Saturday, June 12, 2010

"To forgive, Divine."


One Saturday afternoon, a group of boys went to confession. This, in itself, was unusual, but more unusual was what the boys confessed. One by one, each of them ended their confession the same way, “I threw peanuts in the river.” The priest thought, if that is a sin, it really is a strange one. The last to come in was the smallest boy of the group. The priest, of course, expected to hear from him the same sin he heard from the others, but the boy didn’t mention it. So the priest asked, “Is that all? Have you not forgotten something?” The boy said, “No, Father.” “But,” the priest insisted, “how about throwing peanuts in the river?” The boy replied, “Father, I am Peanuts!”

My friends, we are reminded today that we are all sinners. Nobody is immune from sin, not even the greatest and holiest men and women. In our first reading, we hear of the grave sin of the great Kind David. Despite literally having it all, he still lusted for Bathsheba, and in order to have her for himself, he arranged for the death of her husband, Uriah, by sending him to the front lines of battle. The king’s sin of adultery was compounded with the sin and crime of murder. And yet, David remained oblivious to the gravity of his sins; blinded by his own power. So God sent him the prophet Nathan to shake him out of his spiritual malaise and moral numbness. Only then did he repent and asked God for pardon.

And, in our Gospel today, we hear of a woman who lived in sin for far too long; likely a prostitute. Fortunately, she had a personal encounter with the merciful and forgiving heart of Jesus. That unique experience opened her eyes and led her to a profound conversion. Infinitely grateful for the forgiveness granted her by Jesus, she went to see Him at dinner in the Pharisee’s house and tearfully showered Him with her sincere acts of gratitude and love. Both King David and the woman of ill repute were sinners. But they were made aware of and had sincere sorrow for their sins. And so, they received forgiveness from God.

How different this is from our own typical experience. In our world today, confessionals are among the loneliest places in the world as we tend to be a people who either justify even our grave sins, or worse yet, are completely unaware of our sinfulness and the need to seek God’s gracious forgiveness. Perhaps the greatest spiritual danger facing us today is not the fact that we fall into sin; but rather, that we lose the sense of sin, that we become insensitive to sin. Then we do not realize the need to ask forgiveness, and therefore remain unrepentant and unforgiven.

Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, on one occasion, granted permission to a Russian prince to visit a French prison and pardon one criminal of his choice. The prince interviewed the prisoners, and every one claimed innocence of the crime they were accused of. Finally he found one who, with sincere sorrow, confessed his guilt and acknowledged himself deserving of the punishment. To him, the prince said, “Today, I have brought you pardon. In the name of the Emperor, I pronounce you a free man.” The man was released, but the rest were not, because they did not ask forgiveness. There is a Japanese saying, “Forgiving the one who is not sorry, is like drawing pictures on water.”

This is exactly what is happening with Simon the Pharisee in the Gospel today. He invited Jesus for dinner in his house. From his behavior, it’s obvious that his invitation wasn’t out of respect for Jesus. Rather, he was looking for an opportunity to have something against Jesus. This explains the awful treatment he gave to our Lord. He did not fulfill the basic requirements of hospitality: he did not greet Jesus with the traditional welcome; he didn’t offer Him water to wash His feet; he didn’t pour perfumed oil on His forehead. But worse than all of this, he was so proud and self-righteous that he did not see his own sinfulness and unworthiness. All he saw was the sin of the woman, the seeming scandal of having her touch Jesus, and the excessive waste of the costly oil. He was swift to judge and condemn others, but he was blind to his own sins.

How often are we just like Simon the Pharisee? We can be very quick to begin judging and condemning one another. We live in a world of violence and war precisely because we refuse to end the vicious circle of revenge and retaliation. There is only one way to achieve peace – and that is through forgiveness. There is an African proverb that says, “He who forgives ends the quarrel.” We all know families that are shattered, relationships that are broken, and hearts that remain wounded due to an unwillingness to forgive. If God forgives us time and again without fail, why are we so stingy when it comes to forgiving and giving a fresh chance to a loved one who failed us? What has happened to the saying “To err is human, to forgive is divine”? The world becomes smaller everyday, not because of the marvels of technology and communications, but because we lose friends and gain more enemies. Our minds are troubled, our blood pressure shoots up and our hearts palpitate because of our resentments, anger and vengeful desires.

Jesus offers us another way; the way that leads to happiness and peace – the way of forgiveness. That is why He is always ready to forgive us. But there are two conditions to receive his forgiveness: first, we must humbly admit our sins and then we must ask for forgiveness. The Sacrament of Penance is the way that He left us to accomplish this peace. God does not forgive us when we are too proud and self-righteous to ask for it. And second, we must be willing and ready to forgive others. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us,” we pray. Doing this not only makes us disposed to receive God’s forgiveness, but it also transforms us into His instruments for peace in the world. We will then be numbered among the peacemakers who are blessed, for “theirs is the kingdom of God.”

As we hear in the Prayer of St. Francis, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy; O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.”

“Lord, forgive the wrong we have done,” and teach us to forgive one another.

May God give you peace.

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