March 21, 2012

'Sorry' seems to be the hardest word

By Anthony Buono *

The association to being a Christian and a Catholic comes with a great personal responsibility. It is no doubt an expectation of those who know us to be a Christian that we act like one. This is a natural expectation.

People seem to lose the focus about what they expect from a Christian when it comes to forgiveness and mercy.  It’s more important that the Christian is expected to show mercy rather than they not commit sin.  To sin is human, but to forgive is Godly.  Jesus clearly prioritizes forgiveness in the Lord’s prayer: “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”.

Forgive me, but only in the measure that I forgive.  That is what Jesus taught us to pray.

Rather than focus here on the forgiver, I want to focus on the forgivee; the person who is seeking the forgiveness of Christ through the person they have offended. It’s a terrible thing for a person to “assume” they will be forgiven just because the person you’ve offended is a Christian. It may very well be that a Christian is expected to forgive, but YOU are expected to be truly sorry for what you have done.

As we continue in Lent and the spirit of fasting, it would be nice if we could see many people fasting from the empty apologies, or for those who find it hard to ask forgiveness to fast from the pride that keeps them from saying “I’m sorry” when it is called for.

First, there are those who constantly say they’re sorry. Perhaps they continue to do the same thing over and over, expecting the person they’ve repeatedly offended be there with, “That’s okay” after saying “sorry.” They have developed a way of life where doing things that upset someone is normal, and the forgiveness by that person expected. There is no end to this cycle of offenses because the person forgiving wants to forgive and move on, but the offender is not truly sorry.

When we’ve hurt someone, we need to be repair that damage. We need to feel sorrow and feel determined not to repeat our mistake.  We then need to confess what we’ve done, and make up for it. The fundamental penance is to change and make things better than they were.

In order for someone to take you seriously about your apology, the words must be backed up with action.

This is how we raise our children. You hit your brother? Say you’re sorry and give him a hug.

Perhaps the constant saying of “I’m sorry” is by one who finds the word “sorry” to be meaningless by also saying it for every little thing that happens that has no need of an apology. This is the overly polite sorrow.  You grab for the salt at the same time someone else goes for it and you say “Oh, I’m sorry, go ahead.” You come out of the mall with a friend toward your car and it’s raining and you say “Gosh, I’m sorry about this.”

You’re sorry.  Are you really sorry? For reaching for the salt? For making your friend walk to the car in the rain?  This is an abuse of the word sorry. I realize every one of us do it. But it is worth taking the time to observe ourselves and realize just how often we say “I’m sorry,” when there is nothing at all to be sorry for. It’s important because you want to be a person who when you say “I’m sorry,” you mean it.

Then there is the person who doesn’t say “I’m sorry.” As many times as they do something that warrants an apology, they will not. Whether they are purposely not saying it or have just developed the habit of not saying it, the result of refraining from saying “I’m sorry” has the same affect.  Even if you ARE sorry and act accordingly, it’s very important to work on saying the words.  It matters.

It’s better to have someone who takes action to repent but not apologize than someone who says they’re sorry but never makes the necessary changes.  But if you are a person who does not say the words, then you have to get in the habit of doing so.  It matters to the person you have offended to experience both the words “I’m sorry” and the actions to repent. Sincere apologies are an important vehicle for building trust.

Start now, today, examining your life in the “I’m sorry” department. How often or little do you say it?  When you do say it, do you mean it?  What is your track record of proving your sorrow after telling someone you are sorry?  How can someone know you are sorry?

This has to with sincerity.  Are you a sincere person?  Can your “I’m sorry” be trusted?  Ponder this and how this applies to your own life.

Sincere apologies, an effort toward reparation, and sincere forgiveness builds trust. Trust creates the foundation of true love.

Trust in relationships is not about an absolute arrival at trustworthiness, is about the building and rebuilding of trust via humility and acts of forgiveness. No one is perfect, and becoming a truly sincere person of sorrow takes time and practice.

We must always work on maintaining our trustworthiness. Apologizing with true contrition and a spirit of reparation is a gesture of restoring or proving how trustworthy we are.

Anthony Buono is the founder of For thousands of Catholic singles, Anthony offers guidance, humor, understanding, and practical relationship advice.  Visit his blog at

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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