It is coincidental that on a weekend when we remember our fellow citizens who died on 9/11, the Gospel reading talks about forgiveness. It is providential that ten years after the tragic event, Jesus and the Church reminds us about the pain and the grace of forgiveness.
One of the attractions that I had for priesthood is the sacrament of penance. I am a sinner and I have sinned so many times. And yet, I know and I believe that God is continually extending his forgiving hand. You probably felt it, too. Inside of us is a universal longing and hunger for forgiveness.
Ernest Hemingway writes in one of his stories about a young man who wrongs his father and runs away from home to the city of Madrid. Out of great love for his son, the father takes out an ad in the Madrid newspaper, which says, 'Paco, meet me Hotel Montana, 12 noon Tuesday. All is forgiven. Papa.' Now Paco is a rather common name in Spain, and so when the father gets to the hotel, he finds eight hundred young men waiting for their fathers. Hemingway's story reminds us how desperate all of us are for forgiveness.
It is quite a challenge to forgive. Sometimes we will hear voices that speak words of vengeance and retaliation. Oftentimes we will hear voices that talk about reprisal and retribution. Periodically we will hear voices that ask us to redress the wrong and get even. But Jesus makes it clear always and forever that our belief is based on life and not on death.
If we do not forgive, we kill life. If we do not forgive, we become part of the many desolate individuals whose lives linger on the fringes of death. If we do not forgive, we commit spiritual hara-kiris because forgiveness is the hallmark of our faith. The Cross is the perfect image of what and how it is to be forgiven. It has given us life.
Unfortunately for some of us, life could be burdensome because we have not learned or decided to forgive. Problems and pains, heartaches and bitterness from the past have made life difficult for us. They brought us down that it darkened our present and even defined our future. Some of those pains started from petty grudges and have simmered for decades. My experience with marriage annulments often points out the marital breakups and divorces began from simple arguments like this story.
A couple drove several miles down a country road, not saying a word. An earlier discussion had led to an argument, and neither wanted to concede their position. As they passed a barnyard of mules and pigs, the husband sarcastically asked, "Relatives of yours?" "Yep," the wife replied, "In-laws."
Some of those heartaches were personal offenses and had been carried on for years. And some of those bitterness have turned into silent rage over offenses worth perhaps less than ten dollars.
It is not because life could be burdensome and difficult that we do not forgive. It is because we do not forgive that life could be difficult. If we want the joy of a moment in seeing our enemies and those who have wronged us wallow in misery, then avenge for the injustice we may. But if we want the happiness of a life that is beyond here and now, then we need to forgive.
A sin can never be undone. It can only be forgiven. A grievous mistake can never be unmade. It can only be forgiven. The word forgive always contains the word give. For whoever does not give will always find it difficult to forgive. God forgives because God gives.
We have the responsibility to forgive. It is a power that is shared by God’s design because it is a sacrament of grace. Whenever we forgive, we bring back life in this world. Jesus showed us how and what it is to be forgiven because He is our forgiveness.
11 September 2011