Finding Forgiveness

Return of the Prodigal Son - by Murillo

How Can I Know I’m Forgiven?

“I know I have been forgiven because I’ve been to confession, but I don’t feel forgiven! How can I find peace and know that I’m forgiven? ”

This is one of the most frequent questions I get as a priest. A similar question comes up with the problem of forgiving others, “Father,” the person asks, “my business partner screwed me real bad. I’ve tried to forgive him, and I’ve given it all to God, but I still feel resentment and bitterness. I still want revenge. How can I find peace?”

Assuming that you have already taken the sin to God in the sacrament of reconciliation, the first step to finding the peace of forgiveness is to remember the fact of forgiveness. If you have confessed and received absolution you are forgiven. It’s a fact. The first step is to claim that fact. Make it an act of your will and intellect. You might even say out loud to yourself, “I am forgiven. It’s a fact.” Imagine that resentment, sin, guilt and anger being washed away by a tsunami of God’s mercy.

The next step in finding forgiveness is to take the guilt, the memory, the nagging resentment and bitterness with you to Mass and offer it up. There are various practical ways of doing this.

Practical Advice

First of all you need to ask yourself what Mass is actually for. What’s the purpose of Mass? Many Catholics have never asked that basic question, and if pressed they might say, “It is a chance to worship God together.” or “We come together to sing hymns, praise God and listen to his word and receive the Bread of Life.” or “Mass is the gathering place of the people of God around his Word and his table.”

What’s missing is the idea that Mass is a sacrifice. It is an offering. From the beginning of religious instinct in man the action of worship was the action of sacrifice. Humans offered to God the best gifts they had. However, in the Jewish religion this idea was expanded and the sacrifice also became a sin offering. The effect of sin was death, but the person’s sins were projected on to the animal which was sacrificed, and so the sins were forgiven. The price had been paid.

This primitive idea still lives within the idea of sacrifice of the Mass. The primary meaning of the Mass is that it is an offering of Christ’s once for all sacrifice, and that this offering applies the benefits of Christ’s sacrifice to our lives. Christ’s death was the payment for our sin. Once we see that the Mass is a sacrifice we can participate in the action of the Mass in a new and deeper way.

Therefore, when you come to Mass with a burden of guilt or a nagging desire for revenge or a sense of resentment and anger, you should bring that as part of your offering. See every part of the Mass as part of a greater offering to God.

When you say the confession at the beginning of Mass, imagine those resentments… that guilt… and that feeling of not being forgiven gathered up into the prayer. When the collection is taken, don’t just put money in the basket – imagine that you are putting your negative feelings in the basket too. When the offertory gifts are brought forward in procession imagine that the person you resent is being brought forward and offered to God. Place all your dark feelings into those gifts being brought forward. Give God your frustration and fear and worry and anxiety. As the priest lifts the bread and wine see him lifting all the unresolved negative emotions to God.

In the action of the Mass the bread is taken, blessed, broken and transformed. So it is with the negative feelings that you offer up. Through the priest God will take them, offer them to God, bless them, break them and then they will be transformed.

To get rid of those negative feelings of not being forgiven see that first of all the priest takes them as you offer them up. Standing in the place of Christ the priest symbolically takes your burdens. As he does, think of Christ Jesus himself saying, “Come to me all who labor and are heavily burdened and I will give you rest.” Through the action of the Mass Christ will take those burdens.

When I say Mass, I make a conscious act of the will to bring to the altar all the sins I have heard in the confessional. Of course I don’t remember the individual sins. Instead, in a moment of silent prayer I ask that God will take them and forgive them and remember them no more, and that the penitent will be set free, forgiven and healed.

Then the priest blesses the bread. Imagine that he is blessing the burdens you have. “Bless the burdens?” Yes, the dark times of our life will become blessings as they are transformed by grace. But first, like the bread, they need to be broken. The dark feelings have you in bondage, and as the bread is broken see the bonds being broken. Then the transformation of the bondage into blessing will be completed.

Finally, as you receive the body of Christ, imagine that you are receiving in the most powerful way the peace and strength and knowledge of forgiveness from Christ himself.

This “liturgy therapy” might take some time to sink in. If your mind has been circling around and around over particular grievances, it is possible that you have gotten into a destructive mental pattern. This negative downward spiral can only be reversed and countered by repeated positive cycles of receiving God’s forgiveness week by week.

I am convinced that faith works. In other words, our Catholic faith really does bring us to an abundant life – a life that is transformed from the inside out by God’s grace.

Our part is to come to God with an open heart, an open mind and an active will so that as we co operate with his grace we will be transformed into his likeness.


Fr Dwight Longenecker is the parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Greenville, South Carolina. He is author of thirteen books on the Catholic faith. Praying the Rosary for Inner Healing is available in Catholic bookshops and through his website: dwightlongenecker.com

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About the Author

Fr. Dwight Longenecker is the parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Greenville, South Carolina. He conducts parish missions, retreats and speaks at conferences across the USA.

His latest book is The Romance of Religion - Fighting for Truth, Goodness and Beauty. Visit his blog, listen to his radio show, and browse his books at dwightlongenecker.com.

Catechesis teaches us what to believe and how to behave, but Catholics also need down to earth advice for putting their faith into action. For help in your practice of the Catholic faith sign up for FaithWorks! -- Fr Longenecker's free, weekly newsletter on the practical practice of the Catholic faith.

Visit Fr. Longenecker on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/frlongenecker.

Fr. Dwight Longenecker is an American who has spent most of his life living and working in England. Fr Dwight was brought up in an Evangelical home in Pennsylvania. After graduating from the fundamentalist Bob Jones University with a degree in Speech and English, he went to study theology at Oxford University. He was eventually ordained as an Anglican priest and served as a curate, a school chaplain in Cambridge and a country parson.

Realizing that he and the Anglican Church were on divergent paths, in 1995 Fr. Dwight and his family were received into the Catholic Church. He spent the next ten years working as a freelance Catholic writer, contributing to over twenty-five magazines, papers and journals in Britain, Ireland and the USA.

Fr. Dwight is the editor of a best-selling book of English conversion stories called The Path to Rome - Modern Journeys to the Catholic Faith. He has written Listen My Son - a daily Benedictine devotional book which applies the Rule of St Benedict to the task of modern parenting. St Benedict and St Thérèse is a study of the lives and thought of two of the most popular saints.

In the field of Catholic apologetics, Fr. Dwight wrote Challenging Catholics with John Martin, the former editor of the Church of England Newspaper. More Christianity is a straightforward and popular explanation of the Catholic faith for Evangelical Christians. Friendly and non-confrontational, it invites the reader to move from 'Mere Christianity' to 'More Christianity'. Mary-A Catholic Evangelical Debate is a debate with an old Bob Jones friend David Gustafson who is now an Evangelical Episcopalian.

Fr. Dwight’s Adventures in Orthodoxy is described as ‘a Chestertonian romp through the Apostles’ Creed.’ He wrote Christianity Pure&Simple which was published by the Catholic Truth Society in England and Sophia Institute Press in the USA. He has also published How to Be an Ordinary Hero and his book Praying the Rosary for Inner Healing was published by Our Sunday Visitor in May 2008. His latest books are The Gargoyle Code - a book in the tradition of Screwtape Letters and a book of poems called A Sudden Certainty, Adventures in Orthodoxy and The Romance of Religion.

Fr. Dwight has contributed a chapter to the third volume of the best selling Surprised by Truth series and is a regular contributor to Crisis Magazine, St Austin Review, This Rock, Our Sunday Visitor and National Catholic Register. Fr. Dwight has also written a couple of children’s books, had three of his screenplays produced, and is finishing his first novel. He’s working on a book on angels and his autobiography: There and Back Again.

In 2006 Fr. Dwight accepted a post as Chaplain to St Joseph’s Catholic School in Greenville, South Carolina. This brought him and his family back, not only to his hometown, but also to the American Bible belt, and hometown of Bob Jones University. In December 2006 he was ordained as a Catholic priest under the special pastoral provision for married former Anglican clergy. He is the Administrator of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Greenville, South Carolina, and an oblate of Belmont Abbey.

Fr. Dwight enjoys movies, blogging, books, and visiting Benedictine monasteries. He’s married to Alison. They have four children, named Benedict, Madeleine, Theodore and Elias. They live in Greenville, South Carolina with a black Labrador named Anna, a chocolate lab called Felicity, cat named James and various other pets.

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1 Comment

  1. Father, thanks for the article. Your mention of the Confiteor and the various opportunities during the Mass to offer up our sins grants us an opportunity to participate more fully in the celebration of the sacrifice of the Mass. This, at least for me, has deepened my understanding and appreciation for not only the sacrament of penance but also of Holy Communion. Along this vein, I thought one additional opportunity we have during Mass is the last words spoken by the entire congregation before we receive the body and blood of Our Lord.

    Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.

    The timing of these words, in my opinion and in light of your article, is no coincidence. God always gives us that ‘last chance’ to offer up our souls to Him for complete purification. So if, in the future, we miss the other opportunities that you mentioned, I pray God helps us remember this last one.

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