" Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."-Luke 23:34.
begins with the Confiteor. The Confiteor is a prayer in which we
confess our sins and ask the Blessed Mother and the saints to intercede
to God for our forgiveness, for only the clean of heart can see God.
Our Blessed Lord too begins His Mass with the Confiteor. But His
Confiteor differs from ours in this: He has no sins to confess. He is
God and therefore is sinless. "Which of you shall convince me of sin?"
His Confiteor then cannot be a prayer for the forgiveness of His sins;
but it can be a prayer for the forgiveness of our sins. Others would
have screamed, cursed, wrestled, as the nails pierced their hands and
feet. But no vindictiveness finds place in the Savior’s breast; no
appeal comes from His lips for vengeance on His murderers; He breathes
no prayer for strength to bear His pain. Incarnate Love forgets injury,
forgets pain, and in that moment of concentrated agony reveals
something of the height, the depth, and the breadth of the wonderful
love of God, as He says His Confiteor: "Father, forgive them, for they
know not what they do."
He did not say "Forgive Me,"
but "Forgive them." The moment of death was certainly the one most
likely to produce confession of sin, for conscience in the last solemn
hours does assert its authority; and yet not a single sigh of penitence
escaped His lips. He was associated with sinners, but never associated
with sin. In death as well as life, He was unconscious of a single
unfulfilled duty to His heavenly Father. And why? Because a sinless Man
is not just a man; He is more than mere man. He is sinless, because He
is God-and there is the difference. We draw our prayers from the depths
of our consciousness of sin: He drew His silence from His own intrinsic
sinlessness. That one word "Forgive" proves Him to be the Son of God.
the grounds on which He asked His heavenly Father to forgive
us-"Because they know not what they do." When anyone injures us, or
blames us wrongly, we say: "They should have known better." But when we
sin against God, He finds an excuse for forgiveness our ignorance.
There is no redemption for the fallen angels. The blood drops that fell
from the cross on Good Friday in that Mass of Christ did not touch the
spirits of the fallen angels. Why? Because they knew what they were
doing? They saw all the consequences of their acts, just as clearly as
we see that two and two make four, or that a thing cannot exist and not
exist at the same time. Truths of this kind when understood cannot be
taken back; they are irrevocable and eternal. Hence when they decided
to rebel against Almighty God, there was no taking back the decision.
They knew what they were doing! But with us it is different. We do not
see the consequences of our acts as clearly as the angels; we are
weaker, we are ignorant.
But if we did know that every
sin of pride wove a crown of thorns for the head of Christ; if we knew
that every contradiction of His divine command made for Him the sign of
contradiction, the Cross; if we knew that every grasping avaricious act
nailed His hands, and every journey into the byways of sin dug His
feet; if we knew how good God is and still went on sinning, we would
never be saved. It is only our ignorance of the infinite love of the
Sacred Heart that brings us within the hearing of His Confiteor from
the Cross: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
words, let it be deeply graven on our souls, do not constitute an
excuse for continued sin, but a motive for contrition and penance.
Forgiveness is not a denial of sin. Our Lord does not deny the horrible
fact of sin, and that is where the modern world is wrong. It explains
sin away: it ascribes it to a fall in the evolutionary process, to a
survival of ancient taboos; it identifies it with psychological
verbiage. In a word, the modern world denies sin. Our Lord reminds us
that it is the most terrible of all realities. Otherwise why does it
give Sinlessness a cross? Why does it shed innocent blood? Why does it
have such awful associations: blindness, compromise, cowardice, hatred,
and cruelty? Why does it now lift itself out of the realm of the
impersonal and assert itself as personal by nailing Innocence to a
gibbet? An abstraction cannot do that. But sinful man can.
He, who loved men unto death, allowed sin to wreak its vengeance upon
Him, in order that they might forever understand its horror as the
crucifixion of Him who loved them most. There is no denial of sin here
and yet, with all its horror, the Victim forgives. In that one and the
same event, there is the sign of sin's utter depravity and the seal of
divine forgiveness. From that point on, no man can look upon a crucifix
and say that sin is not serious, nor can he ever say that it cannot be
forgiven. By the way He suffered, He revealed the reality of sin; by
the way He bore it, He shows His mercy toward the sinner. It is the
Victim who has suffered that forgives: and in that combination of a
Victim so humanly beautiful, so divinely loving, so wholly innocent,
does one find a Great Crime and a Greater Forgiveness.
the shelter of the Blood of Christ the worst sinners may take their
stand; for there is a power in that Blood to turn back the tides of
vengeance which threaten to drown the world. The world will give you
sin explained away, but only on Calvary do you experience the divine
contradiction of sin forgiven. On the Cross supreme self-giving and
divine love transforms sin's worst act in the noblest deed and sweetest
prayer the world has ever seen or heard, the Confiteor of Christ:
"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
word "Forgive," which rang out from the Cross that day when sin rose to
its full strength and then fell defeated by Love, did not die with its
echo. Not long before that same merciful Savior had taken means to
prolong forgiveness through space and time, even to the consummation of
the world. Gathering the nucleus of His Church round about Him, He said
to His Apostles: "Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven."
in the world today then, the successors of the Apostles have the power
to forgive. It is not for us to ask: But how can man forgive sins?-for
man cannot forgive sins. But God can forgive sins through man, for is
not that the way God forgave His executioners on the cross, namely
through the instrumentality of His human nature? Why then is it not
reasonable to expect Him still to forgive sins through other human
natures to whom He gave that power? And where find those human natures?
You know the story of the box which was long ignored and even ridiculed
as worthless; and one day it was opened and found to contain the great
heart of a giant.
In every Catholic Church that box
exists. We call it the confessional box. It is ignored and ridiculed by
many, but in it is to be found the Sacred Heart of the forgiving Christ
forgiving sinners through the uplifted hand of His priest as He once
forgave through His own uplifted hands on the Cross. There is only one
forgiveness-the Forgiveness of God. There is only one "Forgive"-the
"Forgive" of an eternal Divine Act in which we come in contact at
various moments of time.
As the air is always filled with
symphony and speech, but we do not hear it unless we tune it in on our
radios, so neither do souls feel the joy of that eternal and divine
"Forgive" unless they are attuned to it in time; and the confessional
box is the place where we tune in to that cry from the Cross. Would to
God that our modern mind instead of denying the guilt, would look to
admit its guilt, and seek forgiveness; would
that those who have uneasy consciences that worry them in the light,
and haunt them in the darkness, would seek relief, not on the plane of
medicine but on the plane of Divine Justice; would that they who tell
the dark secrets of their minds, would do so not for the sake of
sublimation, but for the sake of purgation; would that those poor
mortals who shed tears in silence would find an absolving hand to wipe
Must it be forever true that the greatest
tragedy of life is not what happens to souls, but rather what souls
miss. And what greater tragedy is there than to miss the peace of sin
forgiven? The Confiteor is at the foot of the altar our cry of
unworthiness: the Confiteor from the Cross is our hope of pardon and
absolution. The wounds of the Savior were terrible, but the worst wound
of all would be to be unmindful that we caused it all. The Confiteor
can save us from that, for it is an admission that there is something
to be forgiven-and more than we shall ever know.
a story told of a nun who was one day dusting a small image of our
Blessed Lord in the chapel. In the course of her duty, she let it slip
to the floor. She picked it up undamaged, she kissed it, and put it
back again in its place, saying, "If you had never fallen, you never
would have received that." I wonder if our Blessed Lord does not feel
the same way about us, for if we had never sinned, we never could call