the camp. In an instant, she vividly remembered the shame of being forced to march naked past this guard. As he continued to speak, she realized that he did not even remember her! He said that he had become Christian. He knew that God had forgiven him, but he wished to hear her say that she forgave him. 

Corrie froze. She most definitely did not wish to shake that man’s hand in forgiveness. She remembered the words of the Our Father: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.” Somewhere deep inside Corrie knew she should shake the guard’s hand. It just was the right thing to do. She told Jesus, “I can lift my hand. You supply the feeling.” The second Corrie shook the former guard’s hand, she felt a healing warmth flood her whole being. Corrie described this with the words, “I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.” 

Is my soul OK? Am I ready for Advent and Jesus’ coming into my world? What should I do when I search my heart and find the areas where I am not ready? I suggest we use Corrie’s template to make a start in our own lives with the people we find most difficult. 

In working on this, perhaps we can take a lesson from our students. Each week, they are encouraged to choose and complete one gift for God. After searching one’s heart, one decides to do what one knows is right and to do this as one’s personal gift to God. With such an attitude, one is open to the Holy Spirit bringing God’s healing love. Wouldn’t it be amazing this Christmas to be able to each have our own tale where we were able to say we had experienced God’s love more intensely than ever before? 

Anchor columnist Helen Flavin is a Catholic scientist, educator and writer and a member of St. Bernadette’s Parish in Fall River.

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