Thursday, June 13, 2013

Love means saying you're sorry

Eleventh Ordinary Sunday Year C

One of the most iconic romantic movies of all time is “Love Story” starring Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal. I see some of you going teary-eyed and dreamy – it’s an instant give-away of your age, I’m afraid. In spite of the fact that most young people have never heard of or even watched the movie, the movie has left a vestige for future generations, a piece of popular wisdom imprinted in the collective psyche. It is a catchphrase from the movie which appears once in the middle, and a second time at the very end, the last line of the film, thus providing it with its grand theme. “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Remember that one – one of the most memorable lines from a movie that many can’t remember. A line so famous it got voted #13 in the American Film Institute’s top 100 movie quotes.

If you really care to think about it, I believe many would agree with me that this is probably the silliest and most meaningless advice ever stated. If there were an Oscar category for the movie containing the dumbest line ever, I'd vote for this. Of all the many phrases used to define what love means, this is one of the worst, yet adopted by an entire culture. It’s ironic how often clichéd and dumb ideas like this influence popular culture, substituting a lie for the truth, banality for culture, stupidity for wisdom. This sentiment, however, was not brand new. In the 1949 film ‘She Wore a Yellow Ribbon,’ the John Wayne’s character says “Never apologise and never explain, it’s a sign of weakness.” Another absurdity added to a long list of nonsense we have been buying into. So if you say you’re sorry, you’re a weak person, as if you are giving the other person some kind of power over you.

The truth is it takes strength and love to apologise. Taking responsibility is the hallmark of maturity. Admitting our mistakes does not mean that we will no longer commit the same mistakes. In fact, never admitting mistakes means they will likely be repeated. When actions don’t seem to have any consequences, when you don’t have to take responsibility for messing up, it makes it so much easier to repeat the same mistakes over and over again.

I think John Lennon is much closer to the truth on this matter when he wrote “Love means having to say you’re sorry every fifteen minutes.” That’s an exaggeration, of course, but seems closer to the truth. In my view, the adage that makes the most sense is “love means always being ready to say sorry.”

The Bible and the history of the Church are not filled with super-hero saints who were impeccable, free from mistakes, who knew no sin.  On the contrary, our history is populated with men and women who were fallible, who sinned, but yet able to say, "I'm sorry"… people who were able to accept God's forgiveness and who could live with joy and peace because they were again at one with God.  They were people who could love much because they had been forgiven much! Confessing our guilt and saying sorry is at the very heart of our faith. There is nothing the Lord loves more than a repentant sinner. Both David in the first reading and the sinful woman in today’s gospel are excellent examples.

Let us turn to King David. Here was the ‘anointed’ of God, a prefiguration of Christ, “The Anointed One”, who ended up committing the worst dastardly crimes and sins of adultery and murder. He thought he got away with it but Nathan the prophet would demand an account for David’s sin. When confronted, David finally admitted his guilt: “I have sinned against the Lord.”  As king, David could have had Nathan executed right then and there. Other kings had prophets executed; David could have done it. David might have been slow in understanding the serious nature of his actions, but once he got it, he was sincerely sorry, if not he would not have been able to compose the beautiful words in Psalm 51: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love...”.

In today’s Gospel story a contrast is made between the righteous Pharisee, the seemingly gracious host, and the sinful woman, the unwelcomed visitor. But like so many other gospel stories, the enigmatic encounter with Jesus will expose the lie that disguises itself as the truth; it is the unwelcomed visitor, the sinner, who offers true hospitality to Jesus. Both the righteous and un-righteous (often self-righteous) are exposed in the dazzling revealing light of the Incarnate Word. The Pharisees’ self-righteousness is unveiled as he displays miserliness, an inability to show love and compassion. For a man convinced in his own righteousness, who only recognises the faults of others, there is no room for an apology. On the other hand, we have the sinful woman. Though not mentioned, we can assume that this woman, who could recognise her own sinfulness, had the courage and humility to say, “I’m sorry.” Because so much was forgiven, the sinful woman is made righteous with God and thus overwhelms Jesus with her display of love. This woman is not forgiven because of her lavish demonstrations of love; rather, the loving actions follow from her experience of having been forgiven. The miracle of salvation began with her ability to acknowledge her own sinfulness. Her repentance becomes the occasion for her salvation and expands her heart to embrace God who now enables her to love as He did, without any reservation or inhibition.

Two of the most difficult and humbling words in any language are: "I'm sorry."  By the same token, they are two of the most wonderful words, as well. Saying, "I'm sorry," begins the process of healing, and re-establishing relationships.  Repenting of sins and making humble confession to God is being able to say, "I'm sorry."  That, in part, is the meaning and purpose of Holy Communion.  That is why after committing a serious sin, we cannot receive Communion without having first gone to Confession. On the other hand, it is always easy to give an excuse and point the finger at someone else – Adam and Eve did. It takes great courage to take responsibility for our actions. What really counts in the Christian life is the capacity for looking into one’s own heart and discerning the sin that lies embedded there. What really matters for faith, is the willingness to own up, and see the real cause of the problem, our own sinfulness, rather than to dwell on the faults of others. What really makes the difference in human relationships – especially in marriage and in family life – is a readiness to admit fault and ask forgiveness.

When parents can’t admit their faults for fear that this would be a sign of weakness, how can they expect their children to learn how to say sorry on their own volition. When leaders are unable to admit their mistakes, can we expect a moral leadership that will inspire a culture of accountability? It is not a weakness to acknowledge that one has been wrong; it is a sign of strength, it is the foretaste of salvation. From beginning to end, the Bible shows us that a free admission of guilt is the royal road to freedom and new life. True liberation is found in coming before the throne of God without defenses, without excuses, without posturing, in the secure knowledge that the Father will not withdraw his mercy and compassion to the repentant sinner.

Pope Francis tells us to never forget this: “God never wearies of forgiving us, never! So, … what’s the problem? Well, the problem is that we grow weary, we do not want to, we tire of asking for forgiveness. He never tires of forgiving, but we, at times, we tire of asking forgiveness. Let us never tire, let us never tire! He is the loving Father, who always forgives, who has that heart of mercy for all of us.” So, let us never tire of saying, ‘I’m sorry!’

1 comment:

  1. I happen to be one of those who think that the line from the movie is profound, not at all silly. Although your post has added another perspective to my view, I've always looked at this line as meaning that if you truly love someone, you will forgive them for their wrongs even if they do not apologise. Your love is not conditional upon an apology. Such a love is so complete and real that an apology is not necessary, although if one is extended, it would be even better.

    Also, true love means one should never have to say sorry for, or regret, having loved another, for better or for worse. This kind of love also needs a lot of compassion, understanding and patience. Therefore it is no less courageous than the type of love you describe.

    Jane Lee


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