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    mending sampler

    Repairing Relationships

    Four writers reflect on the restorative power of personal forgiveness.

    By Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Teresa of Ávila, Desmond Tutu and Jacques Philippe

    February 9, 2024
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    Teresa of Ávila

    Our good master sees that, if we have this heavenly food, everything is easy for us, except when we are ourselves to blame, and that we are well able to fulfill our undertaking to the Father that his will shall be done in us. So he now asks his Father to forgive us our debts, as we ourselves forgive others. Thus, continuing the prayer which he is teaching us, he says these words: “And forgive us, Lord, our debts, even as we forgive them to our debtors.”

    Notice, sisters, that he does not say “as we shall forgive.” We are to understand that anyone who asks for so great a gift as that just mentioned, and has already yielded his own will to the will of God, must have done this already. And so he says “as we forgive our debtors.” Anyone, then, who sincerely repeats this petition, “Fiat voluntas tua,” must, at least in intention, have done this already. You see now why the saints rejoiced in insults and persecutions: it was because these gave them something to present to the Lord when they prayed to him. What can a poor creature like myself do, who has had so little to forgive others and has so much to be forgiven herself? This, sisters, is something which we should consider carefully; it is such a serious and important matter that God should pardon us our sins, which have merited eternal fire, that we must pardon all trifling things which have been done to us and which are not wrongs at all, or anything else.

    How greatly the Lord must esteem this mutual love of ours one for another! For, having given him our wills, we have given him complete rights over us, and we cannot do that without love.

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    Catherine de Hueck Doherty

    A member of our apostolate has difficulty in getting along with another member. The difficulty is real. No one denies it. One of the classical means of sanctification is to endure the rubbing of personality against personality. That is why common life, as understood by canon law, and, in fact, family life in every home, lived properly according to God’s design, is called the greatest school of sanctity. It is considered the fastest means of growing in charity and self-discipline, as well as in dying to self. This is where each one of us feels the cross. It bites deeply, and dimly we begin to understand the pain of Christ.…

    Getting along with various people in one house is the hardest thing that any one of us can do, even though we love them very much. Nevertheless, if we have even the slightest understanding of what we do to Christ in our brethren, we would not indulge in any kind of griping. Griping is destructive, critical, and uncharitable.

    One piece of advice I give to you: When you feel like griping about someone else, stop. Say a Hail Mary and think. How much material for griping does this person have about you? If you are honest with yourself, that should silence you pronto!

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    Desmond Tutu

    Believers say that we might describe most of human history as a quest for that harmony, friendship, and peace for which we appear to have been created. The Bible depicts it all as a God-directed campaign to recover that primordial harmony when the lion will again lie with the lamb and they will learn war no more because swords will have been beaten into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks (Isa. 2:4). Somewhere deep inside us we seem to know that we are destined for something better. Now and again we catch a glimpse of the better thing for which we are meant – for example, when we work together to counter the effects of natural disasters and the world is galvanized by a spirit of compassion and an amazing outpouring of generosity; when for a little while we are bound together by bonds of a caring humanity, a universal sense of ubuntu; when victorious powers set up a Marshall Plan to help in the reconstruction of their devastated former adversaries; when we establish a United Nations organization where the peoples of the earth can parley as they endeavor to avoid war; when we sign charters on the rights of children and of women; when we seek to ban the use of antipersonnel land mines; when we agree as one to outlaw torture and racism. Then we experience fleetingly that we are made for togetherness, for friendship, for community, for family, that we are created to live in a delicate network of interdependence.

    There is a movement, not easily discernible, at the heart of things to reverse the awful centrifugal force of alienation, brokenness, division, hostility, and disharmony. God has set in motion a centripetal process, a moving toward the center, toward unity, harmony, goodness, peace, and justice, a process that removes barriers.

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    Jacques Philippe

    There are times in every life when we find ourselves in situations of trial and difficulty, either affecting us or someone we love. We can do nothing. However much we turn things over and examine them from every angle, there is no solution. The feeling of being helpless and powerless is a painful trial, especially when it concerns someone close to us: to see someone we love in difficulties without being able to help is one of the bitterest sufferings there is.

    Many parents experience it. When children are small, there is always a way of intervening, helping them. When children are older and no longer heed advice, it can be terrible for parents to see their sons or daughters turning to drugs or launching destructive love affairs. Much as the parents want to help, they cannot. At such times we should tell ourselves that even if we apparently have no way of intervening, we still, despite everything, can continue to believe, hope, and love. We can believe that God will not abandon our child and our prayer will bear fruit in due course. We can hope in the Lord’s faithfulness and power for everything. We can love by continuing to carry that person in our heart and prayer, forgiving him and forgiving the wrong done to him and expressing love in every way available to us, including trust, self-abandonment, and forgiveness. The more devoid of means our love is, the purer and greater it is. Even when externally there is nothing to be done, we still have inner freedom to continue to love. No circumstance, however tragic, can rob us of that. For us, this should be a liberating and consoling certainty amidst the trial of powerlessness.


    Teresa of Ávila, The Way of Perfection, in The Complete Works of Saint Teresa of Jesus, Vol. 2 (New York and London: Sheed and Ward, 1946).

    Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Dearly Beloved: Letters to the Children of My Spirit (Combermere, ON: Madonna House Publications, 1988), 55–59.

    Desmond Tutu, No Future without Forgiveness (New York: Doubleday, 1999), 264–265.

    Jacques Philippe OP, Interior Freedom, trans. Helena Scott (New York: Scepter Publishers, 2007), 58–59.

    Contributed By CatherineDeHueckDoherty Catherine de Hueck Doherty

    Catherine de Hueck Doherty (1896–1985), founded Friendship House, a house of hospitality to the homeless in Toronto, and later Madonna House, a more rural intentional Christian community and international Catholic lay apostolate.

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    Contributed By Teresa Of Avila Teresa of Ávila

    Teresa of Ávila (1515–1582) was a Spanish Carmelite nun and mystic.

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    Contributed By DesmondTutu Desmond Tutu

    Desmond Tutu (1931–2021) was a South African Anglican cleric who received the 1984 Nobel Prize for Peace for his role in opposing apartheid in South Africa.

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    Contributed By JacquesPhilippe Jacques Philippe

    Jacques Philippe is a Catholic priest and author whose spiritual writings have sold over a million copies in twenty-four languages.

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