Ordinary Time 07, Year B-2009
- I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more (Jer. 31:34)
This legend is recounted in Jorge Luis Borges’ Elogio de la sombra (1969):
- Cain and Abel came upon each other after Abel’s death.
- They were walking through the desert, and they recognized
- each other, since both of them were very tall.
- The two brothers sat on the ground, made a fire, and ate.
- They kept silent just as weary people do when dusk begins to fall.
- In the sky glimmered a star that as yet had not been given a name.
- In the light of the flames, Cain noticed the mark of the stone
- on Abel’s forehead, and let drop the bread he was about to take
- into his mouth and asked that he be forgiven of his crime.
- Abel answered: “Did I kill you or did you kill me?
- I don’t remember anymore; here we are together, just like before.”
- “Now I know that you have indeed forgiven me,” Cain said,
- “for to forget is to forgive. I will try to forget too.”
- Abel said slowly: “That’s the way, yes.
- While remorse last, so does guilt.”
The Lord remembers our sins no more; he forgives us (cf. also Heb. 8:12; 10:17). We have burdened him with our sins and wearied him with our crimes. But desirous that we forget the past and move forward, he points us toward something new he is doing (cf. also Phil. 3:13). The Lord is ready, too, to blot out our offenses and to remember our sins no more.
Yet burdened by my past, both distant and recent, I remember my sins and am full of remorse. No doubt, I have repeatedly offended God and hurt others, contributing to—among other things—what St. Francis Regis Clet characterized as others’ refusal “to be instructed in a religion so badly lived-up to those who profess it.” Now I keep praying the Lord to undo the harm I have done, to make up for my mistakes, deficiencies, failures and transgressions, to repair the damage I have caused, to heal all those I have injured, to give the joys and blessings of eternal life to those who are still languishing in the place of purgation on account of me, and to forgive me also and not punish me according to my sins, offenses and crimes. Unable to forgive myself, I desperately look to another for forgiveness and reconciliation and I badly want to feel forgiven and reconciled. I cannot settle for an ambivalent answer that is Yes and No; I long for nothing less than the strongest of convictions that I stand secure in Christ and have God’s anointing.
But if forgiveness seems so elusive and not palpable, notwithstanding the Lord’s assurance that my sins are forgiven and that genuine wholeness is thereby made possible even, nay, especially, for the helplessly poor and broken whose resourcefulness lies in faithful dependence, could it because I myself do not forgive? Dag Hammarksjöld’s September 3, 1957 entry in Markings reads: “’To forgive oneself’—? No, that doesn’t work: we have to be forgiven. But we can only believe this is possible if we ourselves can forgive.” Our being forgiven, jotted down Hammarksjöld earlier, in 1956, means that “[i]n the presence of God, nothing stands between Him and us.” But we must likewise forgive, since “ … we cannot feel His presence if anything is allowed to stand between ourselves and others.”
The Lord washes all my guilt away, but I feel cleansed only if I myself can blot out others’ guilt. Jesus gave his body up and shed his blood for the forgiveness of sins. This, and the remembrance of it, will all seem to me to be a lie—or a mere pious legend—and I will fail to taste the Lord’s goodness, if I keep on remembering others’ sins.