Forgiveness is irreplaceable for the health and flourishing of a marriage. Therefore, it is necessary and possible to foster an attitude and emotional state conducive to forgiveness, even when it seems formidable. Jesus tells us the importance of forgiveness for the Christian. He emphasized this in the prayer He taught His disciples: “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Mt 6:9-13); in His Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Mt 5:7), and in his parable of warning about what happened to the servant who received mercy but refused to show it to others (see Mt 18:24-35). A sinful life leads to a self-centered and merciless attitude. Fostering an experience of authentic repentance and acceptance of God’s mercy can serve as an inoculation against the common but deadly spiritual malady of unforgiveness.
Sin: The Love Killer
The very definition of sin is that it is the contradiction of love. Sin is radical selfishness; the graver the sin the more radical the selfishness becomes. The more radical and hardened the sinner, the more love is extinguished in his heart. A consistent and frequent awareness of one’s life through consistent and effective examination of conscience is necessary to avoid this state. Awareness is the first step for forgiveness and healing, the next step is repentance.
Repentance is Restoration of Communion
This repentance is then expressed in the Sacrament of Reconciliation to which every Catholic should have recourse at least monthly. The steps required for the Sacrament include moving one’s will to accept sorrow for having offended God, making the firm purpose to amend one’s life to avoid this sin in the future, followed by sacramental confession in which the priest gives absolution, and completed by doing the assigned penance. While at times it may be difficult, to the greatest extent possible confession should be not just a monthly, but also a family habit.
The family witness of going regularly to confession together will make an important, lifelong impact on one’s children. The children’s catechesis should emphasize not only the damaging effects of sin on one’s relationship with God but also its damaging effects on family life. Candidly explaining, in an age appropriate manner, the damage sin can cause to the relationship between the spouses and to the wellbeing of children is an important part of the children’s formation. Parents should help their children to understand that because we are made to love and because sin is the contradiction of love, then sin always ends in harm to, and often misery for, the sinner and for those who are closest to him. Children must also be formed to experience mutual forgiveness within the Christian family; this must be a central aspect of their family life.
Frequent reception of the Sacrament confession can help the couple to experience the reality that sin is a contradiction to their love for God and for one another. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is the source by which not only the relationship between the spouses and God is brought about, but by which healing of family discord and division can be achieved.