Sunday, September 11, 2011

Forgiveness

Psalm 103:1-4, 9-12
Romans 14:7-9
Matthew 18:21-35

I know I shouldn’t be, but sometimes I am just amazed at the reality that God is constantly watching over us and attentive to us. I hope that all of you can see times in your personal life and in the world around us where you simply pause and think “Only God could do such a thing.” When I first looked at our readings for this the 10th Anniversary of the September 11th attacks, which claimed over 3000 lives and sparked a conflict in the Middle East which continues to claim more as the days pass, I couldn’t help but sit in awe. These readings were not specially chosen for this day; these are the regular Sunday readings chosen years ago when the Lectionary was put together. And yet today they stand as the voice of God reminding us that on this day which can spark so much anger in our hearts, we are called to forgiveness, mercy and healing.

While our readings are especially pertinent to the event we remember especially today, we know also that they are not limited that event but rather must permeate our entire lives, our entire being. Every weekend we come to Mass and hear the readings and we hear the gospel proclaimed about all sorts of stories, but in the end we simply come here every weekend to hear one message over and over: turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel. And the core of that Gospel is a story of forgiveness; God loves us so much that the Second Person of the Trinity took on flesh so that He might die on the cross and be forgiven for our sins, our offenses against the Lord, and be able to enter into eternal life.

As we listen to the parable the Lord speaks to us, note the little detail that the wicked servant had ‘no way of paying’ the debt that he owed to the king. Is this not our own case? Psalm 49 teaches us that no man can pay the ransom to God for his own life; the price is too high for us to atone for our own sins. Only Our Lord is able to pay the cost, and He did just that as He offered Himself for us on the Cross at Calvary. But just because Christ died for our sins doesn’t mean that we automatically go to Heaven. We have to do our part as well because the forgiveness that we receive is really contingent upon our own ability to forgive. We all know the phrase ‘be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it.’ Well, I would say that we need to be mindful of that in our prayers as well, because we tell the Lord in every Mass and most popular devotions to ‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.’ As we forgive, so we are forgiven.

But does it mean to forgive? To forgive someone doesn’t mean that we forget what happened. It doesn’t mean that we don’t still feel the wounds or pain from what was said or done. It doesn’t mean that we are just over it and have moved on. It’s a choice to look at the wrong someone has done to us and know you don’t hold it against them. The willingness to forgive is a sign to the world that “love is stronger than sin”. Forgiving someone, then, is not a feeling we experience so much as it is a choice that we must make. Whether the person is sorry or not, whether they apologize or not, and whether they forgive us or not, the challenge to each of us is to love them as Christ loved us and to forgive them even though they might – and probably will – sin against us or hurt us again in the future.

Now you know as well as I do that forgiving someone who hurt you deeply and asking forgiveness for hurting others in the same way can be a very difficult experience. But remember again that forgiving is not forgetting; it is simply choosing to love that person rather than wish ill upon them. And that is not something that we do of ourselves but rather God does it in us. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “It is not in our power not to feel or to forget an offense; but the heart that offers itself to the Holy Spirit turns injury into compassion and purifies the memory in transforming the hurt into intercession.”  (2843) It is the Holy Spirit working in us that allows us to truly forgive from the depths of our hearts as the Lord calls us to do today. Let us now pause and invite the Spirit to work in us to show us those we need to forgive and help us with His grace to forgive them.