Thursday, June 18, 2009

Forgiveness is the heart

Jesus said to his disciples:"In praying, do not babble like the pagans,who think that they will be heard because of their many words.Do not be like them.Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

"This is how you are to pray:

'Our Father who art in heaven,hallowed be thy name,thy Kingdom come,thy will be done,on earth as it is in heaven.Give us this day our daily bread;and forgive us our trespasses,as we forgive those who trespass against us;and lead us not into temptation,but deliver us from evil.'
"If you forgive others their transgressions,your heavenly Father will forgive you.But if you do not forgive others,neither will your Father forgive your transgressions."


Today’s passage from Matthew actually fits right into the middle of the passage we had yesterday – Jesus’ reminder not to perform righteous deeds so that others will see them. Yesterday’s passage was all about what we shouldn’t do – and the heart of it was that we shouldn’t put on a show merely for others to see.

Today brings back the verses that were skipped yesterday, the ones that tell us not merely what we are not to do, but more positively what we are to do – we are to pray; and in that command, Jesus gives us what is today perhaps the most prayed words in Christendom – the Our Father or the Lord’s Prayer.

We talk about this prayer a lot – naturally. We talk about the relational nature of referring to God so lovingly as Father; the meaning of the Kingdom; the submission to God’s will; His goodness to us in providing for our needs “give us this day”; and so on. But, we all know that there is one part of this prayer that is harder than all the rest – “forgive us as we forgive others.”

We can so often be a people who struggle with forgiveness choosing to treasure our grudges and our wounds instead – sometimes for years, even decades. But, forgiveness is the heart. It is the heart of this prayer. Forgiveness is the heart of our faith. Forgiveness is the heart of Francis and it is of necessity the heart of our fraternity – the very center of our life together as brothers. If we want our fraternities to flourish, to grow, to be places of prayer and love – they must have forgiveness at the core. In fact, this might just be the Franciscan “key” or “style” that we talk about – living as brothers who radically forgive.

I think Francis enlightens this point best in his Letter to A Minister where he writes to an unknown Provincial Minister who was having difficulty with the brothers and who desired to retire to a hermitage rather than continue in such a demanding ministry. Now, I’m certain that none of you can relate to the experience of that unknown Provincial Minister…but, this letter is for you. Indulge me as I share an extended quote. Our Holy Father wrote to that Provincial:

“I speak to you, as I can, concerning the state of your soul. You should accept as a grace all those things which deter you from loving the Lord God and whoever has become an impediment to you, whether they are brothers or others, even if they lay hands on you.

And you should desire that things be this way and not otherwise. And let this be an expression of true obedience to the Lord God and to me, for I know full well that this is true obedience. And love those who do these things to you. And do not expect anything different from them, unless it is something which the Lord shall have given to you. And love them in this and do not wish that they be better Christians. And let this be more valuable to you than a hermitage.

And by this I wish to know if you love the Lord God and me, his servant and yours if you have acted in this manner: that is, there should not be any brother in the world who has sinned, however much he may have possibly sinned, who, after he has looked into your eyes, would go away without having received your mercy, if he is looking for mercy. And if he were not to seek mercy, you should ask him if he wants mercy. And if he should sin thereafter a thousand times before your very eyes, love him more than me so that you may draw him back to the Lord. Always be merciful to brothers such as these. And announce this to the guardians, as you can, that on your part you are resolved to act in this way.”

Francis even added, “Keep this writing with you until the Chapter of Pentecost that it may be better observed, when you will be there with your brothers.”

Francis knew what Jesus knew – forgiveness is liberating. It can free us from anger; it can free us from the need to change others; it can free us from the dissatisfaction with the way things are and free us to be open to the presence of God even in the midst of difficulty.

Forgiveness is joyful. Forgiveness is the freedom to be the person that God has created each of us to be – an image and a likeness of the unconditional love that God has for each of us, unimpeded by the faults and failing of ourselves and of one another.

Jesus says, “Do not be like them,” who do not forgive, instead “forgive as you are forgiven.” This, my brothers, is the heart of who we are as Christians and as followers of Il Poverello. This is the greatest freedom we can live. This is the Kingdom we have waited for.

And so let us pledge at this Chapter of Pentecost to keep this forgiveness in our hearts so that each of us may live it better in our lives together as brothers.

May the Lord give you peace.

(My homily today during Mass at the General Chapter)

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