Suffering and Forgiveness: Lessons from Corrie Ten Boom

For us, forgiveness is a matter of becoming capable, of being given the power, to disrupt the cycle of continued wrath and suffering we experience as inevitable. Forgiveness is always going to be demanding, costly, and a freely chosen effort. Others cannot tell us when and how we must forgive. No one but we ourselves can require us to forgive.

Through the amazing story of how Corrie Ten Boom discovered that she herself still was learning how to forgive, you’ll learn what forgiveness is not, and what forgiveness is.

As we wrestle with forgiving, you’ll learn three things that will help us open to God’s grace.

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Do not conform to the pattern of this world…

I’ve been thinking about patterns lately. How easy it is to fall into rhythms, habits, mental ruts, ideological stagnation. Patterns of living too small, too tight, too cold. Patterns of living too loud, too dispersed, too dissipated. We easily fall into emotional patterns that become so ingrained we forget that often what our emotions tell us about ourselves and about God just isn’t true. Truth is found in God’s eyes as we look at him, and no pattern—mental or emotional or behavioral—can match what we see in God’s love for us.

Lent is about getting out of some patterns that have us trapped in being smaller than God has made us to be. The Apostle Paul wrote: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world…”

Other translations of this verse are:
Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold. Do not fashion yourselves after this world.

Paul continues, “…but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”


Paul didn’t say: Be transformed by improving your behavior. Be transformed by switching your desires to better things. Be transformed through super Lenten resolutions. Be transformed by giving up chocolate.


Paul said: Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. So what does Paul mean by his use of “mind”? The Greek word used by Paul is noûs.

Here is Thayer’s definition for noûs:

  1. the mind, comprising alike the faculties of perceiving and understanding and those of feeling, judging, determining
    1. the intellectual faculty, the understanding
    2. reason in the narrower sense, as the capacity for spiritual truth, the higher powers of the soul, the faculty of perceiving divine things, of recognising goodness and of hating evil
    3. the power of considering and judging soberly, calmly and impartially
  2. a particular mode of thinking and judging, i.e thoughts, feelings, purposes, desires

The Apostle Paul wasn’t thinking about our everyday patterns of thinking. By his use of noûs he was considering the intellect, the higher faculties of our soul: perceiving and understanding, as well as faculties that have more to do with our will: judging, determining, recognizing goodness and hating evil.

Lent is a perfect time to look at the patterns we’ve fallen into in our lives. Are we being molded by the fashion, enticements, pleasures, of the world around us? By what we see in the media? By our friends? Our fears?

Now is the time to sharpen our capacity for spiritual truth, to strengthen our habit of perceiving divine things, to call forth the will to recognize and choose the good and to despise and reject what is evil.

To die out of love

“No, you will not die!” hisses the serpent in the Garden of Eden, but its human inhabitants do not understand and are seduced.

Beginning with the first pages of Genesis, that demonic hissing has never ceased to tempt our human nature. As if not dying is the solution to the longing for life that we all carry within us, as if avoiding death is the way to find the happiness we so diligently seek. Even the Gospel reading is Jesus’ response to the very human temptation to escape death. A temptation multiplied endlessly in the realms of possession, religion, power–seductive answers to the fear of dying.

But when faced with death, Jesus does not try to protect himself. He dies naked, exposed, defenseless. He is not ashamed of dying, not even on the infamous wood of the cross, because if you love, you strip yourself and give yourself. The macabre dance of Calvary is also a dance of love: blood and passion, pierced hearts and tears, labored breathing and self-surrender: the grammar of love is the same as the grammar of death.

“No, you will not die!” hisses the serpent. “You are all dying even now,” replies the Master. The centurion guarding Jesus declares, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”

Human beings are born anew when they recognize death as an opportunity to perpetuate love. Are we dying out of love for someone? May this be the primary question we ask ourselves as we cross the desert of Lent.

Fr. Alessandro Deho’

This article first appeared on the Daughters of St Paul website.

Some thoughts about Lenten practices (forget Lenten resolutions)

Since I was a kid Lenten resolutions were a big thing. I remember giving up chocolate in 7th grade. A friend of mine threw a party for her birthday on Holy Saturday. I told my parents I couldn’t go because I had given up chocolate. They told me that Lent was over and that Holy Saturday was looking forward to Easter, and so off I went…. Needless to say, I’m still a chocoholic.

So now that we’ve almost finished the regular run of blog posts and comments and conversations about Lenten resolutions for this year, I wanted to offer some thoughts about Lenten practices (not resolutions).

When I was a little girl I played piano. One of the important things I had to do every day was “practice” scales. Every. Day. When I was assigned this by my piano teacher, she didn’t say, “Well you just need to do this for a month or two then you can stop. Maybe the following year you could try it again if you felt like it.” No. Practicing scales is important because it makes you a top-notch pianist. Practicing every day forms you as a musician. There never is an end to it, unless of course you give up piano playing (which I did do as an adult). And I bet concert pianists, just like Olympian athletes practice many hours a day. Every. Day.

So what does this have to do with Lent?

This year I was thinking about how making Lenten resolutions at least sometimes, if not often, backfires. We give up chocolate every day for forty days and then we make up for it the first week of Easter. Or we give up our favorite TV program and then binge on it during the Easter Season.

Practices are meant to form you, perfect you, shape you, transform you from a so-so pianist, athlete or Christian to an outstanding one. And in this case, into a saint!

How to Start

So my thoughts about this are simple:

  1. Ask Jesus what he would like to give you this Lent. How do you want me to be more like you, Lord? In what area of my life? With which person? In what situation?
  2. Think about what aspects of your Christian living disappoint you the most. What are you at least slightly hiding or ashamed of. What do you wish were different.
  3. Then make a strategy of practices that you can BEGIN in Lent and then CONTINUE for the rest of your life. (Don’t get worried, you can modify them, perfect them, make them work better for you, but practice daily you must. After all, becoming holy and living in Christ is the most important thing in your life!)

Make a Strategy

Here are some elements you make part of your strategy. (This list is not for you to choose one thing, but to create a wholistic, integrated strategy that touches all aspects of your life.)

  • Choose a book to read that addresses the area you most want to see lifted up to the Face of the Lord. Read a little bit of it every day and reflect on it. If you already have one in mind, go through and mark about 10 places in that book that you can focus on during the season of Lent so that you create a habit in those areas. (I found an old book I had greatly highlighted several years back. I located about 10 pages in it to focus on that embrace different aspects of living in holiness, and every day I choose one of these to read and reflect on. It’s not something to DO. It is rather something to take to meditation, to become convinced of, to more clearly understand how it works, what it means for you, what your resistances are, what your desires are, what you need in order to succeed.)
  • Think about a couple of prayer forms or guides you could use throughout the season of Lent to make your prayer more focused, more intense.
  • Identify one habit/addiction you have that is standing in your way to a deeper relationship with God. Determine something else you can do, say, eat, or have instead that will promote your holiness and which is attractive enough for you to consider it a reasonable and preferable life-change you’ll really want to keep. (For instance, I love butterscotch. For health reasons, I need to let go of chocolate completely. This Lent I’m making a conscious transition away from sugar and chocolate to peanut butter and sugar-free butterscotch pudding. Letting go of some things that are highly addictive and destructive to my health is a health decision on one level. On another level, however, it is a choice for a more intentional temperate relationship with food that is socially conscious. The fact that neither of my new choices is highly addictive will help me keep it up as well as open up the spiritual space within that sugar and chocolate is closing down.)
  • Is there one person you can give your life for, in the spirit of Jesus who gave his life for you? What are some concrete things you can do to serve them, pray for them, support them?
  • Choose one quote from the bible and one quote from a saint as your tagline for Lent 2023, your rallying cry to keep you coming back to the cross to beg Jesus for his grace that you might love him more truly.

After 40 days of practicing, probably rearranging and perfecting your strategy, and even possibly changing mid-stream, you should have a spiritual sense of what God is doing in your life through your commitment and perseverance. On Holy Saturday, Lent may be over, but the Easter Season begins that evening with the Easter Vigil. So you actually have 50 more days of practicing, but now in a spirit of joy!

You’ll be pleasantly surprised after 100 days of practicing that what was once an obstacle or a struggle has now become integrated into who you are in Jesus. It will be so wonderful, that you won’t ever want to stop practicing. You’ll just expand your practices, like a pianist who has moved beyond the basic scales and now has made even practicing a work of art!

Wishing you a blessed Lent!

Image credit: Vytautas Markūnas SDB via Cathopic

Horizons of the Heart

Horizons of the Heart is inspired by the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius and my own notes from my thirty-day Ignatian retreat in 2022.

Say a Strong YES to Your Existence (Horizons of the Heart 1)

The Amazing Promise of New Beginnings (Horizons of the Heart 2)

God’s Love Is Forever (Horizons of the Heart 3)

Jesus Says: “I am the one you are looking for” (Horizons of the Heart 4)

The GIFT Jesus Wants to Give You (Horizons of the Heart 5)

We Are Not Prisoners of Our Past (Horizons of the Heart 6)

The Way and the Gift of Tears (Horizons of the Heart 7)

You, Yes YOU, Are God’s Choice (Horizons of the Heart 8)

“To Know the Forest Thaws” (Horizons of the Heart 9)

How To Do Gospel Contemplation (GUIDE)

The Motherhood of Mary: Entering into Gospel Contemplation (Horizons of the Heart 10)

“…In But a Very Little While” – A Personal Gospel Meditation (Horizons of the Heart 11)

The Divine Heart of Reality – A Personal Gospel Contemplation (Horizons of the Heart 12)

When Life is Upended: A Gospel Contemplation (Horizons of the Heart 13)

We are a pure capacity for Christ: Moments of Eucharistic Joy

“Which is the more awesome mystery, that God gave Himself to earth, or that He gives you to heaven; that he Himself enters into the society of carnal beings, or that He admits you into the fellowship of divinity; that He takes death upon Himself, or that He rescues you from death; that He Himself is born into your state of bondage, or that He begets you as His children; that He accepts your poverty, or that He makes you His heirs, and coheirs with Himself alone? Surely the more impressive mystery is that earth is transferred to heaven, that man is altered by divinity, that the bondsman acquires the rights of dominion.” (St Peter Chrysologos)

Immediately following the birth of the Word made flesh, we begin to hear of the clouds of rejection and death that will surround Jesus his entire life: the death of the Holy Innocents, the rejection of his own people at Nazareth, and in the liturgy the feast of St Stephen, the first martyr. Jesus came to us to pass from a visible life to an invisible one, from walking at our side to abiding within us, from preaching in Israel to whispering secretly in the souls of everyone throughout the world always and for all time. Our humanity has been taken up in his divinity. It is in the Eucharist, that gift given to us on the night before he died, that Jesus continues his life on this earth, in us, through us, for us, for the world.

“Surely the more impressive mystery is that earth is transferred to heaven, that man is altered by divinity, that the bondsman acquires the rights of dominion.” (St Peter Chrysologos)

This is the life that Jesus gives those who receive him in the Eucharist, for it is he himself that we receive. He becomes our Life in the Eucharist, causing us to live by him as he lives by the Father. Indeed, in our receiving Communion Christ, takes possession of us, consumes our misery in himself, and imparts his divine dignity to us.

Pierre de Bérulle, one of the most important mystics of the seventeenth century in France, wrote in a letter of direction: “Since He was created Head of human nature, we have a relationship with Him, a proportion with Him, an aptitude for Him; we wait to be actuated by Him and to be filled by Him…. We are a capacity, a pure capacity for Him; none can actuate and fill it but He…. We must not suffer ourselves to be in ourselves, except to see to it that Jesus Christ be living in us, and that He may use and enjoy possession of all that is within us.” Then echoing the words of St Cyril of Alexandria he explains that Jesus’ possession of us is by means of the Eucharist. Through this sarament, “we are joined to this divine substance in a real and substatial union, which approaches very nearly to the unity of the divine Persons, and which is a perfect imitation of that unity.”

What do these words awaken in your heart? Remain in what God is bringing about in you by making specific acts that strengthen and deepen what God is making you experience.

What has struck you about Jesus’ giving himself to you in the Eucharist?

Write a pray after Communion based on what has most deeply affected you.

Image Credit: Francisco Xavier Franco Espinoza via Cathopic

When we find ourselves in darkness we can expect God to intervene

I find it very meaningful that the Lord was born in the night, that the angels announced to the shepherds the good news of the Savior’s birth while they were sleeping in the fields at night, and that the Kings followed a star visible in the night sky in order to find the newborn King. Jesus proclaimed himself the Light of the World and light is most clearly seen when it shines in the darkness.

We can be “lost in the dark,” personally and as a society. We are living through a particularly dark time in history. Sometimes it is hard to figure out what’s really true or really good… How am I fooling myself and how is society fooling itself… Where is evil promoted as good and good denigrated as an evil…. In the darkness we can feel drowsy, overwhelmed, distracted, frightened. It is when we are in the darkness that we can expect God to intervene in what seems to be impenetrable confusion or illusion with the light of truth which is always an announcement of how God is with us.

Contemplative Prayer Guide with the Masterpiece

Rest your gaze on the image. Let your gaze be the path that returns you to the center.

After a few moments of silence, close your eyes and become aware of your desire to be with God at this moment. Ask God to help you let go of whatever may distance you from his presence to you.

Now open your eyes and let your eyes rest on the image.

What do you notice about the people in the image? What are the emotions that seem to be expressed in the image? What meaning does the light and dark parts of the image have for you? How does the image touch you? What surprises you about the image? What do you not like about the image?

When distractions occur, return intentionally to gazing at the image.

Close your eyes and enter into the event depicted in the image.

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’” (Luke 2)

Interact with the people in the story. Speak with them. Take part in their emotion, their faith, their courage…

Do you feel close to one of the people depicted in the image?

Does the image remind you of some event or some person in your own life?

Just sit and soak in the grace that arises from the image.

Ask Jesus: “What do you want me to take from this time of prayer as I return to my life?”

Image: Govert Flink Angels Announcing Jesus’ Birth to the Shepherds, public domain