Forgiveness Sunday brings one of my favourite liturgical acts as a Byzantine Christian. Called the Rite of Forgiveness, it takes place during vespers on the last Sunday before Great Lent. The rite involves the priest and each member of the congregation asking and receiving each other’s forgiveness for any sins committed through the past year.
There are different variations among the various Byzantine Churches to the practice of this rite. Here is how our parish practices it:
Our pastor approaches each member of the congregation and says: “Please forgive me, a sinner.”
To which each member of the congregations responds: “God forgives, and so do I. Please forgive me, a sinner.”
Our pastor then responds: “I forgive you.”
Members of the congregation then ask each other’s forgiveness following the same rite.
I am reminded of Forgiveness Sunday as friends ask me what I make of the spiralling controversy over Governor Northam and racism. Especially given that the Governor of Virginia is Democrat.
To be clear, I find his actions that caused this controversy inexcusable.
Yet I state this with a sad heart. I know that in stating this I also convict myself.
Thinking back to my own words and actions as an immature highschool and college student, and throughout the my early days as a Catholic writer and apologist, I realize that I am unworthy to cast the first stone. For I too am guilty at different times of mocking, negatively stereotyping, or making uncharitable comments about the following groups of people:
- Indigenous Canadians
- Asians (I was especially harsh towards Filippinoes)
- Gays/ Lesbians/ Bisexuals/ Transgendered
- Protestants (particularly Anglicans and Fundamentalists)
- Americans–particularly of the Irish and German variety
- Mormons & Jehovah’s Witnesses
- Catholics who attend the Novus Ordo
- Service industry workers
- Convicted criminals
- Single mothers
- Social assistance recipients
- People with special needs
- Lower socio-economic classes
- Latin Americans
- Vegans and vegetarians
And these are only the groups I remember off the top of my head. It troubles me that there are others whom I forget at the moment.
Usually my comments were in the form “off colour jokes” retold in ignorance and poor taste. Occasionally, however, the prejudice I felt at the moment was real. Yet for the most part I would have denied being prejudiced or racist if pushed.
Only in hindsight do I realize the power of words to hurt and dehumanize, even when such is not one’s intention. Thus like with Governor Northam, I must also condemn as inexcusable and hurtful my own words and actions in these instances.
If you are from any of the aforementioned groups (and that would be at least 90 percent of my friends in real life and social media), I very much apologize. Same if you are part of any other identifiable group towards whom I was uncharitable in the past but cannot recall being so today.
I am sorry.
I am sorry for the hurt I caused you. Both personally and more broadly in perpetuating hurtful stereotypes.
Please forgive me a poor sinner.