“Ask a Priest: How Can I Forgive Myself?”

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Q: I came back to the Catholic Church after 40 years of being away. First, I was evangelical, then gradually checked out other religions before ending up almost atheist. How can I forgive myself after a lifetime away? – G.M.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It’s good to hear that you have come back to the Church. It sounds as though you have received a great grace. Someone was probably praying for you.

You ask about forgiveness. It’s good to remember that it is God who offers us forgiveness. It’s his forgiveness that is primary. The good news is that God is always willing to forgive us if we are repentant.

If you have made a good confession, you should be confident that God has forgiven you.

And if the Creator of the universe can forgive you, why can’t you forgive yourself? It’s God whom you offended, not yourself. You shouldn’t feel as though you have to be more demanding than God.

If you feel sorrow over the past, then let that sorrow motivate you to live the rest of your life well.

If your sorrow is leaving you depressed and paralyzed, that inspiration isn’t coming from the Holy Spirit. It might be coming from the devil, who knows how to taunt us even after we repent.

The devil would love to see you stew about the past, and to squander the gift of God’s mercy. Don’t give the devil something to chuckle about.

You might want to incorporate some reparation into what you do, now that you have come back to the Church. If your past impacted anyone negatively, seek apostolates that help you impact people positively.

For instance, it would be good to dedicate yourself to some kind of evangelization effort, such as door-to-door missions. Get involved in things that help strengthen your own faith and help you reach out to others, to help them avoid the trap of neglecting their faith.

There is no time like the present to dedicate yourself to building the Church.

It will require, though, that you have a solid prayer life and sacramental life. You might consider adding daily Masses and spiritual reading and frequent confession to your schedule. All this will help you be confident that God has a mission for you now.

If you need a patron, try St. Paul. He used to persecute the Church, but then received a great grace from God and went on to become one of the greatest apostles of all time.

At a practical level, start listening to Catholic radio. Let the faith seep into your bones … and heart.


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  1. Thank you Father M, for the advice that AFTER hearing the words by a priest acting In Persona Christi we can do ‘reparations’ besides penance as the priest speaks we should do…

    Since I was trying to directly speak Faith and Spirit (via email or sometimes in person if ‘allowed to speak’) and ‘other’ simply would not listen. (in younger years my good parents would say things as ‘don’t hold your breath’ for acknowledgment or don’t hit your head talking to a ‘brick wall’ (obstinant soul) Since anger and disruption of my PEACE and HAPPINESS from God was getting lost ‘on many brick wall souls’ . . . I realize the only thing to do is ‘shake the dust from the sandals’ . . . let them BE but OFFER UP the GOOD I am by grace at altar… directly AND provide Masses to be said for those who ‘can’t hear God’ / I may or may not see the results (on this earth) But I will be SHOWING FAITH in THE ONE and THE ONLY ONE who can CONVERT a soul… a ‘bully soul’ . . . a nasty SHUT DOWN discussion soul.

    In a ‘do own thing’ ideological world (where they get their thing but RESPECT NOT the ‘thing’ of those who mention the ‘G’ word) . . . the BEST THING to do for reparation of self and them. . . is offering them Mass prayers at altar. (and as you say, ENJOYING HIS GIFT OF MERCY and a good life here and now, with or without them who BUST (invalidate) the values ‘raised up in.’ They CAN’T HEAR… it is frustrating but they cannot hear and they will PULL US DOWN if we keep trying to get ‘their respect’ FIRST.

    Where two or three are gathered IN HIS NAME, there is some form of PEACE… good healthy humor, and not
    PUT DOWN ‘wit’ . . . put down another to artificially raise oneself up.

  2. I had a relative write that I should” ‘be at peace with myself and with all others.’ (NO-OOO that isn’t quite right) This is the ideology of the INDIVIDUALISTIC ‘do own thing’ generation. It subverts the ‘truth’ of ONENESS, UNITY of THE ONE (mystical) body of Jesus, the Christ… the Messiah, the Savior and Lord.

    Be at peace with myself and ALL OTHERS … no matter the actions of all others? NO-OOOO. These words fit with ‘your truth won’t change my truth.’ All of it is understood as a generation who see’s life SUBJECTIVELY, me myself and I . . . and if you agree with me (little god unto myself in some manner) then… we can be at peace. You do your thing, I do my thing… (EVE started it all when she wanted to BE LIKE GOD) Adam followed. NO TRUTH BUT ‘SUBJECTIVE TRUTH’ . . . you be happy, I will be happy.

    The words for PEACE is ‘where two or three (or more) are gathered IN HIS NAME … there is PEACE. OOOH how dark will THE DARKNESS OF INDIVIDUALITY get? Maybe it all started when some in grade school mispronounced INDIVISIBLE in the Pledge of Allegiance as INDIVIDUAL. (look up INDIVISIBLE for its meaning)

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