Readings for the 24rd Sunday in Ordinary Time HERE.
Reflection Questions for the Homily:
1) What is it that I’m holding onto that I find difficult to forgive?
2) When was the last time someone extended forgiveness and mercy to me and how did that make me feel?
3) How did I feel when I chose forgiveness over anger and did I sense a closeness to Christ?
Full Homily Text:
One Saturday morning, a few years back, Dominic, our youngest, asked to borrow my cell phone so that he could play a game on it. A short while later, I asked Dominic for my phone back because I needed to place a call. Getting it back from him, I dialed the phone and the person picked up but when I started talking the person on the other end of the line couldn’t hear me. So, I called them back and still they couldn’t hear a word I said. Puzzled, I briefly inspected my phone and everything seemed fine. So, I decided to pop my phone out of its case. In doing so, I saw that both the case and the backside of my phone were pretty wet. So, I asked Dominic, “Why is my phone wet?” His innocently worded response was, “I was playing on your phone but then I had to go to the bathroom. So, I tucked your phone under my chin then it sort of fell in the toilet.”
Jesus says in today’s gospel not to forgive seven times but rather seventy-seven times. Well, Dominic cashed in a few forgiveness chips that morning.
The opportunities for us to show forgiveness throughout our lifetimes are quite plentiful. On that Saturday morning with Dominic all I needed to show forgiveness was a little patience, the understanding that he’s just a little kid, a whole lot of love, and if I’m being honest, kind of a lot of hand washing.
From this perspective, forgiveness came easy. I love Dominic and I didn’t want anything like resentment or anger to come between us.
The tough part comes when what it is that we have to forgive is far greater and much more painful than a water-logged phone. Instances of betrayal, abuse, racism, violence, or willful dishonesty are pretty tough to forgive. Experiencing hatred or being intentionally hurt by someone can put us in a place where extending forgiveness isn’t even a consideration. The wounds we bear that have come as a result of other people’s actions, intended or not, cause us to experience a pain which is not easily forgotten. The reality for many of us is forgiveness may very well be the single most difficult challenge we ever stare down.
The message behind today’s scripture passage is pretty simple. How can we expect God to forgive our transgressions if we are unwilling to show forgiveness? This message is simple to comprehend but not always easy to carry out. The reason Jesus repeatedly extols forgiveness rests in love. Love for ourselves and love for our neighbors. If we surrender to anger, resentment, or indignation then we afford little room for love. If we allow ourselves to be slaves to bitterness or contempt then our ability to experience happiness and peace and harmony is compromised. We all should strive to live a life of joy and purpose. An unwillingness to move towards forgiveness on our part creates an obstacle to such a life.
I said earlier that in order to show forgiveness to Dominic it all started with patience. Now, I am fully aware that some of you may be struggling with something far greater than a damaged phone; I get that. However, the formula to steer your way towards forgiveness works in roughly the same way. Be patient with yourself because forgiveness is a process. It would be absurd to imagine that we could quickly or immediately forgive someone or even ourselves for any transgression especially if it’s particularly serious or painful. Forgiveness takes time. Time to take a breath. We have to allow ourselves the time and space to process things. Time to rest in prayer and reflection. Time to ask God to help show us the way.
And just as I had to embrace that Dominic was just a little kid, we have to remember there are so many of us that are damaged. The reality remains that we never truly know the life experiences some folks have had to suffer through. Those who have been hurt oftentimes continue this cycle and end up hurting others. This is awful. But to be truly like Jesus, we would need to look beyond our own pain with the intent of expressing compassion and mercy to others. I can tell you I’m not there yet but I am working on it.
Then remember that it is all about love. Love yourself enough to not be imprisoned by anger and resentment and bitterness. These emotions are cruel wardens that do not welcome joy and peace.
The love I have for my kids creates for me a glimpse into the love God has for me. And just as I didn’t want anything between me and Dominic, God desires a closeness with us that is not encumbered. Holding onto past hurts and not moving towards forgiveness creates an obstacle to experiencing Christ. Remember, Jesus is always present in the response. When we forgive, we are listening to Christ’s presence within us prompting us to take action. Forgiveness means we are working together with Jesus to experience love. The closeness we all desire to God is realized when we work in concert with him.
The ultimate act of love, forgiveness, and sacrifice was modeled by Jesus. Our receiving of the Eucharist recalls his sacrifice and brings to life our oneness with Christ. However, during this time when so many have been deprived of communion, let’s remember that through forgiveness and sacrifice we can experience that same oneness with Jesus because we are responding with love.