Mercy and Forgiveness with Father Joe

 Dear Father Joe:  Is it a sin to have an evil thought, such as, “I really wish ill on the person who did me wrong”?

Well, it can be. Random thoughts pop into our heads; we have little control over that. It’s our response to those random thoughts that define the rightness or wrongness of it. One of the things I love to think about in these situations is how God’s mastery over evil is so complete that He can even use moments of temptation to make us saints. Because of God’s victory and mercy, every thought can be an invitation to virtue or vice.

I have a busy brain and it’s not uncommon that when I am praying, past wounds and those who have wounded me come to mind. I even have a person in my past who causes me to struggle when they come to mind. I want redemption for the lies they spread about me in order to cover their evil. I pretend I want justice. But the fact is, I do not want justice: What I consider to be justice lands me in hell.

I have been a priest for 25 years, and during that time, I know I have hurt people unintentionally. I know I am, more than likely, someone’s “story.” What I want, what I long for when I think of that is mercy, not justice. If I want that for me, I must want it for them.

I have never and will never experience what Jesus did on the cross; no pain or sorrow in my life has even approached the physical, emotional, and spiritual pain of that event. When He experienced it, His response was to seek forgiveness for those who were inflicting that torment on Him. That is mind-blowing to me and a clue as to how God wants me to be.

When I experience the unbidden thought or even the fantasy of the person or persons who hurt me getting their “just deserts,” I try to remember this and pray it into my feelings. 

I then am led to pray for God to forgive them, heal them, and get them home to heaven someday. Thus, by God’s grace, I am able to take an awful invitation to vengeance toward an experience of humility (remembering I’ve hurt people), mercy (I can’t believe how merciful God is), and love (the root of it all).

This process will need to be repeated often. Forgiveness and healing tend to be processes, not moments. We can help God move that process along by constantly giving our thoughts and feelings to Him. 

I pray for Jesus to bless all of us and help us to be merciful, as He is merciful.

Dear Father Joe:  Is it better to have a Mass said for one person, or does it matter if I have it said for the deceased members of both my family and my husband’s family?

I’m so glad you asked this question. One of my favorite things as a priest is that we pray for the dead and ask them to pray for us. It’s such a beautiful bond that Jesus has forged between heaven and earth. With that, let’s dive right in.

We’ll begin by seeing if we need to change our perspective a bit, so we’ll look at the distinction between physical things and spiritual things.

When it comes to physical things, if you give them away, you lose them. If I have 10 dollars and give you 5, I no longer have 10 dollars. I have 5. But when we look at spiritual things, we find that it’s the exact opposite of the physical: When I give the invisible away, it grows in me. If I give you love, I will have more love than I did before. If I give away peace, I become more peaceful.

With that, we can be at peace knowing that we make our best efforts to pray for the dead and trust that God will do all that is necessary.

A great visual example of this is the paschal candle at the Easter Vigil. As we process into the church with the candle lit from the new fire, that flame is passed on to the unlit candles of the people in the pews. And as it is shared, that light does not grow dim — it increases until the whole church is alight.

In the end, when it comes to praying Mass, we do what we can. We do not worry about watered-down grace because I don’t know if God is capable of half measures. Obviously, we recognize that at the funeral Mass, for example, we are praying for that grace for one person, but when it comes to Mass intentions, there are only so many Masses and a lot of people we are praying for. We do our best and choose peace.

Thank you for loving our faith and praying for the dead. 

Enjoy another day in God’s presence.