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Mother Teresa on Forgiveness and Confession
The following passages are quotations of Mother Teresa from the book "No Greater Love," edited by Becky Benenate and Joseph Durepos.
Every human being comes from the hand of God, and we all know something of God’s love for us. Whatever our religion, we know that if we really want to love, we must first learn to forgive before anything else.
— MOTHER TERESA
. . . and forgive us the wrong we have done as we forgive those who wrong us.
— JESUS, MATTHEW 6:12 NAB
1. We have opened a home in New York for AIDS patients, who find themselves among the most unwanted people of today. What a tremendous change has been brought about in their lives just because of a few sisters who take care of them and have made a home for them. A place, perhaps the only place, where they feel loved, where they are somebody to someone. This has changed their lives in such a way that they die a most beautiful death. Not one of them has yet died in distress.
2. The other day, a sister called to tell me that one of the young men was dying but, strange to say, he couldn’t die. So she asked him, “What is wrong?” And he said, “Sister, I cannot die until I ask my father to forgive me,” So the sister found out where the father was, and she called him. And something extraordinary happened, like a living page from the gospel: The father embraced his son and cried, “My son! My beloved son!” And the son begged the father, “Forgive me! Forgive me!” And the two of them clung to each other tenderly. Hours later, the young man died.
3. When we realize that we are all sinners needing forgiveness, it will be easy for us to forgive others. We have to be forgiven in order to be able to forgive. If I do not understand this, it will be very hard for me to say “I forgive you” to anyone who comes to me.
4. Confession is a beautiful act of great love. Only in confession can we go as sinners with sin and come out as sinners without sin,
Confession is nothing but humility in action. We used to call it penance, but really it is a sacrament of love, a sacrament of forgiveness. When there is a gap between me and Christ, when my love is divided, anything can come to fill the gap. Confession is a place where I allow Jesus to take away from me everything that divides, that destroys.
The reality of my sins must come first. For most of us there is the danger of forgetting that we are sinners and must go to confession as sinners. We must go to God to tell Him we are sorry for all we have done that may have hurt Him.
The confessional is not a place for useless conversation or gossip. The topic should be my sins, my sorrow, my forgiveness; how to overcome my temptations, how to practice virtue, how to increase in the love of God.
5. Penance is absolutely necessary. Nothing is of greater force in restraining the disordered passions of the soul and in subjecting the natural appetites to right reason. Through penance we come to possess those heavenly joys and delights that surpass the pleasures of earth as much as the soul does the body, and heaven the earth.
Our penance is an act of perfect love of God, man, and the whole universe. It is for us a joyful identification with Christ crucified; it is a hunger to be lost in Him, so that nothing remains of us but He alone in His radiant glory drawing all men to the Father.
6. The other day, a man, a journalist, asked me a strange question. He asked me, “Even you, do you have to go to confession?” I said, “Yes, I go to confession every week,” And he said, “Then God must be very demanding if you have to go to confession.” And I said, “Your own child sometimes does something wrong. What happens when your child comes to you and says, ‘Daddy, I’m sorry’? What do you do? You put both of your arms around your child and kiss him. Why? Because that’s your way of telling him that you love him. God does the same thing. He loves you tenderly.” Even when we sin or make a mistake, let’s allow that to help us grow closer to God. Let’s tell Him humbly, “I know I shouldn’t have done this, but even this failure I offer to you.”
If we have sinned or made a mistake, let us go to Him and say, “I’m sorry! I repent.” God is a forgiving Father. His mercy is greater than our sins. He will forgive us.
7. This is humility: to have the courage to accept humiliation and receive God’s forgiveness. Our souls should be like a transparent crystal through which God can be perceived.
Our crystal is sometimes covered with dirt and dust. To remove this dust we carry out an examination of our conscience in order to obtain a clean heart. God will help us to remove that dust, as long as we allow Him to; if that is our will, His will comes about.
Perhaps this is what we have lacked. Our examination of our conscience is the mirror we focus toward nature: a human test, no doubt, but one that needs a mirror in order to faithfully reflect its faults. If we undertake this task with greater faithfulness, perhaps we will realize that what we sometimes consider a stumbling block is rather a rock we can step on. The knowledge of our sin helps us to rise.
8. Knowledge of self is very necessary for confession. That is why the saints could say they were wicked criminals. They saw God and then saw themselves, and they saw the difference. We become hurt because we do not know ourselves, and our eyes are not fixed on God alone; so we do not have real knowledge of God. When the saints looked upon themselves with such horror, they really meant it. They were not pretending.
Knowledge of ourselves will help us to rise up, whereas sin and weakness will lead to despondency. Deep confidence and trust will come through self-knowledge. Then you will turn to Jesus to support you in your weakness, whereas if you think you are strong, you will not need our Lord.
9. Reconciliation begins with ourselves. It begins with a pure heart, a heart that is able to see God in others.
10. In the Constitution of the Missionaries of Charity, we have a beautiful part that speaks of the tenderness of Christ, and also of his faithful friendship and love. To make that love more living, more sure, more tender, Jesus gives us the Eucharist. This is why it is necessary for every Missionary of Charity to feed upon the Eucharist in order to be a true carrier of God’s love. She must live on the Eucharist and have her heart and life woven with the Eucharist. No Missionary of Charity can give Jesus if she does not have Jesus in her heart.
Our life is linked to the Eucharist. Through faith in and love of the body of Christ under the appearance of bread, we take Christ literally: “I was hungry and you gave me food. I was a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me.”
11. The Eucharist is connected with the passion. I was giving Communion this morning — my two fingers were holding Jesus. Try to realize that Jesus allows Himself to be broken.
The Eucharist involves more than just receiving; it also involves satisfying the hunger of Christ. He says, “Come to me.” He is hungry for souls. Nowhere does the gospel say, “Go away,” but always, “Come to me.” Ask Jesus to be with you, to work with you that you may be able to pray the work. You must really be sure that you have received Jesus. After that, you cannot give your tongue, your thoughts, or your heart to bitterness.
12. For us, we must never separate the Eucharist and the poor or the poor and the Eucharist. He satisfied my hunger for Him and now I go to satisfy His hunger for souls, for love.
The Eucharist is the sacrament of prayer, the fountain and summit of Christian life, Our Eucharist is incomplete if it does not lead us to service and love for the poor.
13. Someone could ask, “Who are the poorest of the poor?” They are the unwanted, the unloved, the uncared for, the hungry, the forgotten, the naked, the homeless, the lepers, the alcoholics. But also we Missionaries of Charity are the poorest of the poor. To be able to work, to be able to see, to be able to love, we need this Eucharistic Union.
14. When we remember that every morning at Communion we have held in our hands all the holiness of God, we feel more willing to abstain from everything that may stain our purity. Thence flows a sincere and deep respect for our own person---respect also toward others leading us to treat them with sensitivity but likewise abstaining from all disordered sentimentality.
Holy Communion, as the word itself implies, is the intimate union of Jesus and our soul and body. The saints understood so well that they could spend hours in preparation and still more in thanksgiving. This needs no explanation, for who could explain “the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God”? “How incomprehensible are His judgments!” cried Saint Paul, “And how unsearchable His ways, for who has known the mind of the Lord?”
If you really want to grow in love, come back to the Eucharist and let us often say during the day, “Lord, wash away my sins and cleanse me from all my iniquity.”
15. Christ made Himself the Bread of Life. He wanted to give Himself to us in a very special way, in a simple, tangible way, because it is hard for human beings to love a God whom they cannot see.
16. If the greatest sinner on earth should repent at the moment of death, and draw his last breath in an act of love, neither the many graces he has abused, nor the many sins he has committed would stand in his way. Our Lord would receive Him into His mercy.
— SAINT THERESE OF LISIEUX
17. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister and then come and offer your gift.
— JESUS, MATTHEW 5:23—24 RSV
The following passages are quotations of Mother Teresa from the book "Jesus, The Word to be spoken," compiled by Father Angelo D. Scolozzi.
1. Confession makes the soul strong because a really good confession—--the confession of a child in sin coming back to the Father—--always begets humility, and humility is strength. We may go to confession as often as we want and to whom we want, but we are not encouraged to seek spiritual direction from any and every source. The confessional is not a place for useless conversation or gossip. The topic should be my sins, my sorrow, my forgiveness: how to overcome my temptations, how to practice virtue, how to increase in the love of God. (Feb 1)
2. First, confession; after that ask for spiritual direction if necessary. The reality of my sins must come first. For most of us there is the danger of forgetting that we are sinners and must go to confession as sinners. We must want the precious blood to wash away our sins. We must go to God to tell him we are sorry for all we have done which may have hurt him. (Feb 2)
3. One thing is necessary for us—--confession. Confession is nothing but humility in action. We call it penance, but really it is a sacrament of love, a sacrament of forgiveness. That is why confession should not be a place in which to talk for long hours about our difficulties. It is a place where I allow Jesus to take away from me everything that divides, that destroys. When there is a gap between me and Christ, when my love is divided, anything can come to fill the gap. We should be very simple and childlike in confession. “Here I am as a child going to the Father.” If a child is not yet spoiled and has not learned to tell lies, he will tell everything. This is what I mean by being childlike. Confession is a beautiful act of great love. Only in confession can we go as sinners with sin and come out as sinners without sin. (Feb 3)
4. You need only ask at night before you go to bed, “What did I do to Jesus today? What did I do for Jesus today? What did I do with Jesus today?” You have only to look at your hands. This is the best examination of conscience. (Feb 4)
5. And how will you find Jesus? He has made it so easy for us. “Love one another as I loved you.” If we have gone astray, we have the beautiful sacrament of confession. We go to confession a sinner full of sin. We come from confession a sinner without sin by the greatness of the mercy of God. No need for us to despair. No need for us to commit suicide. No need for us to be discouraged—--no need, if we have understood the tenderness of God’s love. You are precious to him. He loves you, and he loves you so tenderly that he has carved you on the palm of his hand. These are God’s words written in the Scripture. You know that. Remember that when your heart feels restless, when your heart feels hurt, when your heart feels like breaking—--then remember, “I am precious to him. He loves me. He has called me by my name. I am his. He loves me. God loves me.” And to prove that love he died on the cross. (Feb 5)
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