Today’s reflection is for the Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary time, September 13, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here.
Sirach tells us today, “Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight.” In the course of my job as the AP at Crowell Elementary School, and even when I was the Dean at the Junior High, I would often get students in my office who had said hurtful things, were angry with each other, and who may even had been in a physical fight.
As the students enter my office, I make sure that they are going to be okay in the same room together, and I sit them in separate corners, not far apart. Then I find out what’s going on and how this all started. With eyebrows low one refuses to talk, and the other almost always says, “Well, we used to be friends but…” As the student tells his or her story, I interrupt to make sure I understand, ask questions of each of the participants, and act as though this is the first such instance that has come into my office.
Buffoonery is a big part of this experience too. As they share I act the fool–stuffing chips in my mouth, being silly, exaggerate parts of their story and the like. In short-time both former friends are laughing with each other, they notice how hard, unforgiving, and unloving they had become, and they both acknowledge their share in the problem that eventually ended up in my office.
As they smile and laugh I invite them to apologize for the wrongs they have done, and to forgive each other from the heart–they do. I invite them to see how much better it feels to laugh and smile than to be angry and hate. I tell them that humans are not made for anger and hatred, but love and unity. That’s why it feels so good to laugh and forgive, to love and to be loved. I invite them to stop hugging tightly to wrath and anger and hateful things, and to forgive their neighbor’s injustice. They don’t know that they’re following the teachings of Scripture, but they do experience life, love, and communion with God and neighbor that we’re made for.
Sadly, adults are not different than children and are much better at justifying our anger, holding grudges, and refusing to forgive. Maybe because adults are much stronger (willed) than children, we hug more tightly, but in the end, the truth is the same–if we want to experience life and love, unity and peace, we’ve got to forgive our brothers and sisters from the heart. We will not find forgiveness and peace if we are not willing to grant forgiveness and make peace.
In my experience, an unwillingness to forgive usually stems from pride. We have been mistreated or maligned in some way and we are hurt. Our dignity has been impounded and we’re not going to let others treat us in this way. But the problem is that holding onto the anger adds to the mistreatment, our own self-inflicted pain, anxiety, and suffering. Like a cow chews the cud, we continue to chew on the pain, burp it up again and again, never swallowing it and never letting it rest. As Sirach says, “Remember your last days, set enmity aside; remember death and decay, and cease from sin!” We must forgive to find peace.
Peter asks Jesus, “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. Seven is the number of perfection in Scripture. Peter offers to forgive what seems perfect. Jesus invites him to forgive perfectly…to perfection. It isn’t about the other person at all, actually. They are perfectly forgiven, but our forgiveness doesn’t make them perfect, it makes us perfectly perfect.
We find peace, life, love, and levity when we forgive. God died to forgive sins, and when we forgive we die to ourselves and live like him, with him, and for him. As St. Paul says, “Whether we live or die we are the Lord’s.” It is not easy to forgive, and some people just never seem to stop needing forgiveness!
But if we remember that we too seek forgiveness from God and God never tires of forgiving us. And Jesus died to forgive my sins and is only asking me to be willing to forgive others in return. And that forgiveness doesn’t necessarily change others but it does change me. And that the only goal I have in my life is to be more like Jesus and this is an opportunity to do it. Then I might actually look forward to opportunities to be merciful and forgiving of others; opportunities to be like God.
As I live out each day, I might be far more willing to forgive, to show mercy and kindness to the worst of sinners, and even to sacrifice my own will and die to myself so that others might live. Sound familiar? Let’s try to be more like Jesus by forgiving others from the heart this week. Amen?
A reminder that on the 19th of this month, I and six other candidates will be ordained to the Permanent Diaconate. The ordination will be live-streamed and put up on the Diocese of Stockton YouTube page and Facebook page. Below are the links for both.
Also, on the 19th after my ordination, I will launch my new website, www.thecatholicdeacon.com. I’ll be posting there in the future so you’ll want to check that out next week when it launches and add your email to follow my posts.