Saturday, September 16, 2017

Called to forgiveness







HOMILY FOR THE 24th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 17, 2017:

“Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight. Forgive your neighbor's injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.” “Peter approached Jesus and asked him, ‘Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.’”

I am regularly in awe at the way that the Holy Mass has a way of speaking to exact moments in history. Earlier this week, for example, we commemorated the attack on our nation that took place 16 years go; events that changed our world and changed our lives. Looking back on that day, we ask, “How have we changed since then?”

To answer that, let’s think about the way that God speaks to us through the Mass. My most poignant memories of September 11th are celebrating Mass in the days immediately following. So, what did God say to us in those days? Two days later, the Gospel at Mass was, “Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.” We also heard that day from St. Paul who wrote, “Christ’s peace must reign in your hearts, since as members of the one body, you have been called to that peace.”

The day after that we marked the feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross and the next day was Our Lady of Sorrows. These were not mere coincidence, instead, they are what God always does for us – He reminds us of who He is and He reminds us of who we are in His sight – especially at the most critical moments.

So, who are we? First, God said, “Love your enemies?” Those words may have never been harder to hear than on that day, but God wanted us to remember something very simple, “Do not hate them.” Do not let hatred push the love and the peace of Christ out of our hearts. When that happens Evil prevails in us. And so, do not hate them. C.S. Lewis put it this way, “To be a Christian is to forgive even the inexcusable, because God has already forgiven it in us.”

And God is speaking powerfully to us again today in our liturgy. We heard God say that “wrath and anger are hateful things” and that each of us who follow Him are called to forgive “seventy-seven times” an analogy that means that we are called to forgive infinitely, always, everywhere. These again seem like timely words as our world is once again afraid – afraid of terror, afraid of those different from us, afraid of the immigrant and the refugee; afraid of many things. Into the midst of this fear, God speaks His calming words of love and peace, in the hopes that these will take root in our hearts; and define who we are as God’s people.

Like the ungrateful servant in the parable, we focus on the small amount our neighbor owes us rather than the huge amount we owe to God, a debt which God has graciously cancelled through Christ. Think about this parable. In the old translation of this Gospel, the monetary amounts were specified. The servant refused to forgive a debt of 100 denarii, the modern equivalent of about $700. But the master forgave a debt of 10,000 talents that his servant owed him – the modern equivalent would be more than $7 billion. Clearly, Jesus was making a point that this is a debt that could never be repaid. And yet, the master forgave it. This is a symbol of the debt we owe God; a debt we likewise could never ever hope to repay. Yet God in his infinite mercy sent Jesus to forgive our sins. And all He asks of us is to be grateful; to realize that He has done for us so much more for us than we could ever be required to do for our neighbor. He asks us to offer that same forgiveness to others, willingly.

Through the terrible events in our country 16 years ago, God reminded us that He is with us; that He is one of us. The French poet Paul Claudel said, “Jesus did not come to explain away suffering or to remove it. He came to fill it with His presence.” In the days, weeks and years that have followed, God has continually remained near to those who suffer, comforting those who are in pain, consoling those who grieve, forgiving those in need of mercy, speaking to the hearts of all His message of love and peace and comfort and healing; offering to us, His children, another way – the way of peace, a way that rejects the hatred of one against the other, a way that opens our eyes to see each other as brother and sister and friend. 

We need only look at our risen Lord and the wounds Thomas asked to touch. We don’t think about this often, but Jesus took His wounds with Him to eternity. He is a wounded God, sharing in our infirmities, carrying our brokenness with Him forever. He let Himself be injured because He loves us. These wounds of His: how real they were 16 years ago; and how real they are to us today.

So, have we changed? I don’t know. But, I dearly hope and pray that every day we become more fully who God calls us to be; that we are more clearly a people who believe in justice and compassion; in love and kindness; in forgiveness and mercy and prayer. And, that we are more keenly aware than ever that our God is close to us, comforting us, sheltering our pain in His wounds and giving us the hope that tomorrow will be a better day; a day bursting forth with new life.

My friends, “Christ’s peace must reign in your hearts, since as members of the one body, you have been called to that peace.”

May the Lord give you peace.

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