13 September 202024 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

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Are there limits to forgiveness?

“Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive, as many as seven times?”

“I say to you, not seven times but as many as seventy-seven times.”

Do not be concerned with the number 77. Jesus was using this number to say that the amount of times we should forgive is far greater than we could imagine. For the true follower of Christ, there can be no limits to how many times or how much he or she forgives. The Christian realizes the great mercy he or she has received from a God who sent His Son to become one of us to die for us so that we can have eternal life. The Christian understands that next to the forgiveness we have received from God there can be no limit to the forgiveness he or she extends to others.

I want to illustrate this with two true stories. 

On October 2, 2006, a shooting occurred at the West Nickel Mines School, an Amish one-room schoolhouse in the Old Order Amish community of Nickel Mines, a village in Bart Township, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The gunman was Charles Carl Roberts, a married man with three children. No one knows why he did what he did. Perhaps he was suffering from some mental or psychological illness. Maybe he just hated the Amish. No one knows why he did what he did. They just know what happened. Roberts pulled his pickup truck up to the school and asked the teacher if she or any of the children had seen something he said he had lost on the road. When they said, “No,” he went to his truck and returned with a gun. He ordered the boys to help carry some things into the classroom from his truck and the girls to stand in front of the chalkboard. The girls were ages 6 through 13. He allowed a pregnant woman, three parents with babies and all the boys to exit the building. The older girls realized what was happening and two of them Marian and Barbara Fisher, 13 and 11, asked Roberts if he would just shoot them and let the other girls go. He did shoot them, but he also fired a total of 13 rounds, killing 5 and injuring 3 more before taking his own life.

On the day of the shooting, a grandfather of one of the murdered Amish girls was heard warning some young relatives not to hate the killer, saying, "We must not think evil of this man." Another Amish father noted, "He had a mother and a wife and a soul, and now he's standing before a just God." Jack Meyer, a member of the Brethren community living near the Amish in Lancaster County, explained: "I don't think there's anybody here that wants to do anything but forgive and not only reach out to those who have suffered a loss in that way but to reach out to the family of the man who committed these acts." 

A Roberts family spokesman said an Amish neighbor comforted the Roberts family hours after the shooting and extended forgiveness to them. Amish Community members visited and comforted Roberts' widow, parents, and parents-in-law. One Amish man held Roberts' sobbing father in his arms, reportedly for as long as an hour, to comfort him. The Amish also set up a charitable fund for the family of the shooter. About 30 members of the Amish community attended Roberts' funeral, and Marie Roberts, the widow of the killer, was one of the few outsiders invited to the funeral of one of the victims. Marie Roberts wrote an open letter to her Amish neighbors thanking them for their forgiveness, grace, and mercy. She wrote, "Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need. Gifts you've given have touched our hearts in a way no words can describe. Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you."

Here’s a second story that is less radical in its forgiveness, but describes an incident more typical than a mass murder. A few years ago Thomas Fleming died at the age of 90 years old. Fleming was a famous historian known for his revolutionary war works. He tells this story about his father. I couldn’t find the father’s name, so lets just call him Patrick. Patrick had to go work right out of grade school in order to help provide for their large Catholic family. Now this was over a hundred years ago in Jersey City, New Jersey. Patrick had small delicate hands, perfect for working with watches. One of his friends showed him how to take a watch apart. Patrick studied and studied watches, and soon he was able to get a job in the watch factory owned by a very rich family, the Blaine family. The job would pay one dollar a day. That was big money back in those days. But, there was one problem. When the workers came to the factory every day, they would be asked, “Catholic or Protestant.” If they answered “Catholic,” there would be no work for them. For years the young man bit his lip and said, “Protestant.” He eventually married and started his own family, but still had to work at the factory and state each day that he was Protestant.

Then everything changed. In 1929, the stock market crashed. The factory closed, and the Blaine family was left penniless. Meanwhile, Patrick had saved his money and opened his own watch repair store, then another and then another. He married and told his story to his son, Thomas, when the boy was about ten. Soon after that, around 1940, the doorbell rang in the Fleming home. There wearing a tattered cloak and looking emaciated and sick, stood Mr. Blaine. He asked Patrick if he could possibly find some work for him. Listening from the top of the stairs, Thomas wanted his father to turn him away, or at least to ask him: “Are you Catholic or Protestant.” Instead, his dad just said that he could benefit from someone doing his bookwork for all the stores, “Would Mr. Blaine consider this?” 

“Certainly,” said Mr. Blaine.

“Then, you are hired,” said Mr. Fleming.

And without doubt, at the same time the Lord said to Thomas’ Dad, “And you are forgiven any sins you have committed, Mr. Fleming.”

Forgiveness. Forgiveness brings healing. Forgiveness brings the mercy of God. Holding on to anger only brings more suffering, particularly for the person who harbors hate.

The first servant in the Gospel parable for this Sunday owed a huge debt. The translation we used for Mass just says "huge", but the Greek says he owed ten thousand talents. One talent represented fifteen years of daily wages. This man was in deep financial trouble. He would have to work for 15,000 years to pay this off. This impossible debt was totally dismissed by the king in the parable. That was shocking, and wonderful.

The second servant owed the first a large, but payable debt, 100 denarii. That was the equivalent of 100 days wages. Difficult, but payable. Certainly, not in the same league as the first debt. “A mere fraction” our translation says. 1/54,750th if you want to be exact about it. As you are aware, the first servant refused mercy to the second, and the result is he lost the mercy that had been offered to him by the Master.

It is obvious that the parable is comparing what God has forgiven each of us with those who owe us so much less than we owe God.

We strive for this ideal. It is also one of the hardest tasks of Christianity. 

Sometimes people will say, "I can’t forgive and forget. I can never forget what he or she did to me or to my family." Forgetting might not be possible. It also might not be the best thing to do. If a man punches you in the face, you should forgive him, but it would be wise to avoid him, or at least wear a hockey mask the next time you see him. Forgetting is not part of the gospel requirement. Forgiveness is.

The focus of our forgiveness should not just be on the person we are forgiving, or even the particular action we are forgiving. The focus of our forgiveness should primarily be on getting back on track with our lives. That is what the Amish people did after the terrible event in Pennsylvania. That is what Thomas Flemings’ father did. When you really think about it, all forgiveness ends up with oneself. We need to survive and move on from our hurts, or we will always be bogged down by our anger. We need to forgive the people who have hurt us--and we all have a thousand battle stories--we need to forgive the people who have hurt us so we can be people who don't hurt others.

The unmerciful servant ruined a golden opportunity. He could have become a person of kindness and gentleness, reflecting a small portion of the forgiveness he had received. Instead, he held onto his past, his anger at the money still unpaid. His refusal to forgive destroyed him. 

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Those are some of the most healing words in scripture. They are also some of the most difficult words in scripture. We might not want to forgive others, but the pain we have received from others is minor in comparison to the gifts God has given us. Look at all that we have received from the Lord. We have received love, the great gift of living eternally in God's love.

Today we pray for the grace to forgive and move on with life, just as we thank the Lord for the innumerable times He has forgiven us and has Himself moved on with sharing His Life with us.

Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
24 Ordinary Time

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
24 Ordinary Time

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
24 Ordinary Time

One of the distinctive characteristics human beings have is the ability to reason, to think in a clear and logical fashion. Many experiments have been undertaken in attempts to prove that some of the higher primates also have this same ability, even if to a lesser extent, but the results of these enquiries are very questionable and can largely be put down to the performance of repetitive acts.

A chimpanzee can, of course, use a primitive tool to get some tasty ants out of a hole but whether this can seriously be described as the use of reason is very much open to question. Human beings, however, certainly do have the ability to reason and are able to do so at quite a high level so I think that, whatever some experimental psychologists might want to believe, it remains one of our defining characteristics.

The only problem is that, as the parable we are presented with today ably demonstrates, our emotions often get in the way. We can think logically but don’t always act logically. And we also frequently fail to make use of the great gift of reason.
Even the dullest schoolboy can see that the servant in the parable who had his debts forgiven is being totally inconsistent. This man whose extremely large debt was absolved so magnanimously is unable to show forgiveness in a comparatively small matter and so we rightly regard him as hardhearted and cruel.

But a parable is not just a nice story it is also a mirror, a mirror we cannot avoid holding up to ourselves. And this parable set before us today is one which really makes us squirm because in it we clearly see our own inadequacies.

We who receive so much forgiveness and understanding from God are so frequently unable to forgive others or even see things from their point of view. We who crave forgiveness from God frequently fail to even see the need to give it to our fellow human beings.

I think that one of the best ways to improve in this area is to regard oneself as a conduit. Do not think that God’s forgiveness and love is meant for you alone but rather that you are a special conduit of his forgiveness and love for others. Let the forgiveness you experience flow through you to others.

This is not just some mental trick it is exactly what happens. God is constantly pouring out his grace on mankind. And he is simply using us as a means to spread that love everywhere. Our principal job is not to get in the way, not to block this flow of grace and mercy.

Yes, we know God very well and we speak to him directly in prayer and over the years we have sensitised ourselves to the many different ways he speaks to us, we especially appreciate how he acts in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. But most people in our society are not as aware of God as we are, most people are unable to recognise what God is doing and saying.

They might crave God’s forgiveness, for example, but be quite unaware that this is what they really want or need in life. They might just be walking around with a heavy load of guilt and not even be able to give it a name, let alone knowing that it is God to whom they must turn to be relieved of this great burden.

This is where we come in. By recognising our role as conduits of God’s love we allow him to act through us to bring his love and goodness to those who for whatever reason are unable to recognise him. This is especially so in the case with forgiveness. It is not customary in our society to forgive easily. Reconciliation between individuals or groups in conflict is certainly understood as necessary but this usually comes a long time after a clash has occurred and then only after protracted negotiations.

In our world holding a grudge is considered quite normal and not speaking to someone who has offended you is commonplace. It is often thought to be unnecessary to forgive and neighbours who ought to be helping one another can be at loggerheads for years at a time.

Partly the reluctance to forgive is because of the fear of losing face but mostly, I think, because of the effort it takes. Forgiveness requires doing something; you have to go to the other or find a suitable opportunity to speak words of peace. Forgiveness is always active, it is always a reaching out, it is always involves taking the initiative.

In our Gospel reading Peter is told that he must not forgive his brother merely seven times but seventy-seven times. This mystical number actually means an unlimited number of times and rightly so for there is no limit to God’s love and mercy.

If we are real and effective conduits of his salvation then there can be no limits to the amount of times we forgive our brother or anyone else for that matter. There can be no limits to the extent of the love and kindness God conveys to the world through the agency of his servants; and by that I mean us!

None of this is easy. Very little comes naturally. And certainly, we all fall far short of the ideal. But embracing this idea that the role of a disciple of Christ is to be a conduit of his love can certainly help. It can help us to be a bit more forgiving and gentle with ourselves and most of all enable us to be real agents of forgiveness and reconciliation within our community.

I remember very clearly a fellow seminarian, who I had happened to be at school with, talking about how he decided to take up his vocation. He said that it all started with an argument in a pub! He fell out with someone and they had a bitter argument and he went home still seething with anger. Naturally enough it was difficult for him to sleep and after some hours tossing and turning he decided that it might help if he said a few prayers. So, in traditional style he knelt by his bed and started to say the Our Father but found that he simply couldn’t get past those first two words.

He couldn’t get past them because he realised that God was just as much the father of the fellow he’d just had such a bad argument with. He resolved there and then to make it up with him first thing the next day and he did so. The only problem was that this changed his whole way of thinking and indeed caused him to consider the orientation of his life much more carefully and what God might want from him, hence his decision to try his vocation.

This young man only lasted one year in the seminary having discovered that his true vocation in life lay elsewhere. But I often think about him and the life-changing event of that argument in a pub. And, of course, the importance of those two wonderful words ‘Our Father.’

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