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Fr. Ben's Letter 2/19/2022

Don’t let failure define who you are.

Last words of people are considered important and so we tend to listen for them and record them. Of course, some people want their last words to be memorable and so they prepare them, or write them, in order to make a statement or to be remembered as witty, or smart, or Avant guard, or show their bravado. Some famous last words include Winston Churchill’s “I’m bored with it all,” or, Jack Daniels, “One last drink please.” There are the famous words of Joe DiMaggio, “I finally get to be with Marilyn.” As he lay dying Steve Jobs was heard to whisper, “Oh Woe. Oh Wow. Oh Wow.” Mozart said: “The taste of death is on my lips. I feel something that is not of this world.” While Edgar Allen Poe prayed: “Lord help my poor soul.” Leonard Da Vinci raised a regret: “I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have.”

During the Irish Civil War, the Irish patriot Erskin Childers, as he stood before a firing squad of his own countrymen at Beggars Bush Barracks said to the soldiers: “Take a step forward, lads, it will be easier that way.”

As he lay dying Pope John Paul II could hear the singing of the youth as they gathered in St. Peter’s Square and he was heard to say: “I searched for you and you have come to me.” A little while later his last words were: “Let me go to the house of my Father.” And more recently the last words of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI were: “Lord, I love you.”

A dying declaration is considered so important that in many legal and judicial jurisdictions in many countries for many centuries it was admissible as evidence worthy of testimony.

This brings us to the last words of Jesus. Here there are two different occasions, the first as Jesus was dying on the Cross where he said “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). And the second, before His Ascension Jesus gave the power to forgive sins to His apostles and their successors: “Those whose sins you forgive they are forgiven them” (John 20:21-23). On agony on the Cross and during His first encounter with the Apostles after His resurrection Jesus speaks of forgiveness. The words of a dying man and the first words of the Resurrected Lord. Surely, we can recognize the supreme significance of what Jesus offers us. The very mission of the Lord was salvation, to restore God’s children to God; to take us out of darkness into God’s light, to remove the eternal condemnation of death and give us God’s own life, to lift us up from the dirt and to restore us as the children of God. Slaves to sin no more Jesus raises us up from the ground and gives us back the opportunity to live as God created us to live, to experience the grace, love, and life God wants us to experience.

God knows that we are frail, that we tend to fall, that we can be weak. However, God does not want failure, darkness, death, or sin to define us. We are created for better things and a better life. Jesus, therefore, gives us the means by which we can start again, by which we can be renewed, the help we need to rise up and carry on. “Those who’s sins you forgive are forgive them.” These are the words of Jesus, last words, powerful testimony, and they are made real in the sacrament of reconciliation. As we enter into Lent maybe we should take the Lord at His word and receive the forgiveness and grace that enables us to start again, rise up, live in the light, receive the grace. No sin is greater than God’s love, no number of sins, is greater than God’s love, and Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient to heal all wounds and clean all souls. It would be a shame to allow failure, a fall, or sin, darkness, or death, to define who we are and the life we lead – when the remedy to failure is at hand and freely given.

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