17 September 201724 Ordinary Time

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
24 Ordinary Time

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time - A Cycle - Matthew 18:21-35

A man was told that his brother had died. He said amidst tears, "Damn, I was just ready to forgive him."

Were I to play Question Man and ask what the most common sin is, most would answer, "Sexual sins." They would be wrong. The omnipresent sin of many is refusing to forgive others. Yet, the obligation to forgive is mentioned more times in the Scriptures than purity - 108 times. We must be grateful to Peter for pushing the envelope today. His question to Jesus caused Him to discuss material He was not planning to. The Parable of Forgiveness is an example. Without Peter, we would have one parable less. (William Barclay) "If my brother strikes me," says Peter, "I'll forgive him seven times." He expected Jesus to say, "Bravo, Rocky. You're a real sport." Instead Christ is ticked off.

A commentary points out the Parable of Forgiveness is a three act play. The first act's theme is mercy. The servant owes millions of dollars to the king - a king's ransom. He begs his king for more time. His Majesty puts the IOU in the shredder. Noblesse oblige, The servant weeps with thanks. The first act is done.

The second act's theme is cruelty. The forgiven servant meets a friend who owes him chump change. "Gimmeabreak," the friend pleads. The forgiven man grabs him by the throat. He throws him into debtor's prison. No shredder for him. No noblesse oblige.

He demands a standard he can't observe himself. We are here discussing a common weakness. One author puts the case this way. "I can see your faults clearly, but I can't see mine. If I tell you off, I level with you. If you lay me out, you're out of order. If I say no to your request, I show good judgment. If you say no to me, you're wrong. If you ask me for a dollar and I say no, I make you self-reliant. But if you refuse me, you're cheap. If I mess up, I make an excuse. Were you to use the same excuse, I would laugh at you."

Our willingness to be stingy with forgiveness flourishes. Like Shakespeare's King Lear, we regard ourselves as more sinned against than sinning. In Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, our fellow Christians accused the Jewish Shylock of being unforgiving. But, once they were behind the money tables, they were unforgiving themselves. Not forgiving makes us ill. There is no heavier load than a chip on the shoulder. (Unknown) Longfellow wrote, "If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we would find in each one's life sorrow enough to disarm our hostility."

Besides, Oscar Wilde wryly noted, "Always forgive your enemies. Nothing annoys them more." The curtain goes up on the final act. Jesus throws a knuckle ball. The spotlight is not on the cruel servant but on the king. In the Nazarene's mind, the king is a stand in for His Father. The king behaves to the unforgiving servant as God will to those of us who will not forgive. He forgives us only if we forgive others.

If you need more evidence, think of "blessed are the merciful, for they shall see mercy." Or "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." You will recall the author of those words.

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned. (Francis of Assisi)

Love in return for love is natural. Love in return for hate is supernatural. Incidentally, to say you'll forgive but won't forget is like burying the hatchet with the handle sticking out. (Unknown)

You cannot expect to keep God's forgiveness unless you give it away to the next person who wrongs you. The Chairman of our Board lays on us a simple mandate. In it there are but two clauses. There is no need for an attorney to explain them. Firstly, we must ask God's forgiveness. Then we must forgive others. The preacher said to err is human and to forgive divine. When it comes to forgiveness, Christ calls us all to divinity.

If condemnation is not God's style, it should not to ours either. Besides, getting even is not good. Getting on with one's life is. If you don't forgive, you lock yourself in an asylum. You are the patient. Forgiveness in this context is a miracle drug. (James Tahaney)

A black child spoke at a mission. "Because of the graces here I forgive the white men who lynched my pa." She subscribed to the aphorism that forgiveness is not a case of amnesia that wipes out the past. Instead it is the experience of healing that drains the wound's pus. 

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
24 Ordinary Time
24th Sunday: Freedom From Anger

I have three images for you this week: one is a comic on the funny pages. One is a big expensive yacht. The third is the cross.

First of all the comic. Do you ever read Rose is a Rose? It’s great. I love it. It is also very faith-filled. It features Rose, her husband Jimbo, and their son, Pasquale, as well as Pasquale’s Guardian Angel. Rose is always happy and upbeat. Well, usually. Sometimes she has an alternate ego, Biker Girl, but usually she is a shy, happy Mom and wife. But there is one strip when Rose is not happy at all. And she was not behaving all that well. It begins with her pretty miserable. In the first panel she sits in a dungeon with a large ball and chain clamped to her leg. And she is angry. The anger is smoking off of her. There’s a dark cloud over her head. She’s really mad. In the second panel her expression changes and the dark cloud is replaced with the word “Sigh”. In the third panel the dungeon has been transformed into a rainbow with birds singing, and butterflies flapping. The ball and chain is gone, and Rose is dancing with a big smile on her face. In the fourth panel, Rose goes up to her husband, Jimbo, who is engrossed in his newspaper and like most men, thoroughly oblivious. She tells him, "Well, it wasn't easy, but I have decided to forgive you."

Who really benefitted from the forgiveness? Was it Jimbo? Or was it Rose? It was Rose whose anger had imprisoned her, whose anger had turned her world black. It was Rose whose upset was a ball and chain around her.

The second image is the big expensive yacht. I used to go on scuba diving trips to the Island of San Salvador, a small island of the Bahamas. There is just a little harbor on the island where the scuba boats leave from, but there are also three or four huge yachts there. The scuba boats were like little ants next to these ships. The yachts have everything. They cost hundreds of thousands of dollars each. Well, one year as we were leaving for a dive, one of the bigger yachts began pulling away from the peer. But there was a problem: someone forgot to untie one of the lines from the dock. The result was that the stern, the back of the ship, could not pull away until either the rope snapped or the stern got busted up. The rope won. The whole back of the ship, fiberglass, shattered. It cost that owner a pretty penny to fix his ship.

That ship had everything you could think of, but something was holding it back, something was causing it to destroy itself. That's what anger does to us. That's what the refusal to forgive does to us. It destroys us.

All of us have been done dirty by others. I have never met anyone who has not been offended by many people in many different ways. And we get angry. And we nurse that anger. We treasure that anger, maybe even to the extent of allowing it to become hatred. And do you know what happens?. Our anger, our hatred, our refusal to forgive holds us back.

“But, Father, you don't know what So and So did to me.”

You are right, I don't know. Nor do you know what another So and So did to me. But how can I progress in Christianity if I refuse to let go of the dock that my anger is tied to? And how can you be a Christian if you would rather walk around with the ball and chain of anger instead of run free to love?

"Well, I am going to take this anger to the grave,” an elderly lady once told me. That will really fix the person who hurt her, won't it? We cannot be good Christians and allow ourselves be tied down by our anger. Anger, the refusal to forgive, will consume us in the same way it consumed that servant who had been forgiven a great debt but who was still furious with another servant who owed him a mere trifling.

The third image I present to you is the cross. Last Thursday we celebrated the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross. The cross is a reminder of the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ. The cross is a reminder of the Gospel of the Lord. St. Paul tells Timothy, "If I do not preach the Gospel of Christ, then the cross loses its power." The Gospel of Christ demands forgiveness. Christianity is definitely not easy. It demands the sacrifice of that grudge that we actually enjoy harboring. The gospel of Christ demands forgiveness when we think we are justified in our anger. The gospel of Christ demands meaning what we pray when we say, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." The gospel of Christ is not easy. It is out and out tough. But by putting our hatred to death, we give life to our love and more importantly, by putting our hatred to death, we give life to His Love.

Is there someone whom you or I hate? Was there a situation from many years ago that has had a negative impact on our lives? Or maybe it is a recent offense that is gnawing at you or at me. Or maybe you hate yourself. Maybe you did something terrible many years ago and have now decided that you cannot forgive yourself. The gospel for today says, "Let go. Let go of the battle stories. Let go of the hatred." This hatred has turned our lives into a prison. It has been the rope that held us back. We have suffered enough from the past. We are called today into the joy of the Lord. We need to offer up our anger to the Cross. We need to unite our upset to His upset. We need to join Jesus in sacrifice and sacrifice that so called justified grudge. The result of your sacrifice and my sacrifice is to live in the freedom of the daughters and sons of the Lord, free from our worst enemy, free from that which we do to ourselves.

Free to Love.
Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
24 Ordinary Time
Making Space for Others
(September 17, 2017)

Message: God makes space for us and wants us to do that for others in practical ways: in our parking lot, in our pews and in our personal relations.

The message for today is about salvation: experiencing God's mercy and inviting others. In our opening prayer (collect) we asked God "that we may feel the working of your mercy." Mercy refers to God's salvation in Jesus. The word salvation has interesting roots. Etymologically it denotes a wide open space. For example a person gets enclosed in a dark valley then all of sudden it opens into bright verdant pasture. That's a glimpse of salvation.

We see that sense of wide open space in today's Gospel. Jesus tells about a man ensnared by the downward spiral of dept. Some of you know what that's like. You feel hemmed in on all sides. Then the man gets an unexpected reprieve. It's like entering a wide open space. The possibilities seem endless. That's mercy. That's salvation.

If God shows us his mercy he wants us to do the same for others. During the summer we had a series on Spiritual Warfare - Strengthening Marriages and Families for Spiritual Warfare. You know that in war it's crucial to keep supply lines open. For us that means not getting cut of by the devil but keeping connected to God's mercy - and helping other not get hemmed in. Jesus opens a space for us and insists we do the same for others.

Let me illustrate. A priest friend was just beginning Mass when he noticed a young couple enter. They had three children and were looking for a place to sit. The regular parishioners occupied the premium seats - those in the back of the church and the outsides of the pews. No one moved to the center to make a space for that young family. When the congregation sat for the readings, one man moved his knees a bit, but the couple wasn't up to maneuvering their children around those knees. The priest told me he almost said something, but by then the couple had moved to the back of the church. He looked for them after Mass - and on following Sundays - but never saw them again.

Now, you might say that couple should learn to come early. At the same time we could ask: If God creates a space for us, if he shows us undeserved mercy and salvation, shouldn't we go out of our way to make space for others? I've heard of parishes where regular parishioners park in the furthest spots and leave the closest ones for visitors and newcomers. And after walking 40 or 50 yards, they go toward the front and take seats in the center of the pew. They create a physical space for newcomers because they know God has done that for them - he has shown his mercy, his salvation.

Mercy, salvation, making a space, can involve something as simple as parking and pews. It can also have deep application to our personal relationships. Once I told you that we should treat each person as if he has a broken heart - and you will not be wrong. We need to make space for the other person, to help him with his burden. God lifts our debt. Should we not do the same for the other? In fact are we not required to? Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Once I made a retreat with a community of religious brothers. At the conclusion of Night Prayer they say, "My brother, if I have offended you in any way - by word, action, expression or omission - I beg your forgiveness. And I forgive you any wrong you may have done to me." God cancels out your debt and mine which is huge - bigger than the national debt. God makes a space for us, on the condition - I repeat, on the condition - that we do the same for others. This brings us back to our opening prayer. Remember we asked God "that we might feel the working of your mercy." By mercy God saves us. In Jesus he creates a space even for me and for you. God makes space for us and wants us to do that for others in practical ways: in our parking lot, in our pews and in our personal relations. Jesus say it direct in the Gospel acclamation: "I give you a new commandment; love one another as I have loved you." Amen.
Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe,Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
24 Ordinary Time
24th Sunday of the Year, Modern

Lectionary 130
In the course of my ministry as a priest the most common problem people share with me is anger, and the accompanying hesitancy or resistance to forgive others. There are rarely any simple answers to the problem of anger, which befuddles even the inspired authors of today's readings. This is no surprise since human life is complex and the movements of the heart can be famously obscure; as the prophet Jeremiah wrote: "More tortuous than anything is the human heart, beyond remedy; who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9)

At some point in our lives we have all had matters which led us to anger dismissed by others with the trite response "forgive and forget” but it is not that easy, since a person's anger and its sources can never be fully understood by another, even someone close to them. This should remind us that while some things in life can indeed be handled simply, others require subtlety and nuance; it should also make us consider factors which are hidden from the eyes of others but weigh heavily on ourselves.

Family problems can cause anger of this sort. An outside observer can righteously declare "get over it” or "you need to intervene” or "tell them how you feel” without understanding just how hard it is to "get over” one of the most important people in our lives, or to "tell them how you feel” when those feelings are the result of a long and complicated fabric of emotions, commitments, and relationships.

To find some resolution to all this, Ben-Sira, the author of today's Old Testament reading, reminds us that if we truly desire to be reconciled to those whom we love we must first offer the gift of reconciliation to those who have wounded us. "Could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the Lord? Could anyone refuse mercy to another like himself, can he seek pardon for his own sins?” (Sir 28:3-4). Ben-Sira was aware that this is very hard, yet insisted that we cannot expect God to show us mercy if we withhold it from others.

Next, the Psalmist gives us an indication of how we can overcome this seemingly intractable problem of human life by noting "Merciful and gracious is the Lord, slow to anger, abounding in mercy” (Ps 103:8). Later he adds: "For as the heavens tower over the earth, so his mercy towers over those who fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our sins from us” (Ps 103:11-12). What these words tell us is that even though God has no need of mercy, the Lord takes the initiative in showing graciousness and mercy to "those who fear him.”

We can imitate the Lord and be among those who "fear the Lord” by understanding our humble place before God and our duty to show mercy to others. This stands in contrast to the man we meet in today's gospel parable. He is unforgiving even though he has been generously forgiven himself, and all too often we descend to his sort of begrudging spirituality instead of offering mercy as humbly and frequently as we seek it.

This SunThis Sunday, hearing the words "Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him” (Matt 18:27), let us be inspired to renew our efforts at forgiving others so that we too might receive the beautiful gift of mercy and reconciliation from the Lord who is "rich in mercy” (Eph 2:4).
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Classic
Matthew 18: 21-35

Gospel Summary
Today's gospel selection is taken from a section of Matthew's gospel that is concerned with the dynamics of a truly Christian community. It is fairly certain that Matthew's gospel was written for the church at Antioch, where there were deep divisions between the more conservative Jewish Christians and the more liberal Gentile converts. Peter is featured in this gospel because he was the leader at Antioch who was able to hold these factions together by insisting on the importance of tolerance and reconciliation.

In such a difficult situation, forgiveness becomes a major issue. Jesus tells Peter that we must be ready to forgive others "seventy-seven times," which really means, endlessly. And the parable that follows is intended to illustrate exactly how forgiveness must function in a loving community. It does not come simply from the goodness of one's heart. It is possible only when one becomes aware of having oneself been forgiven. It is a splendid gift that has been first received and is then passed on to others. The unforgiving servant of the gospel story is condemned precisely because he refused to forgive a tiny debt after having been forgiven immeasurably.

Life Implications
The Bible is very realistic about human nature. Every child is born yearning for approval and desperate for affirmation. Ir is a tragedy when that love and affirmation is not available. It is only affectionate touches and gentle words that enable an infant to reach out to the world in confidence and trust. Such loving affirmation continues to be needed all through life and the person who, through a misguided notion of self-sufficiency, claims to be beyond all that, is condemned to a twilight existence of feigned independence.

An important part of this loving affirmation is the readiness to forgive the mistakes and faults of others. Such readiness comes from an awareness of having been forgiven for one's own faults. Moreover, this forgiveness is not limited to sinful behavior but extends to limitations of all kinds, which means, in effect, forgiveness for not being perfect! For these limitations of nature are also very burdensome and we need the help of compassionate and forgiving people to lift that weight from our shoulders.

It is important to understand what forgiveness does not mean. It does not imply that a fault or sin does not matter. Nor does it mean that the offense is forgotten, for that is often impossible. Rather, it means freely choosing to overlook an offense because one is free to do so, having been loved and forgiven oneself.

There can be no real Christian community without such an exchange of love. The seriousness of this challenge is expressed in the strong words of Jesus indicating that our present unwillingness to forgive will guarantee a harsh judgment at the end. If we are wise, therefore, we will take great pains to be lenient and compassionate toward others rather than self-righteous and hard-hearted, so that we may look forward to meeting a lenient and compassionate divine judge when our own lives are evaluated.
Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
24 Ordinary Time
Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

In the Gospel given for today we hear Jesus' teaching on forgiveness. Peter poses the question, an entirely practical one, by asking how many times we must forgive those who sin against us.

 What was being taught at the time in the Synagogues was that one had a duty to forgive someone three times and so we can see that Peter, by putting forward the possibility of forgiving seven times, probably thinks he is doing very well indeed.

In giving the number seventy-seven as his reply, Jesus is essentially saying that there should be no limits to the number of times we forgive those who have offended us.

In the parable that Jesus uses to illustrate his point there are two different currencies used. The servant owed the king ten thousand talents, an enormous sum; but the man who was in debt to the servant only owed one hundred denarii. Since one talent was equal to six thousand denarii we can see that the man only owed the servant a piffling amount in comparison.

Jesus clearly intends the king to represent the God the Father in the parable and is making the point that the debts we owe to one another are just chicken-feed in comparison to what we owe God.

Nothing we can ever do can cancel the debt we owe to God. He created us and everything we have comes from him. He gave us the world as our home and provided us with the possibility to flourish in a good environment. Despite all this we find ourselves sinning and turning our backs on him.

Nevertheless he offers his forgiveness freely to all. Somehow though, this extraordinary generosity seems to offend our human sensibilities. We find it difficult to cope with such unrestrained liberality. It goes against what we think of as natural justice.

We feel that sins must be paid for; that recompense must be made for serious offences. We believe that justice must be done and seen to be done.

Some years ago I was saying mass in a local prison, it was an open prison where there were many men serving the last part of a long sentence. After the mass a prisoner came into the office for a chat. He had only arrived there the previous week from another prison. I asked him how long he had already served and was astonished at his reply: nineteen years.

It seems he had been given a life sentence. I asked him when he was due to be released. He said that he didn't know as it was entirely in the hands of the parole board who he said were sure to knock him back. His best guess was another two years or so.

Now I have no idea what that man did to deserve life imprisonment; but we can guess that it must have involved murder, perhaps with some aggravating circumstances. All I do know is that this crime must have been committed when he was quite young because looked as though he was well under forty years old.

There are all kinds of things that have to be taken into account by judges when determining prison sentences. They must consider the seriousness of the crime, the state of mind and personal circumstances of the criminal, as well as other factors such as the potential danger to the public.

Sentencing policy is always controversial and governments are constantly adjusting the guidelines as a way of showing themselves to be sensitive to the wishes of the electorate.

But human justice can never be compared to God's justice. And the fundamental difference between them is that only God can see into the very heart of man. Only God truly knows all that has to be taken into account. Only God can determine whether someone is truly repentant.

Our problem is the tendency to think that God is too lenient. We imagine that God will let major sinners off the hook if they express some slight repentance. And we frequently don't think that this is right or just. If we were in his position we would be much harsher because we are inclined to believe that punishment is the true expression of justice and that most criminals get off too lightly.

However, when it comes to our turn to need forgiveness things get more complicated. There are two common approaches. One is the tendency think that our sins are relatively minor when compared to those of some others and God can't or won't withhold his forgiveness. And the other is the opposite and surprisingly common belief that our sins are so bad that God can't or won't forgive us.

Of course, in both of these positions there lies a heresy; and a after few moments consideration we realise that these two beliefs are just plain wrong. On the one hand, God certainly does not overlook anyone's sin. But then neither does he withhold his forgiveness from those who truly repent. And this is the key as far as God is concerned: true repentance.

In thinking about what repentance consists in, I realised, just the other day, that it must be an aspect of love. We love the other person and through this love we come to realise just how much we have hurt them. Love then motivates us to make restitution and to seek forgiveness.

Sin is quite the opposite; it is the expression of lack of love. Selfishness is the real motivation for sin. Greed, abuse of power, hate; all these things are the very opposite of love.

So the human project, the very aim and purpose of the Christian life, is to grow in love. And the best and most straightforward way to do this is to imitate Christ who is the Lord of Love.

The solution for every sin, for every crime, is to grow in love. This is what brings about repentance both in this world and in the hereafter.

In talking to that man in the prison, I asked him how he had coped over these nineteen long years. He told me, only two things have kept me going, the love of my family and the fact that I found God. Without those, he said, I would never have survived.
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