Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

A thank you beyond the Lenten season 

By BILL CLARKE, Commentary | Published April 14, 2022

“Sorry seems to be the hardest word.” ~Elton John 

I was the youngest child in my family, the only boy with three older sisters. I seemed to always be doing something that got me in trouble with my sisters. I lived in a perpetual state of seeking forgiveness. 

I learned that it takes a great deal of strength to say, “I’m sorry!” Perhaps deep down I thought it would be a sign of weakness to admit that I did something wrong.  

I recall, vividly, one of the worst days of my life as a child. It was a cold, snowy Saturday in Ohio. I had spent the morning playing in the snow, building forts and throwing snowballs. Around noon I went home for lunch. My mother was at a meeting, and my sisters were spending a quiet day upstairs reading and playing games. 

I went into the pantry in search of something to eat. The pantry was off the kitchen hidden behind a lace-type curtain. I couldn’t find anything to eat but I spotted a box of wooden matches, the kind with a red and white head tucked inside a box with a sandpaper coating used to ignite the match. I thought I would strike a match to help warm my cold hands.  

I lit a few matches and held onto them without burning my fingers. On the last match, I held on a little too long and the flame touched the end of my finger. I instinctively dropped the match and it fell on the lace curtain. Whoosh, the curtain caught fire! I screamed as the fire raced up the curtain. My sisters came running and my oldest sister called the fire department. My other sisters threw water on the fire as the house began to fill with smoke. 

The fire trucks arrived quickly and put out the remnants of the fire. I ran upstairs, locked my bedroom door and hid in my closet. My sisters kept yelling, “Wait until mother comes home! You are in big trouble!” I remained hidden and prayed for a miracle. 

Then I heard my mother open the front door. My sisters excitedly told her what happened. Then I heard her tromping up the stairs. She pounded on my bedroom door, and it flew open. She yelled, “Billy Clarke, where are you? Come out now!” I continued to pray and dig myself deeper into the recesses of the closet. 

She pulled off the clothes and found me cowering in the corner. I knew that I had done something for which an ordinary apology would not suffice. I cried, tears running down my cheeks. I shouted, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to start a fire!”  

I was truly sorry. Not the kind of childish apology that I routinely made to my sisters when I was trying to appease them.  

Next, a rather unexpected thing happened. My mother hugged me tightly. She was concerned that I might have burned myself. She realized how lucky we had been to avoid a real tragedy.  My mother’s demeanor immediately changed from anger to love, love for a son.   

A lesson learned  

Years later, I can look back on this experience and realize that I learned a great deal about family love and gratitude from this experience. As we conclude Holy Week, I think back on the way my mother loved me in spite of the gravity of my actions and I compare her love to what Jesus must have felt as he suffered and died in atonement for our sins. In spite of the gravity of our collective sins, his love prevailed.  

British psychologist Ralph Smart speaks to the character of forgiveness. He says, “The first to apologize is always the bravest. The first to forgive is the strongest. The first to forget is the happiest.” I was the first to apologize and learned the true meaning of forgiveness. My mother was the strongest as her motherly instinct for the love of a child turned anger into forgiveness. My sisters were the happiest because they quickly responded to the emergency and loved me in spite of my actions.  

It is fitting that we express our sincere gratitude to Jesus for the remarkable courage and love he showed by his passion and death. He loved us in spite of our sins.  

Holy Week has been the opportunity to reflect on the times we may have hurt others by our actions or lack of compassion or understanding. Forgiveness and apologizing should not be about finding fault. Take the initiative and say, “I’m sorry!” You will feel better instantly and reflect the same attitude that Jesus, the innocent Lamb of God, felt when he sacrificed his life for our sins.  

Our model should be Jesus. Just as he showed his consummate love for us, we should pray for the strength to reconcile our differences with others. We should try very hard to allow love to prevail over pride and the temptation to find fault.   

This prayer could be offered on Good Friday or beyond, “Dear Jesus, I thank you with all my heart for loving me and all of mankind with such depth that you suffered and died in atonement for our sins. I am truly sorry for my sins and ask that you help me avoid the near occasion of sin now and in the future. Please give me the strength and perseverance to imitate your love for my brothers and sisters.” 

Bill Clarke, former business executive and teacher, emerged from his third retirement to serve as the associate director of professional development for the archdiocesan Office of Evangelization and Discipleship. To send thoughts to Bill, email