The Path of Life

The Path of Life

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A moment in our hearts

Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time—A
Sirach 27:30-28:7
Romans 14:7-9
Matthew 18:21-35
Coincidentally, today’s Mass readings focusing on forgiveness were chosen decades before the horrific events of September 11, 2001. Then again, as Christians, as people of faith, we know that there really are no coincidences. God writes straight on the crooked lines of humanity which veer from his will this way and that. And he does so with supreme foreknowledge of the disastrous effects our erroneous exercise of free will often visits upon humanity, ourselves included.
So, today, in line with the Church—which even in her flawed existence serves as a beacon of hope for the world to see and take refuge in, whether acknowledged or not—we are called to reflect on the meaning of forgiveness and how it is tied to God’s mercy. Yes, even--especially--on this date marking the 10th year since the terrorist attacks on New York City, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. And especially amid all the violence and pain and hatred still present in the world, even at this precise moment.
As God’s people, we need to forgive, to know how to be forgiven, and the peace of forgiveness will radiate out to transform the world.
We see all too clearly—as we did on that frightful day 10 years ago, in the time since, and for centuries before that—what effects hatred, vengeance, and lust for control have on our world. But be assured, God will not be thwarted. He cannot be defeated. In Christ, the victory has already been won—and I am not even remotely speaking here in military, political, cultural, ideological, or even religious terms. This is the truth of a spiritual reality that transcends all else, yet permeates everything in both manifest and hidden ways.
Jesus—God made man—allowed himself to be nailed to a cross by his own misguided creation, and cried out: “Forgive them, they know not what they do.” And before he died on that cross, God made man turned to the repentant criminal hanging beside him—someone who never acknowledged him until facing his own death--and said: “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
And three days later, Jesus rose from the tomb, showing us that his life conquers death. Then, he ascended into heaven as both God and man, the only way humanity is capable of entering Paradise.
Be assured that this mercy, this forgiveness is at work in the world, at this very moment. It will not be replayed over and over on CNN like the hatred, vengeance and lust for control will be. But it is there, and it is much more powerful than anything that confronts it or grabs the attention. God takes our broken humanity in all its wickedness and ugliness and redeems it through his very being.
As we prayed this morning at Vigils here through Psalm 68: “You have gone up on high; you have taken captives, receiving men in tribute, O God, even those who rebel, into your dwelling, O Lord … He bears our burdens, God our savior. This God of ours is a God who saves. The Lord our God holds the keys of death.”
Who has rebelled? Each and every one of us. Yet God’s mercy, his redemptive grace, is extended to each one of us. But it isn’t something we can just take for ourselves. It is a gift we share—the gift that keeps on giving, as the saying goes.
There is hope, there is peace for those who embrace this and believe in it, despite any seeming evidence to the contrary. Jesus did not come to fight humanity, to condemn the world, but to save the misguided creation he loves without end.
There is an infinite amount of peace in that if it is reflected upon long enough. And that peace IS in the world, small but growing, like the mustard seed or the yeast in the rising dough that Jesus compared with the Kingdom of God. Basically, we have two choices—either to consume and become that mustard seed, or that yeast of mercy, in our daily lives, or to instead cling to our wrath, which ultimately consumes and overtakes us.
As Sirach says in today’s first reading: “Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight.” The one who cherishes wrath will die in it because he or she has refused the gift of mercy which God freely offers to all.
Yes, mercy is a gift with a personal price, but one that pays innumerable dividends for all. It is not easy, and it is not quick. But it is the only thing in this world that truly heals. When we forgive, we receive forgiveness, all through the God of Mercy.
Can we forgive on this day—especially on this day?
Jesus is quite clear in today’s Gospel and also in his teaching on prayer: “Our Father….forgive us our trespasses AS WE FORGIVE those who trespass against US.” When we do this—especially on this day—we cry out with Jesus from the cross, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.”
And this is not some vague, over-arching effort directed toward the world at large. It starts in the heart, within the particular circumstances and relationships of our daily lives and radiates out from that. Peace does not enter our hearts from the world. Peace enters the world from within our hearts.
It starts with that small mustard seed, that bit of yeast, God made man as an infant in a stable manger. And it works slowly but surely, rising and converging into the Bread of Life.
Healing is not instant. The scars from 10 years ago, and so many others we inflict upon ourselves in myriad ways, are still there, and they run very deep. But as Fr. Carroll Stuhlmueller, C.P., points out in is biblical meditation for this day:
“Even the healthiest of human bodies needs time to recover from sickness and be totally healed. While the act of forgiveness takes only a moment, the full effects cover a longer sweep of time and require careful attention…Forgiveness, too, involves a process.”
But it is a process that begins with a moment—a moment in our hearts.

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