When Eddie McGuire resigned recently as president of the Collingwood Football Club, there was a great deal of commentary about the timing of his apology. Eddie McGuire did lots of great things for Collingwood, and for football in general. But when the findings of racism within the club were announced, why was his apology so slow in coming?
Coincidentally, while the above controversy was taking place, Australia marked the 13th anniversary of the Apology to the Stolen Generation. I remember the day of “the apology”. I sat in my lounge room and cried along with many Australians as Kevin Rudd finally said the words: “We are sorry”. The apology was slow in coming, but, for many, it was a sign that reconciliation was possible.
In our own Catholic Church, those who suffered because of child sexual abuse in Catholic institutions also waited a long time to hear those sorry words. No doubt, some are still waiting to hear the words from their perpetrators, and some have gone to their grave waiting. Yet, we see that where priests and bishops have humbly acknowledged for the abuse and made their apologies, there is hope for healing and reconciliation.
As you read this, you might believe that these expressions of sorrow were too little, too late. They probably were. But without the first step of saying “sorry” there is no way forward, there is no hope for reconciliation.
In our own lives we have all probably experienced being hurt by our parents, our spouse, our children, friends or work colleagues. Sometimes all we want to hear is a simple, “I’m sorry”. As you wait for that apology, it’s sometimes healthy to remember that if you were in their shoes, you would have to admit that “sorry” does seem to be the hardest word.
Food for the journey
There is a powerful story in the Scriptures that speaks to the interplay between apology and reconciliation. It is the story of the Prodigal Son found in Luke’s Gospel (15:11-32).
Many of you will know this familiar story, but to summarise: A father has two sons. The younger one decides he has had enough, asks for his inheritance (not a good thing for a son to do in ancient Israel) and takes up a life of “reckless living”. Famine strikes, the money runs out and the young man is forced to eat the scraps of food given to the pigs. In desperation he realises the only choice he has is to return home. But how will he face his father? After some soul-searching he prepares the sorry words he will say to him: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”
The father barely lets his beloved son finish his words before he embraces him and puts on a feast to celebrate his homecoming. The prodigal son’s older brother was not so welcoming—but that’s a story for another day!
In this parable, Jesus helps us to understand that it does take courage to say “I am sorry”. The prodigal son had to reach a level of self-awareness about how his actions had not only hurt himself, but also hurt his father. He had to make the gutsy decision to return home in the fear that he would be rejected as his father’s son.
The father also had to be courageous. He probably knew that his older son would mock him for welcoming the younger son home. The servants probably thought he was crazy. But the father was not distracted by the sensitivities of his older son or the onlooking servants. Acting out of love, he instantly forgave the son. And thus, the process of reconciliation between the father and son could begin.
As Catholics we recognise that the father in this story is representative of God, our Father in heaven. As we deepen our understanding of this story of the prodigal son, we come to see that it is equally, if not more importantly, a story about our forgiving and loving God.
If you can, take the time to read this story in the Bible. Put yourself in the shoes of the son, the father and maybe even the older brother. Does it give you new insights into the importance of saying sorry and saying “I forgive you”?
 Luke 15:21
Going deeper: Pope Francis and saying sorry
Pope Francis spoke of three important phrases when he met the Catholic faithful in St Peter’s Square in May 2015: “may I”, “thank you” and “pardon me”. He acknowledged that “pardon me” is not “always easy to say, but it is so necessary”. We invite you to read the words of his short homily here. They are practical, they are wise and they are definitely necessary.
Words: Sharon Brewer
This article is part of Faith Journey, a newsletter from the National Centre for Evangelisation.