Owning Our True Name

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM  April 5, 2019

Never too late. These are the words the Holy One whispers to us when we struggle with seeking forgiveness for burdens we carry from our past.

Many years ago, when I was working with candidates in the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation) program, we met every Sunday morning. After we greeted one another, we moved into a brief period of sharing what was unfolding in our lives. Then we offered aloud any intentions we wished our group to hold in prayer.peoplepraying copy

The very first time we gathered, we were sitting around a table when, one by one, the candidates uttered their intentions aloud. After several had shared, Vaughan spoke up. He solemnly cleared his throat, bowed his head, and intoned, “Father, you know I’m a miserable bastard…”

I thought I would fall off the edge of my chair at this unusual introduction! As weeks passed, however, I discovered that this is how Vaughan phrased his prayer and announced his intentions every week because this is exactly how Vaughan thought of himself—as a “miserable bastard.” He hinted vaguely at terrible acts he had done, at how he had wounded others, and most of all, at how he was certain his chances of ever being forgiven by God were slim to none at best.

And yet, I came to know Vaughan as a person who genuinely cared for the others in our group. As a person who was direct and deeply honest. As a person in anguish, trying to come to grips with his past and struggling to find a meaningful way forward in his present. And I easily imagined the unending compassion with which the Holy One viewed his desire for healing and wholeness.

As the year progressed, and through the support of this loving group and Vaughan’s dawning understanding of God’s unconditional love for him, he began to believe this also. Very gradually, notes of possibility and redemption and hope crept into his language. “Miserable bastard” was still in his vocabulary, but far less frequently.

In our relationships, our work, our everyday living, we sometimes meet people like Vaughan who carry crippling burdens of guilt or shame or regret over the past: an accident, a choice made in haste or impulse, an action taken in anger, a barrage of words fracturing a relationship. Perhaps we have been there ourselves. All those things from the past we wish had never happened, all those things we wish we could erase from present memory, all those things we don’t want to permanently define us.

Though we can’t change the past, we can, with God’s grace, change our attitude towards it. We can learn to accept and befriend our imperfectness and that of the entire world. We can open ourselves to the brokenness of others and deepen the womb-love of compassion in our own hearts. We can ask for forgiveness and pray to develop the eyesight of the Holy One, in whose worldview no one is beyond hope. No matter what. No exceptions.

We’re not far away from hearing the Passion account proclaimed during Holy Week, the sacred story that underscores the largeness of heart of which Love is capable. May we truly hear in that narrative the Holy One’s desire for the fullness of homecoming for each of us:Holy Week crosses copy

“Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

“This very day you will be with me in paradise.”

May these last weeks of Lent invite us to let go of any sense of naming ourselves a “miserable bastard” and holding on to the burdens of shame and regret from our past. May today and the days to come instead lead us to hold fast to our rightful title, the essence of who we really are: “beloved.” Now and forever.


Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
Reflect on a time in your past (or present) that might hold an element of shame or guilt or regret.
Tell the Holy One how you feel.
Ask for forgiveness and trust that it is given.
Look at yourself with the same tender compassion with which the Holy One gazes at you.
Linger in that sacred gaze, and give thanks.

Thank you for your prayer for all who were part of the Directed Prayer Weekend at the Jesuit Center in Wernersville, PA, March 29-31. 

Now may I ask you to hold in your prayer a presentation I’ll be offering for the Rosary Society of St. Mary’s Church, Manhasset, NY, April 7. 

In the days ahead, I wish you all the blessings of Holy Week and the new life of the Easter season. 

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8 thoughts on “Owning Our True Name”

  1. Thank you Chris I really get this at a personal level. My church family members are awesome!

  2. Chris,
    You are a wisdom figure for us. Thank you for your continued insights from your experiences.

    1. I’m very humbled, Lenore. Thank you for your comment. Of course you know that, when I write, I think about what I need to hear, where my own limitations and blessings are, and then I hope that will speak to someone else. Thanks again for your kindness.

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