This month, we celebrate the feast of St. Mary Magdalene. There are many beautiful elements to her story, but the one that has struck me recently is Christ’s revelation: “She has loved much because she has been forgiven much” (Lk 7:47). How hopeful for each of us, who, like the Magdalene, have sinned much. It means that we, too, can “love much” — and, as St. John of the Cross teaches, in the evening of life, we will be judged on love.

Christ’s words indicate that sin does not have to spiral us away from God. If humbly acknowledged and repented, sin can, through the immense and transformative power of God, become a stepping stone to holiness for us. When we recognize the extent of our sinfulness, we recognize also the extent of God’s forgiveness, of the mercy He has poured out upon us. This recognition should deepen our love for Him.

Is this not the dynamic operative in true friendship? Despite their good intentions, friends do hurt one another. When I see and apologize for the hurt I have caused my friend, my friend forgives me, and my heart opens to a new depth of love. Thus the sin that caused a rift miraculously catalyzes a profounder union. This can also be true of our friendship with God.

In order for us to understand that we have been forgiven much, we must understand how much we have sinned. This process of growth in self-knowledge is painful and delicate, and God is gentle and slow in His divine education.

In order for us to understand that we have been forgiven much, we must understand how much we have sinned. This process of growth in self-knowledge is painful and delicate, and God is gentle and slow in His divine education. An immediate vision of the entire “desolate panorama” — as St. Josemaria Escriva put it — of our personal sins would overwhelm us. So God only gradually introduces us to the truth about ourselves, bit by bit. Yet each bit, difficult as it is, is a tremendous blessing.

We should beg God for the gift of self-knowledge. We should also ask those whom we trust to speak honestly with us about our failings. And whenever someone approaches us with a criticism, we should ask God’s help to receive it in a spirit of humility and gratitude. Even if the person’s analysis is largely unfounded, there is often some grain of truth in it, and others usually see us more clearly than we see ourselves.

The Holy Souls in Purgatory are powerful intercessors for us in this regard. When a person dies, his soul comes before God’s judgment seat and sees with great clarity all the ways in which he has offended against Love. The soul then desires the purification that will permit face-to-face vision of the God for whom he now longs with an indescribable longing. The Poor Souls know precisely how much they have been forgiven, and their love of Love is intense. We should ask their prayers to help us see the true gravity of our sins, so that we may avoid sin in the future and come to love the One who has forgiven us much.

Sr. Maria Veritas Marks is a member of the Ann Arbor-based Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.