Some people say they are the two most important words in the English language. “I’m sorry.” In order or a person to say those words, it takes two things: humility and love.
What humility it takes to be able to speak those words! People who say, “I’m sorry,” have been able to take an honest look at themselves and see the ways in which they have fallen short. Such persons are able to admit that they are not perfect and that they are actually at fault.
A true, “I’m sorry,” is not an “I’m sorry … but …,” as if one wants to justify their actions or somehow share the blame with others. A true “I’m sorry” is a courageous claim that a fault has been committed, the person expressing it is to be blamed, and the only way to heal the hurt is to ask for forgiveness.
What love it takes to say these words! What other possible motivation could there be to say “I’m sorry” except for love of the other person?
People who say, “I’m sorry,” do so because they value the relationship more than the need to be right or to be self-justified. It is because one person loves another that they want to heal the hurt and run the risk of being vulnerable enough to ask for forgiveness.
We are soon embarking on another Lenten season when we strive to be shriven of our sins by saying “I’m sorry” to both God and our neighbor. We say this to God in the sacrament of Confession. We say this to our neighbor anytime we admit a fault and ask for forgiveness. But, there is another “I’m sorry” that we need to hear, and we learned this from John Paul II.
At the turn of the millennium, John Paul II publicly asked forgiveness for sins committed by members of the Church. Some of these sins caused divisions and scandal. The effects of these sins have left lasting bruises and bitterness in many hearts. He said, “I’m sorry” to heal those wounds.
In the same way, as the pastor of St. Francis, I will say “I’m sorry” on Ash Wednesday for the ways in which St. Francis priests or parishioners may have caused offense to others. Some persons have been offended by the weaknesses of the priest, the parishioners or the parish family. Some of those offenses may have gone unresolved or may have left bitterness in a person’s heart.
Pope Francis called parishes “field hospitals.” This means that a parish is where weak persons come to be cured. But sometimes those weaknesses can cause hurt, even while we are all members of the same “hospital.”
And so I make the words of Scripture my own: “Now therefore, please pardon my sin and return with me, that I may worship the Lord” (1 Sam 15:25). In all humility, motivated by love, please join me on Ash Wednesday to heal the hurts of our parish by sharing in sincere forgiveness.