As I wandered around Krakow during World Youth Days in July, it wasn’t difficult to find Angèle Regnier among the crowds. She and her family were there, helping equip young people of all ages for encountering Jesus Christ and sharing him with others.
Regnier and her husband Andre founded Catholic Christian Outreach, what some of us rudely call the Canadian FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students). Regnier is author of a book I was delighted to give an early read and endorse, Forgiveness Is Key. The Year of Mercy may be over, but our commitment to receiving and being instruments of mercy must be a matter of constant engagement.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: Why is forgiveness so key?
Regnier: This is the hardest truth. And it is key for our own interior peace, but it is also about the salvation of our souls. This is what we read in the word of Jesus — that we won’t be forgiven if we do not forgive. It really, truly matters.
What does forgiveness have to do with freedom?
‘Unforgiveness’ is a prison. I’ve lived it. Locking myself into a space of bitterness, resentment, distrust, and anger. I had to avoid certain places, people, events because ‘that person’ might be there. I was a prisoner and slave to my commitment to unforgiveness. Forgiveness is the only way to actually being free.
Why is mercy so important? What does it mean exactly? Does it dismiss justice?
Mercy and justice have to be understood together. Sometimes we equate mercy with a blanketed and free “loving kindness.” But mercy is only actually mercy in the context of an offense. Mercy implies I am aware that I have done something wrong and I am treated well in spite of it.
If I show mercy or forgive someone who has hurt me it doesn’t mean I am saying what they did was okay. Be honest. But choose not to hold a grudge or harsh judgment. Choose mercy not vengeance. I choose to trust God will take care of me, and that He will take care of any justice necessary in this life or the next.
What is ongoing reconciliation all about?
Ongoing reconciliation is about those long-term relationships where we have to practice a lifestyle of forgiveness and mercy. I suspect you know what I mean: “you can pick your friends but you can’t pick your family.” In those kinds of relationships we will likely get practice on forgiving 70 x 7 times — the same old annoying things that they do. We have to walk a path of ongoing reconciliation.
But there’s also the ongoing reconciliation of those deeper wounds that maybe we do a real deep and sincere forgiveness of, but the forgetting part of it has not kicked in yet — and the pain is still tender. We can be tempted to go back to a place of unforgiveness. Or feel that we probably didn’t forgive if we feel this way.
Ongoing forgiveness is standing firm and reasserting the decision to forgive. Saying to yourself and God, and the Enemy — “No, I am not going back into this! I choose to release this person to God. I choose forgiveness.”
What is it about the Sacrament of Confession that is important for humility? For the individual soul and for families and everyone we interact with?
In the Sacrament of Confession we do a very important thing for real change to happen: We tell another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. This is the 5th step of the 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous recovery program.
The humility to admit our faults aloud to another being has the power to kick start a change in behavior. The Sacrament of Confession is a powerful occasion to practice humility in every way, and the fruit of that humility is a softer, kinder person in all other relationships.
How and why should Christians make repentance a continuing part of their life?
Repentance is another aspect of being free in our relationship with God and others. Keeping short accounts with God and others gives relationships the freedom to grow. This is a habit of being self-aware of your actions and how they could have been hurtful or wrong. It’s a habit of humility; of taking the initiative to say sorry to another – promptly, sincerely.
Repentance to the Lord should be done in the moment as much as possible, as well as daily in prayer or if you do a brief daily examen at the end of your day. And it goes without saying the Sacrament of Reconciliation is a great avenue for repenting of those habitual venial sins, and those sins of weightier significance.
What are you hearing from millennials about forgiveness and mercy? What’s the truth to them?
Millennials are restless and hungry. They have experienced pain and have been wounded by broken family environments and a culture that is constantly giving them entertainment to keep them content and distract them from that pain. What they are longing for is to know they belong, they matter, they are safe, and they are loved.
The message of mercy and forgiveness puts a loving, reassuring hand on their shoulder. It lets them know they are loved and seen — even in how they were hurt and hurt others — and that there is a way out. There is a way to freedom.
Millennials probably first “feel” truth in experience and encounter, rather than pursuing reason and logic. It is in the encounter of touching their heart and giving them a taste of God’s love and freedom from guilt and the weight of sin that they can enter into learning about true love and full freedom.
What from your evangelization experience with youth can transfer to all our conversations about the faith?
Our work with youth reveals what is true of all people and that is the need for a life-changing encounter with God. And to have that encounter we need to show people how to approach God in concrete ways.
In our evangelization we help and guide people on how they can identify where they are at with God: Is He outside of my life, part of my life or at the center of my life? We help people express to God their desire to change the trajectory and choices of their life so as to move towards God.
I guess what stands out in what we have learned to do, that applies to everyone is this: people need to be shown how to make a decision to turn away from sin and live for God.
St. John Paul II told us in Mission of the Redeemer: “Conversion means accepting, by a personal decision, the saving sovereignty of Christ and becoming his disciple.”
We’ve been together at a number of conferences on the Americas. Are the two actually one? What do we have in common and how must we make better use of this? Even or especially with Donald Trump’s America going on, whatever that means?
John Paul II tried to train us to say America for the entire Western Hemisphere. That is a bit hard to get used to saying, but his point is that we need to have a solidarity and concern for the continental mission. In particular he wants the North to remember our brothers and sisters in the South – to feel the burden of care and responsibility and for that burden to be a labor of love and charity.
What we have in common is our identity in Christ fundamentally. We are all children of God, who have wandered from him and need a savior.
As America we are united by Our Lady of Guadalupe — located smack-dab in the middle of the Western Hemisphere. In her we as people in the Americas have a united hope in the conversion of hearts, the protection of the unborn, the supernatural encounter with God, and a message that can speak to every and any person.
In the continental mission, we can share resources, tools, ideas, listen, advocate, pray, assist. Because of my work in evangelization materials I deeply care about helping in any way that I can. I am trying to translate our materials into Spanish and Portuguese so that they could be helpful for churches, dioceses, people who want to know how to evangelize and raise up missionary disciples.
I really feel the impetus to help and offer the help and gifts I have to my brothers and sisters in other countries. The meetings we have been at have inflamed my desire to help as I meet people from America.
If there is only one thing you could share about your faith and why you’re grateful, what would it be?
Jesus. Clear and simple it would be Jesus. He has made a way for us back to the Father, despite our sins and failings. He has made a way for us to spend eternity with him in Heaven. He has loved us all the way to make the way. I love him and I owe him everything.