By, Jude Siciliano, OP
SEPTEMBER 17, 2017
24th SUNDAY in Ordinary Time
Sirach 27: 30-28:7; Romans 14: 7-9; Matthew 18: 21-35
It isn’t hard to find biblical passages that give lists, sometimes long lists, of “do’s and don’ts.” The closing passages of Pauline epistles come to mind. For example: “Because you are God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with heartfelt mercy, with kindness, humility, meekness and patience; forgive whatever grievances you have against one another. Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you. Over all these virtues put on love…Christ’s peace must reign in your hearts… dedicate yourselves to thankfulness…” (Colossians 3: 11ff). See what I mean?
Doesn’t this passage seem to urge the preacher to give a moral teaching based on one of the virtues Paul lists? It does, if the preacher happens to skip over the crucial opening phrase, “Because you are God’s chosen ones….” The significance of such a small phrase at the head of a much longer list might be missed. But the preacher needs to be cautious. Look more closely at the text. Notice that whatever is asked of us, is asked, “Because you are God’s chosen one….” There it is. We have experienced the transformation that comes from being “God’s chosen ones.” That experience has completely transformed us. What was formerly humanly impossible, because of sin and its effects on us, now is very possible. The same message is reinforced by what he says further on, “Forgive AS the Lord has forgiven you.”
The above might help us because the first and third readings address something we must do – forgive. Recall how succinctly and clearly stated it is in Colossians, “Forgive AS the Lord has forgiven you.” We can forgive because we have first known forgiveness. Forgiveness came as a free gift; we didn’t have to work for it. Nor should we require others to earn it from us. Not if we have truly known forgiveness, for the forgiveness we have received, enables us to freely forgive others. Here is a biblical principle that spells out the proper sequence: “The indicative” (i.e. the statement of the reality, the given fact) precedes “the imperative” (i.e. the do’s and don’t’s that flow from the “indicative”).
Excuse this long introduction, but I think it helps set up our interpretation of today’s first and third readings about forgiveness. Human wisdom already knows that we are not to harbor grievances: the sages of the past and present have recommended the wisdom of renouncing the evils of resentment and anger. Sirach calls them, “hateful things.” But notice, this reading, in its argument to forgive, does not appeal to human wisdom, but to our experience of God. The last line of the passage is the clue, “…remember the Most High’s covenant, and overlook faults.” That seems to sum it up. The reason and the power to forgive comes from what God has done first for us – established a covenant with us. (That’s the “indicative” the statement of the fact).
The Covenant with Israel the author is alluding to, is entirely a story of God’s mercy. God takes the initiative. It is not even a contract between equals, but one made by a powerful God who elected us and constantly forgives us when we ask. We keep ourselves in the arena of this forgiveness by “remembering the Covenant.” We are assured of mercy, and that God is not an unfeeling judge. We can always ask for forgiveness and knowing this, we forgive others. (The response we make to the “indicative” – to forgive others – that’s the “imperative.”) We are empowered from our own experience of forgiveness to do this.
Sirach was called the “Liber Ecclesiastics,” the Church Book, and was used for instruction of catechumens. So, it was associated with Baptism, assuring those to be baptized that they would be forgiven. It also emphasizes that the life of the baptized is to be a life of forgiveness for others.
We have been a long time in Romans, a little bit each week since the beginning of summer. The context is important for today’s passage, so you might want to look at the beginning of Chapter 14. There had been arguments in the early church about what kind of foods one was allowed to eat; what holy days to observe; what was the appropriate way to be religious? Paul doesn’t take sides, he is less concerned about the arguments, as he is about the unity of the community. He says we can see things differently, we should follow our consciences, but must remember that we are all under the dominion of the Lord. We stand in solidarity with others, “in the Lord”; past, present and future. The individual cannot stand in hard individuality and be apart from the community. We may see things differently, and that is ok, if we “honor the Lord.” Earlier in the epistle Paul called for genuine conviction and following one’s conscience, while staying open to God’s future; open to new situations.
In today’s gospel, once again context is important. The concern of chapter 18 has been the life of the community. The chapter began with the disciples’ question, “Who is of greatest importance in the reign of God?” They want to know about status, about ranking. It’s a question that concerns most of our world as well. Jesus places a child before them and invites them and us to see ourselves as children before God. We haven’t earned favor and status from God, we are given it – the way little ones receive love from their parents. The status we have, comes from God – free of charge.
No one is insignificant before God. No member of the community is to be overlooked, no matter how unimportant he or she seems. The scattered sheep (vv. 12-13) are to be sought out and returned to the fold. Last week we heard that the erring member is to be approached and brought back to union with the community. Again today, the command is to forgive, but the order or dynamic is clearer. First, the person is forgiven (the “indicative.”). One commentary says the debt was the equivalent to 167,000 years of labor, seven days a week. Another says, $10 million dollars. The point is that the servant could never have worked it off and had no way to pay it back, despite his pleas. Nevertheless, the debt was forgiven – not based on any merit or promise of the servant, just the generosity of the Master.
If the servant had realized, really taken in what had happened, he would have had to be changed by it. After all, he is living a whole new life; instead of being in prison, he is free. He could do nothing on his own to get free. Even his entreaties don’t “earn” him forgiveness, the Master was perfectly in his rights to hand him over to be sold and imprisoned. But since he did not forgive the petty debt of another, his actions show he was never really touched, or changed, by the forgiveness he received. He never appreciated what happened to him and so he never responded in kind – he never did the “imperative.” The closing lines of the passage are an extra strong thrust to make the point.
Reflecting on what God has done for us, might also free us from the debts we hold against others. Being changed by the forgiveness always available to us can renew us and enable us to forgive. Some areas of reflection: What experience have we had when we got something we didn’t earn, absolutely free? Has anyone ever done a good for us we didn’t deserve, didn’t even ask for? What did those experiences do for us? Were we changed by them? Were we somehow different because of what we received? Those experiences might give us some insight to the unmerited gift offered the servant in the gospel. Too bad he didn’t let the forgiveness enter and change his heart to make him forgiving towards his fellow servant.
To put it simply – God makes the first move towards us – grace. We can’t do a thing about forgiving injustices against us until we have received the gift, unwrapped it and luxuriated in it. We know that it is wise not to harbor grievances. There are numerous examples of how a lack of forgiveness can eat away at our lives. A priest friend tells of a 75 year old woman he visited in a hospital who is battling cancer. Thirty years ago her husband divorced her and she has harbored resentment and anger ever since. Because she has been obsessed by this past wrong and has not been able to let it go, it has affected her relationship with her children and grandchildren. She has held him bound, but she has also been held bound. The power she thought she had over him, by not forgiving, has stolen her life, robbed her of the deeper appreciation of family, friends and life’s daily gifts.
JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD
Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight.
As you are reading this, we are entering Campaign Nonviolence NC Week, a week that has been officially proclaimed as such by the Governor of North Carolina and by several city/town mayors. However, as I am writing this column, I am watching the catastrophic flooding in Texas. One person interviewed said that Houston (which is the size of Connecticut) has been overbuilt and covered in too much concrete. Too much permeable surface that could have absorbed the water has been lost through human violence against the earth. Part of the Campaign Nonviolence movement seeks to address environmental concerns for as Pope Francis states, “Everything is connected.” If, in fact, everything is connected then, in order to have peace with each other and the earth, several nonviolent actions must be taken.
Pope Francis explains: “Peace means Forgiveness, the fruit of conversion and prayer, that is born from within and that, in God’s name, makes it possible to heal old wounds. Peace means Welcome, openness to dialogue, the overcoming of closedmindedness, which is not a strategy for safety, but rather a bridge over an empty space. Peace means Cooperation, a concrete and active exchange with another, who is a gift and not a problem, a brother or sister with whom to build a better world. Peace denotes Education, a call to learn every day the challenging art of communion, to acquire a culture of encounter, purifying the conscience of every temptation to violence and stubbornness which are contrary to the name of God and human dignity” (9/20/16).
Forgiveness. Welcome. Cooperation. Education. If we truly want peace, we must involve ourselves in all four, yet, as Sirach states “the sinner hugs them tight.” We hold on to our grudges, we close the door on encounters with others and the earth, we seek to dominate not cooperate, and we fail to educate ourselves. This week, Campaign Nonviolence NC Week, attend one of the events happening in our area (and across the United States). This includes a Prayer Vigil for Nonviolence at Sacred Heart Church on Thursday (9/21) at 7 PM. The events schedule is posted on our parish website. For information about CNV events in the nation this week, go to the national website www.paceebene.org
Nonviolence begins with me.
Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS
Director of Social Justice Ministries
Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. “Faith Book” is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Gospel reading:
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.”
Reflecting on the gift of forgiveness God has given us, might enable us to forgive the debts we hold against others. Being changed by the forgiveness God always makes available to us, can enable us to forgive, the way God does, free of charge.
So we ask ourselves:
What experience have I had of getting something I didn’t earn, or deserve, for free?
Was I changed, deeply affected by that experience?
Was I moved in a similar way to be as generous to another?
POSTCARDS TO DEATH ROW INMATES
“The use of the death penalty cannot really be mended. It should be ended.”
Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick
Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them you heard about them through North Carolina’s, “People of Faith Against the Death Penalty.” If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.
September 10, 2017
Twenty-third Sunday of Year A
Readings: Ezechial 33:7 – 9; Romans 13:8 – 10; Matthew 18:15-20
A Modern “Flight into Egypt”
In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul tells us that all of the commandments “are summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” During these past days, we have certainly seen this lived out in so many ways. As Hurricane Harvey struck in the Houston area of Texas, we were inspired by people in the inland parts of the state opening their homes and welcoming strangers into them. Now, as the situation has become deadly, we have seen first responders and ordinary citizens risking their lives to save others. This morning I read about students from the two Jesuit high schools in Houston who took it upon themselves to go out with canoes and kayaks to help rescue people trapped in their homes.
Many of our Sisters have relatives and friends who live in the path of the hurricane and are affected by the torrential rain and flooding which have followed. For many years our Sisters taught in schools in Houston, Dickinson, and Beaumont and know thousands of people who are suffering from this terrible catastrophe.
The stories we have read and seen on the internet or TV also bring to mind the story of Mary and the Infant Jesus as Joseph fled with them into Egypt. We have become more and more conscious of their plight as they made their way among strangers into an unknown land. Were they given help and comfort along the way? Did they find shelter and a friendly welcome when they arrived? We hope so.
St. Teresa of Avila reminded us long ago: “Yours are the eyes through which [Christ] looks with compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world….”
Sister Louise Smith, Fort Worth, Texas
Dear Sisters and Friends,
Thank you very much for the many Emails we received from you throughout the Congregation offering prayers and support during the recent floods along the Texas coast and in South East Texas. As you know, it was not only the flooding that caused so much damage, but also high winds, heavy rains, tornedo, chemical plant explosions, contamination, loss of homes, damaged infrastructure, destruction of half a million cars, and 50 deaths so far! This been a disaster of epic proportions. Some say this type of disaster happens only about every 1,000 years!
The flood waters are receding in some areas; however, many people are still unable to go home because their houses have been ruined by several feet of water.
This terrible event has also demonstrated the generous and courageous hearts of thousands of people who have brought boats to help with rescue, food, drinkable water, and clothing for the victims. Many shelters are open throughout the state for the thousands of people left without a home. Large convoys have made their way through flooded highways to come to help with rescuing people still trapped in their homes. Undoubtedly you saw the photos on TV showing first responders carrying out the elderly from their flooded nursing homes or carrying babies, families and even animals to safety. In an interview with a principal of a grade school destroyed by the hurricane, she said her main concern is for the children who will not be able to return to their school, because school is where these children get their breakfast and lunch each day.
Millions of dollars have already been collected to help with the losses of the disaster, but it will be years before there is a return to normal.
Thank you for praying in solidarity with us for those who have suffered terrible losses.
A Prayer for our Earth
All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe and in the smallest of your creatures. You embrace with your tenderness all that exists. Pour out upon us the power of your love, that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live as brothers and sisters, harming no one. O God of the poor, help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth, so precious in your eyes. Bring healing to our lives, that we may protect the world and not prey on it, that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts of those who look only for gain at the expense of the poor of the earth. Teach us to discover the worth of each thing, to be filled with awe and contemplation,to recognize that we are profoundly united with every creature as we journey towards your infinite light. We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle for justice, love, and peace.
Pope Francis, Laudato Si’ On Care for our Common Home
Being a Disciple, Over and Over Again
The readings for this Sunday, the 22nd Sunday in ordinary time bring to mind words from our Identity Statement:
“…we share a love always ready to forgive, ever mindful of our need for on-going conversion…”
Indeed, it is not easy to be a disciple of Jesus, ready to reach out in forgiveness and welcoming our own conversion again and again. Last Sunday Peter proclaimed Jesus as “the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” He clarified the very heart of our faith. But in today’s Gospel the situation is changing. The Lord reveals to Peter and the other disciples the very real challenges and difficulties that he will encounter. The suffering he faces as they move forward together. Peter can’t seem to accept this revelation. Although he has touched the center of our belief, “You are the Messiah” he is shocked by what Jesus tells him that will mean. It will cost …maybe even everything. While Jesus strongly and clearly rejects Peter’s reaction to the revelation (do you find that reaction in your own heart sometimes?), the Lord’s response also contains forgiveness… “Get behind me…” That is the place where a follower must always be, behind the Master. It is still your place, Peter. (Aren’t we all there, forgiven and transformed again and again?). I think that Jesus’ reaction to Peter offers him (and us) both a certain firmness that we can rely on always and an invitation to on-going conversion. Discipleship involves a process. Like Peter, we learn slowly what it means to follow.
Allowing God to entice us today as God enticed Jeremiah long ago (Jer. 20:7) leads us to acceptance and surrender to the mystery of suffering. Despite the “obstacles” we may face or we may BE, our call, like Peter and the other disciples is always to allow our hearts to be transformed by the suffering we accept in ourselves and in our world and to follow.
Sr. Caroline Smith