By Bishop Robert F. Morneau
“Everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven,
but the one who blasphemes against the holy Spirit will not be forgiven” (Luke
There is a scene in Shakespeare’s Hamlet that addresses
the issue of forgiveness. The king, Claudius, has murdered his brother, married his
brother’s widow and stolen the crown. In his soliloquy, Claudius reveals what
is transpiring in his tortured soul. The king knows that his fault is past but prayer
does not serve him well since the effects of his crime—the stealing of the crown,
the sinful fulfillment of his ambition and his adulterous relationship with the queen—all
remain. He senses that his foul murder cannot be forgiven as long as the effects of
the murder remain.
Our faith tells us that God’s mercy is always available through
the salvation gained for us in Christ Jesus.We need but turn to God with sincere intent
and resolve, confess our sins and receive divine mercy. No one is excluded from this
grace. God’s will is that all be saved.
What is blasphemous, what blocks God’s extravagant mercy from pouring
into our souls is not any particular sin that is “unforgivable.”
Rather, the “blasphemy” happens when we refuse to forgo the effects of
our sins (power, pride, possessions) and are unwilling to reform our lives with a sincere
purpose of amendment. It is not that sin is unforgivable, that God withholds divine
mercy. Rather, it is an obstinate disposition that hardens the heart, preventing the
rain of divine mercy from penetrating the soul.
Mercy Accepted, Rejected
In the garden, Peter spoke his words of betrayal, denying that he knew
Jesus. Subsequently, Peter acknowledged his sin, wept bitterly and was forgiven.With
humility and courage, Peter faced his failure.We know the rest of the story.
For just 30 pieces of silver Judas also betrayed his master. Unable or
unwilling to accept Jesus’ merciful gaze, this disciple went out into the dark
and took his own life.
Mercy was afforded to both; it was accepted by only one. In some way
Judas got stuck in himself and could not believe that he still retained infinite human
worth. His sin shattered his sense of dignity and led to self-disdain.
St. Augustine, in speaking of sin, describes it as curvatus in
se, that is, turned in on oneself. Sin does exactly that. It refuses to breathe
the fresh air of God’s mercy. It suffocates us, cutting us off from God and
others. There is a disconnect, a partial or total severing of the branch from the
vine of God’s life. As the French spiritual writer François Roustang
writes: “The result of this is to divide man in himself and to prevent him
from acting in the light and in freedom.”
Jesus came precisely to reconcile us to God, to one another and to ourselves.
The most recent Doctor of the Church is St. Thérèse of
Lisieux (1873-1897). She wrote in her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, that
her understanding of God is that God is Love and Mercy. Perhaps we blaspheme against
the Spirit of God by refusing to believe that God is truly a God of Love, truly a God
of Mercy. It is this disbelief that sets up a barrier in our souls to the reception
of God’s self-giving life.
In another Shakespearean play, Romeo and Juliet, the young Romeo
sees his beloved at some distance and says to himself: “O it is my love. O that
she knew she were.” Juliet doesn’t know it! God says to us, his beloved
daughters and sons: “O you are my love. Would that you knew you were!”
Could the “unforgivable” sin against the Holy Spirit be our
refusal, upon hearing the message of God’s love in Jesus, to appropriate this
message and let it shape our lives? Joseph Campbell once suggested that the unpardonable
sin was “the sin of inadvertence, of not being alert, not quite awake.” The
spiritual life is about staying awake, awake to the infinite love and mercy of God
given us in Jesus.
Though Shakespeare as a dramatist is not a
“religious” writer, his plays provide clues for understanding the great
mysteries of sin and forgiveness. For these clues, we should be grateful.
Next: All that you ask for in prayer...shall be yours
Have you ever experienced the blessing of being forgiven?
What was the experience like?
In your own words, what is the
Three Steps to Forgiveness
By Judith Dunlap
There are three essential parts to the traditional Act of Contrition.
They follow the three steps necessary to receive forgiveness. First, we tell God
we are sorry. Second, we promise to do our best not to sin again. And third, we
ask God’s help to strengthen us so that we can keep our promise.
In step one, the key word we use is sorry. Our God is a God of
love who calls all things to wholeness and harmony.When we act against love we act
against God, and we need to say we are sorry.
In step two we focus on change. If we say we are sorry and have no intention
of changing our behavior, we can’t be forgiven. Even God cannot free us from
sin if we insist on holding on to it. Sometimes we are really sorry for our actions
but can’t muster the courage to change. In that case we need to ask God for the desire to
change. Even this small inclination to mend our ways is enough to loosens sin’s
grip and allow the Holy Spirit to slip in.
In step three we admit we are human.We humbly acknowledge that we need
the Spirit’s help to love the way God wants us to love.We face our limitation
and even our powerlessness and allow the Spirit’s strength to fill us.We trust
that, with God’s help, we can overcome the most compelling sins or bad habits
and become the people God calls us to be.
Teach your children what it means to say, “I am sorry,” by
helping them understand the three-part prayer of contrition. Explain each step of the
prayer. Help them to understand the importance of asking for God’s help to be
strong throughout their day. And when they are not ready to forgive or to give up their
anger, teach them to ask for God’s help to let go.
Adult family members may want to practice a simple Act of Contrition
themselves, and then pray it together with their children as part of their bedtime
To Kill a Mockingbird
By Frank Frost
In one telling scene in the movie To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout (Mary Badham),
the young daughter of Atticus (Gregory Peck), is admiring the antique pocket watch
that her father will someday give to his son. She asks with longing and envy, “What
will you give me?” Her father responds, “I don’t have anything else
But the audience already knows that he will be leaving her a gift beyond reckoning—the
life lessons he teaches her daily through both word and example. These include an uncompromising
sense of fairness, integrity, concern for others and belief in the dignity of every
A new Special Edition DVD release gives families another chance to enjoy this 1963
classic based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Harper Lee. And it offers wonderful
Bonus materials include not only the customary commentary by producer and director
(Alan J. Pakula and Robert Mulligan) but also two feature-length documentaries. A
Conversation With Gregory Peck is effectively an autobiography made by his daughter
Cecilia and noted documentarian Barbara Koppel. The other is Fearful Symmetry: The
Making of To Kill a Mockingbird.
The film’s story is told in the first person through the naïve eyes of
Scout, a feisty tomboy who watches her father confront racial prejudice and legal corruption
at great personal risk. Atticus is a lawyer in a small town in the Deep South during
the Depression. He’s asked by the sheriff to defend a black prisoner who has
been accused of assaulting an ignorant white woman in her rural home.
In a parallel story line, Scout and her brother set out to see how close they can
get to Boo Radley (Robert Duvall in his first role), a mythic unseen neighbor who is
whispered to be a murderer.What they discover in their quest, however, is that small
gifts appear mysteriously in the knothole of a large tree fronting his ramshackle house.
From the credits on, this story is about small treasures that will be kept by Scout
and her brother, and which, one day, will be sorted like the memories they treasure
of their father and the lessons he taught them.
Atticus will require great courage in his defense of Tom Robinson (Brock Peters).
The lawyer must first physically confront Tom’s accuser, who leads a mob to lynch
the prisoner. And then, when Atticus proceeds to trial, his children’s lives
The parallel story lines come together when Boo Radley saves Scout’s life, which
requires the shy retarded man to emerge in the night from the safety of his house.
To Kill a Mockingbird offers great lessons about fidelity to conscience and
respect for everyone. “You never know someone,”Atticus tells Scout, “until
you step inside their skin and walk around a little.” We are blessed to walk
around a little in the skin of Atticus Finch.
What values do you find in this film?
By Judy Ball
St. Martin of Tours (316?-397)
Even as far back as the fourth century, parents longed to see their children
follow in their footsteps. The father of Martin of Tours, an officer in the Roman army,
envisioned a military career for his son and pressured him in that direction. Martin
gave military life a try, but the match proved disastrous.
He became a conscientious objector and was discharged from the army. “I
am a soldier of Christ, and it is not lawful for me to fight,” he insisted. In
a further blow to his pagan father, Martin was baptized at 18 and became a monk.
Born in what is now Hungary, Martin moved to Milan. Then, for 10 years,
he lived the quiet life of a monk at a monastery in France, thought to be the first
one north of the Alps. As he preached throughout the countryside, more and more men
This smooth, peaceful phase of his life ended when the people of the
area insisted that he become their bishop. They tricked him, begging him to tend to
a sick person in the city.When he arrived, weary and rumpled, he was brought to the
local church and pressed into service. He was consecrated a bishop, but continued to
live the life of a monk.
For 25 years he visited even the most remote parts of his diocese. He
became known for his special concern for condemned prisoners, former prisoners, the
poor and the sick, and was a model of simplicity and kindness. Martin also became embroiled
in controversy when he opposed the principle of putting heretics to death. For this,
he was accused of heresy.
At his request,Martin was buried in a cemetery for the poor. His feast
is November 11.
Father Louie Vitale, O.F.M.
If he hadn’t run for college class president—and lost—Father
Louie Vitale might have lived the conventional life his parents had in mind. Instead,
the experience turned his head and his heart around.
Crushed and embarrassed, he turned to God in prayer. “Suddenly,
for the first time, I heard the call to religious life,” Father Louie told Every
Day Catholic. He exchanged his Jaguar for the sandals of a Franciscan. “I
felt happy and free, but my father was very upset that I wasn’t going to enter
the family business” in California.
Armed with an irrepressible, gung-ho spirit, he studied for the priesthood
and was ordained in 1963 amidst the swirl of the Vietnam War, the civil-rights movement
and the Second Vatican Council. Initially reserved about all the changes occurring,
Father Louie slowly became involved in social-justice causes. He went on peace marches
and offered support to conscientious objectors. The late Cesar Chavez became his mentor
The same Louie Vitale who had served in the Air Force as an aircraft
intercept officer during the Korean War and thought himself
“among the most patriotic” of soldiers was hearing a new call—the
call to risk public opinion and even his own body on behalf of peace.With Franciscan
support he protested at the nuclear test site in Nevada. Arrests followed; so did time
in prison. For nine years he served as provincial of the California Province and later
opened a center for the practice of nonviolence.
Father Louie, 73, recently completed 13 years as a pastor in San Francisco,
but he isn’t retiring from anything. He just has more time to get involved in
social justice—in his irrepressible, gung-ho way.