St. Catherine of Sienna had a mystical experience in which she was taken to heaven where she experienced true joy in the presence of the Lord. It is said that Jesus came to her after some time and told her it was time to return to the world and she begged Him not to send her back. "But I need you to go and Love" He told her. "I am not able to love" she replied. Then Jesus took her heart from her, went away and came back a few days later with a shining human heart. He opened her side and put the heart within her saying: “Dearest daughter, as I took your heart away from you the other day, now, you see, I am giving you mine, so that you can go on living with it for ever”
I'm not sure how accurate this telling of her experience is but the latter part is taken from Pope Benedict XVI's General Audience November 24, 2010.
The important thing is that she was given the heart of Jesus himself, to live and love with His heart.
Her experience came to mind when I was reflecting on the readings for the 23rd Sunday and the very clear calling that we have to confront others with their sin when it's necessary. The prophet is warned with his life to correct the person who is on the wrong path, the path of sin. (Ezekiel 33:7-9) In the gospel Jesus speaks without the same harshness on the same subject. (Matthew 18:15-20) Both readings present us with something very uncomfortable. If the correction is not given or not received then there is loss of life, salvation and exclusion. It would be easier to avoid these teachings but since they are the Word of God, they cannot be dismissed.
Why St. Catherine came to mind in this context is that whatever correcting of others we do, it should be done as Christ would do it, it should emanate from His own loving heart. Correction should always be an expression of love - tough love it may be - and it is always aimed at the salvation of the other.
St. Catherine's experience is with me again as I reflect on the readings for today, September 17 - the call to forgive and keep on forgiving the one who has hurt me; to forgive as God repeatedly forgives me my sins. Christian forgiveness is given, not just seven times but seventy seven times - and in some translations it's seventy times seven. So it's meant to be unlimited.
Most of the time we're able to offer this kind of forgiveness with the internal resources that God ordinarily gives us but there are times when the hurt done to us makes it very difficult - seemingly impossible - to recover and so even more difficult to offer the kind of forgiveness by which we let go completely. I'm talking about the kind of hurt that is inflicted by an abusive person, an abuse that damages, maybe even destroys the core of who we are.
Nobody has the right to do this to another so, when Jesus talks about forgiveness He is not in any way condoning the hurt inflicted. He is not saying to the wounded, "get over it" as many people do.
What He does in the experience of His Passion is to identify himself with us in our wounded state and He remains with us through the whole experience. His intention is to bring us through to new life. When I feel mentally or emotionally hurt by another, when I am traumatized by the hurt, then I find myself with Jesus at the crowning of thorns, in that moment of His silence when they mock and spit on Him and beat Him. I can enter into the grace of His silence, knowing as He does that "my cause is with the Lord" (Isaiah 50).
When Jesus asks me to forgive in this context I find myself saying with St. Catherine, "I am not able!" Of course as a Christian I forgive with my will, with my head I choose to forgive but emotional forgiveness is another thing altogether.
Jesus doesn't give me the same mystical experience as Catherine but He does give me the reality of His own heart in the Eucharist, the reality of himself and this becomes the power beyond myself by which I will fully forgive and be healed in the process of forgiving. "I can do all things with the help of Him who gives me strength!" (Philippians 4:13)
The prophecy becomes a reality in Jesus, particularly in the Eucharist - "I will take out of your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh instead...a new heart I will give you and put a new spirit within you." (Ezekiel 36)
My role is to let it be done by the grace of God, to want it to be done, to hand over the hurt, let it go and no longer nurse it. And to enter into the prayer of Jesus, the Spirit of Jesus praying within, "Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing!" (Luke 23:34) Even if I cannot say that prayer myself, I let Jesus say it on my behalf until it becomes my own. Then I will be truly free as God intends me to be, so it's important to persevere and not to give up when nothing seems to be happening.