God forgives immediately and completely without harboring any grudges or imposing any punishments. God’s attitude is summed up beautifully in the behavior of the father in the parable of the prodigal son. Even though the father would have been perfectly justified in imposing some sort of penalty on the son, and even though the son seems to have repented mainly because he was hungry and unhappy in the country where he had gone, the father pays no attention to any of this. He not only gives his son an immediate and complete pardon but welcomes him with great joy and happiness.
For, as Jesus himself said, “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance” (Luke 15:7). And the whole of his life is full of notable examples of how readily and completely he forgave sins—the good thief, Mary Magdalene, Zacchaeus, and so many others.
How then should you and I react to this loving kindness of God?
The first thing is to accept it in wonder and humility. One commentator on the Ignatian Exercises has said that our attitude must be “to stand without defenses before the gratuity of God’s love.” “Without defenses” means not putting up any barriers or hiding behind excuses, but being ready to follow whatever path God indicates.
This will call for a conversion. Not a conversion in the sense of finding a new faith, but in acknowledging that there is something which needs changing in your life. This applies to all of us because no one can claim, if honest, that nothing must be changed in his or her life.
A retreat is precisely to help us find out what it is that needs to be changed and to give us the strength and courage to take the practical steps to change it. This can certainly cost us, but it is an accurate measure of our love for God in return for God’s love of us. As another commentator on the Ignatian Exercises has put it, our desire for conversion “arises out of the literally heartbreaking experience of being loved and forgiven.”
And we can only fully experience this, not in our minds or understanding, but in our hearts and our feelings. Hence, it is important to seek this grace from God.
This is how God will help us move toward the conversion we are looking for. Pray today for this personal conversion of the heart, for this heart of flesh that God offers. In your prayer today, reflect on the way God forgives you, and therefore, how you too should respond.
Adapted from In the Midst of Noise: An Ignatian Retreat in Everyday Life by Michael Campbell-Johnston (Liguori Publications, © 2010).