Step Nine – Make direct amends to fellow writers, publishers, illustrators, family or readers that I may have harmed wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
During our last step, I asked you to make a list of all those you may have harmed or sinned against with your work, writing or writing career. It isn’t an easy thing to do. None of us want to admit that we may have harmed or sinned against another. Sometimes the sin we commit has become so much a part of our sin pattern or personality that we don’t even recognize it as a harm. I hope you took time in prayer to discover things done, said or undone that may have hurt others. All too often it is easy to hold grudges and grievances of wrongs that people do to us while forgetting the sins we have committed against others.
Now comes one of the hardest steps. We need to make reparation for the things we have done. It is one thing to go to confession and ask for forgiveness for a sin. If it is a venial sin, the penance may be just a prayer, service or alms-giving. However, if we go to the priest and confess that we robbed our mother’s purse and stole $1000 out of her wallet, we cannot receive forgiveness unless we make restitution. We would have to return the money and confess to our mother the harm we had done to her. I think that the easy part is returning the money. Left to my own conscience, I would slip the money back into her wallet and consider my part done. The hard part is letting my mother know that I am a thief. That I placed my own needs above hers. However, true reparation requires that I humble myself, admit my wrong and ask for forgiveness.
“Satisfaction – Many sins wrong our neighbor. One must do what is possible in order repair the harm (e.g. return stolen goods, restore the reputation of someone slandered, pay compensation for injuries). Simple justice requires as much. But sin also injures and weakens the sinner himself, as well as his relationships with God and neighbor. Absolution takes away sin, but it does not remedy all the disorders sin has caused. Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin: he must ‘make satisfaction for’ or ‘expiate’ his sins.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2468, 1459)
This is the moment to look at your list and decide what you should do to make reparation for your past. It may be as simple as writing that review you promised or making that call you said you would. However, if you slandered someone you are required to go to them and let them know what you did, ask forgiveness and then make moves to restore their reputation. This is not an easy process. There are times when you will lose a friend or not be forgiven. Whether the person forgives you or not is none of your business. They have their own spirituality. Your spiritually demands that you live in truth.
If you plagiarized another writer or even stole a casual idea, you need to go to that person and confess, ask forgiveness and possibly face financial restitution. Maybe you discouraged another writer. Ask forgiveness and then resolve to give that person who may be struggling encouragement and help.
None of this is easy. It is easier to try to forget or hide – trying to save our own reputations. However, the only relationship that really counts is our relationship with God and with our own conscience.
Most of the reparations we need to make will not be as harsh. Again the hardest part is admitting our wrongs to those we have sinned against. Many of those are people we don’t care for, which is the basis for the sin to begin with. It doesn’t matter. Our own soul requires we mend the tears we have made. I have even had to make restitution with writers who have passed on. How? A Mass said, a letter written and prayed, a gift to the family left behind. Our souls are eternal and even death cannot destroy the need for justice.
The funny thing is the way this step makes us feel. We lighten our burden. We free ourselves from guilt and worry. And we find it especially hard to commit that harm ever again. We may lose friends, but can also find friends we never expected. The biggest benefit is becoming friends with Jesus, and yourself.
There is one precaution. As the step says, we can never ‘unburden’ ourselves if to do so would harm the other person or others. For example: To confess to someone’s wife that you had an affair with their husband may make you feel great, but it would harm the wife and possibly destroy the family. You cannot resolve wrong by creating another. However, be careful that you don’t use this as an excuse not to tell the truth or to ask for forgiveness when it is appropriate.
Take your list and have courage. The courage of Christ will make you the spiritual writer, person and soul you were meant to be. We will explore more on this subject in our next post.