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By Father Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.

Renewing Our Baptismal Commitment


Aren't Seven Readings Too Many?
When Should I Forgive?
What Does 'Maundy' Mean?
How Can I Cope With My Husband's Death?

Aren't Seven Readings Too Many?

Q: Our parish liturgy committee is preparing the Easter Vigil service. Participation in recent years has been very limited, perhaps because of the service’s length.

Why are there seven readings and why must they be included?

A: Although the Church offers nine readings for the Easter Vigil, seven from the Old Testament and two from the New Testament, you do not have to use all nine. A parish can choose as few as two from the Old Testament—but always including the crossing of the Red Sea story (Exodus 14:15—15:1).

The nine readings are there because they present the sweep of salvation history from the world’s creation through Jesus’ resurrection.

When do you start the Easter Vigil? What once began around 11 p.m. can now begin as soon as it is dark in your area. The starting time may influence how many people come.

Your letter makes no reference to the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). Each year most parishes welcome several people to Baptism or, for those already baptized, to full communion with the Catholic Church.

Isn’t this reason enough for many people to join in this annual renewal of their own baptismal commitment?

This celebration may not be appropriate for young children or those in poor health. Many people, however, very willingly spend long hours on activities much less central to their deepest values—sometimes, in fact, on activities which may seem harmless but which undermine their stated deepest values.

Our faith journey is a communal one. The Easter Vigil service symbolizes that.

When Should I Forgive?

Q: When is it appropriate to forgive someone? What does forgiving someone really mean?

A: Who benefits most from forgiveness? The one being forgiven or the person doing the forgiving?

If you see it as a gift to people being forgiven, you will probably wait until they seek forgiveness or indicate an openness to it. If you see it primarily as a gift to yourself, you will probably forgive more quickly.

In Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), when did the father decide to forgive the younger son? When the son begged forgiveness? Or long before? Wasn’t the father looking down the road for that son because the father had already decided to forgive him?

If the younger son had never “come to his senses” (v.17), would the father have been foolish to have forgiven him? Not at all. Once the father turned the case over to God, he would have been free of resentment, even though he would not have experienced the consolation of his son’s repentance.

There is a unique freedom experienced by the person who decides to forgive. That is true regardless of whether the other party even realizes any need to seek forgiveness.

A firm, long-term refusal to forgive is a decision to put your life “on hold” until the other person asks for forgiveness. Being put “on hold” happens with telephone conversations, but why do it to yourself?

People sometimes think that forgiveness requires lying to themselves—that the offensive action or omission never happened, it didn’t really do much damage, etc.

That approach to forgiveness can keep a person in an abusive situation, lead to serious financial loss or put someone’s life in jeopardy. It’s not forgiveness to make excuses for another person’s addiction and its negative consequences. The way some people talk, however, makes forgiveness sound like codependency: pretending that someone else’s self-destructive behavior is O.K.!

The person who needs to ask forgiveness can mistakenly think that, once it is received, everything is restored. Not exactly.

If I put a baseball through your window, I can ask forgiveness and you might extend it to me. You still, however, have a broken window! You can genuinely forgive me for breaking that window and yet expect me to repair it or pay someone else to do that.

Forgiveness cannot change past facts but it can put them into a different perspective, a more life-giving perspective. For that reason, forgiveness and truth are allies, not enemies. Nothing worthwhile can be built on a lie.

It’s much easier to forgive, of course, if the person who should seek forgiveness actually does so. But if that person refuses to admit the harm created by his or her actions, is it foolish for me to forgive?

Some people think their refusal to forgive demonstrates their freedom; in fact, it often shows a lack of freedom.

Bitter, unforgiving people punish themselves more than the people they refuse to forgive. The offending people may die without realizing that they should have asked forgiveness. Unforgiving people die with a self-imposed burden grown heavier over time.

Forgiveness is about living in the truth—yes, the truth of my pain, my loss, perhaps someone else’s pain or loss—but also the larger truth that the offending person was created in God’s image whether his or her actions reflect that fact.

Deep down, forgiveness means wanting for the offending party what God wants for that person: to live honestly as someone made in God’s image and likeness, reflecting that in his or her choices.

I can forgive a person and still get a restraining order to keep that person away from me. I can forgive someone and still insist that he or she seek professional help to deal with an addiction. I can forgive someone and set up a separate bank account.

“If you loved me, you would forgive me and not make a big deal about this,” the person might say. “It’s because I love you that I am making a big deal about this,” you can respond.

It is appropriate to forgive someone when you can look in the mirror and tell yourself honestly, “I want for that person what God wants.” Until you can say that, you should pray for the grace to say it honestly. When you can, you will be free.

If forgiveness is primarily a gift to yourself, why carry the burden of unforgiveness any longer?

What Does 'Maundy' Mean?

Q: What happened on Maundy Thursday and what is the origin of that strange word?

A: This term comes from mandatum, the Latin word for “commandment.” In John 13:1-20, Jesus washes the feet of his apostles at the Last Supper. Jesus later says, “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (13:34).

Washing of the feet is part of the Catholic Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday evening. Episcopalian and some other Protestant Churches use this ceremony that day also.

In all Churches, the washing of feet reminds Christians that generous, humble service is a vital part of what it means to follow Jesus.

How Can I Cope With My Husband's Death?

Q: Please help me. My husband died six months ago, and I can’t get on with my life. I wish it could have been me. I miss him so much.

A: You have probably experienced the biggest loss that a person can suffer. So many things remind you of the man with whom you shared your life, your dreams, your hopes.

Have you ever dreamed of your husband since his death? The first dream that many people have about a deceased spouse often involves that person saying, “I’m all right,” or something similar. The surviving spouse frequently finds this thought extremely consoling, a stimulus to greater courage in rebuilding a life where that partner is a memory but not a physical companion.

What faith sustained you in the years of your marriage? Can you hear with new conviction Jesus’ statement, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26)?

If your husband could speak to you now, wouldn’t he encourage you to remember the good times you shared? Although he might understand it, wouldn’t he urge you to move beyond this paralyzing grief, your feeling of “I can’t get on with my life”?

If you talk to other widows, you might find some help in dealing with this wrenching loss. Many parishes or dioceses have support groups for the widowed.

God loves you very much and wants you to live as someone made in God’s image and likeness—dealing with your grief but not being crushed by it.

If you have a question for Father Pat, please submit it here. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Ask a Franciscan, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.

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