Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Homily on Forgiveness - Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel reading from Matthew 18:21-35
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. That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. ...

Today’s reading is one where I think just about anyone can identify with the story. Peter comes up to Jesus and says: How many times must I forgive that brother of mine?

Ever thought that yourself?

Ever thought how many times must I overlook – and forgive – my sister ... my brother ... my husband ... my father ... my kids ...?  How many times must I forgive my boss for being a total jerk; or my parent for not saying they love me?

That is a question we all can identify with ... right?

It just seems like some people know how to get under our skin. They just know how to really inflict pain on us. Maybe someone has done something we feel is just simply unforgivable; or someone is so neglectful and selfish our feelings are hurt all the time.

The answer Jesus gave Peter that day is most unsatisfactory. He basically says, you must forgive them every time. We have to forgive them – every time!

Then He tells Peter a story about forgiveness.  A servant who owes his Master a fortune – begs for forgiveness and gets it. Then turns around and is totally heartless to someone who owes him a lot less.

This story is important. Because it tells us what Jesus becoming a man is all about. You see Jesus came to give his life for us to gain God’s forgiveness for ... all our mistakes ... all our sins ... all our offenses.  Jesus’ life is one gigantic – “I forgive you for everything” – to each of us from God. So if we go out like the servant in the parable whose debt was forgiven, and not forgive those who offend us, we are just like that wicked servant. Jesus is saying to each one of us today – unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart, you aren’t worthy of my Father’s forgiveness.

Over and over, Jesus says the same thing in the bible. He once said, “The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.”  He said, “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you.” Which has been called the Golden Rule. In the only prayer Jesus ever gave us, The Our Father, he said, “Forgive us our trespasses – as – we forgive others.”  Forgiveness is the fundamental principle of being a Christian.  

How are you doing with that?                                                                                                    
Does anyone come to mind that you need to forgive?

I recently heard the story of a young man that relates to our Gospel today. He was speaking about a life altering moment in his life. He said: One day a seven-year-old boy was riding in the back seat of the family car. He was sitting between his two brothers. Their mother was driving. On this day their mother was feeling especially distraught over having been recently abandoned by their father. Suddenly, in a fit of anger, she spun around and struck the seven-year-old a blow across the face. Then she yelled at him:

And you! I never wanted you. 
The only reason I had you
was to keep your father.
But then he left anyway.

I hate you.

That scene branded itself on the boy’s memory. Over the years his mother reinforced her feelings toward him by constantly finding fault with him. Years later the young man said: I can’t tell you how many times in the last twenty-three years I relived that experience. Probably thousands.

Then he added: But recently I put myself in my mother’s shoes. Here she was, a high school graduate with no money, no job, and a family to support. I realized how lonely and depressed she must have felt. I thought of the anger and the pain that must have been there. And I thought of how much I reminded her of the failure of her young hopes. And so one day I decided to visit her and talk to her. I told her that I understood her feelings and that I loved her just the same. She broke down and we wept in each other’s arms for what seemed to be hours. It was the beginning of a new life for me, for her—for us. This story is a beautiful illustration of the healing power of forgiveness.

To use the words of Shakespeare, forgiveness is “twice blest.” 
It blesses the one who forgives and the one who is forgiven.

Let’s see how it does this. First, forgiveness blesses the one who forgives. Take the young man in the story. He says that when he forgave his mother, it was the beginning of a new life for him. Time after time, we hear other people say the same thing after they have forgiven someone. For example, a young woman who forgave her father, after they had not spoken for seven years, said of the experience: It was like being released from prison. I was free and happy for the first time in seven years. 

The young man said his forgiveness of his mother blessed her in an amazing way: It literally healed her. She was transformed from someone who was so bitter that she told her son, “I hate you and never wanted you” to someone who told him “I love you and want you with all my heart.”
Time after time we hear of people who have been transformed when someone has forgiven them.
So what do we do when we find that we can’t forgive someone?  What do we do to get rid of the emotional block that keeps us from forgiving?

The answer lies again in the story of the young man. His perception of her changed.  He no longer saw her as a terrible person who said a terrible thing to a little boy. He saw her as a women in pain.
Today’s gospel invites us to take inventory of our relationships with others, especially members of our own family. It invites us to ask ourselves if any of these relationships need to be improved upon. 

We all have someone we need to forgive ... let’s all do that this week.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Would Jesus be a Catholic?

Jesus was a radical who challenged the religious establishment of his culture. Would he be different now?  Would he acquiesce to the pressure to comply with the traditional teachings of the Church? Or, would Jesus call her to task for not acting like Him?

Christianity has been so successful that now it’s passé. People reject it because it is now the establishment rather than the radical.  Is it any wonder why so many of us are asking, ‘What happened to Christianity?”  We feel as if our founder has been kidnapped.

Western culture is rapidly become more secular, with the “nones” — the religiously non-affiliated, including atheists as well as those who feel spiritual but don’t identify with a particular religion — accounting for almost one-fourth of Americans today. And, they are rapidly rising: among millennials, more than one-third are nones.

Maybe it’s time to let go of the over regulated practice of our beliefs and rediscover Jesus’ radically generous way of life.  A life rooted in contemplation and expressed in compassion!  Maybe it’s time to re-establish Christianity as a compassionate, loving way of life rather than a legalistic religion. Is it time to focus on the moral vision of Jesus for the world rather than rules and rubrics?

Many who are falling away from Christianity do so because they struggle with science verse the miraculous.  To attract them to the message of Jesus maybe we need to worry less about whether biblical miracles are literal and begin to teach more about their meaning.  When it is said that Jesus healed a leper, let’s put aside the question of whether this happened for now and focus on his outreach to the most stigmatized of outcasts. How would Jesus treat the LGBTQ community were he here today?

It's time to begin tackling the human needs around us and make this a better world; surely Jesus would applaud us if we did. Those who run soup kitchens and homeless shelters should be our leaders, not the ones in fancy clothes in big diocesan offices. We should be looking to the Catholic missionary doctor in Sudan treating bomb victims for leadership. Then we would have leaders like Christ.