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The Courage To Forgive

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Scriptural Readings: Sirach 27:30-28:7; Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12;

Romans 14:7-9; Matthew 18:21-35

My dear encountered couples:

Forgiveness: the most difficult aspect of the Christian life, yet the most important. Without forgiving you can hardly even call yourself a Christian.

We all experience difficulties with forgiveness. We often find it hard to forgive, we often find it hard to receive forgiveness, and we often find it hard to forgive ourselves. There is a sermon in each of these. Take a look at them, if you like ...

No 1. It is hard to forgive: I could stand up here and harangue you; telling you that you had better pull yourselves together and forgive each other.

No 2. It is hard to receive forgiveness: I could go on and on about sacrificing our pride and tell you to be humble in receiving forgiveness especially through the sacrament of reconciliation.

But the aspect least talked about is No 3. The ability to forgive ourselves. And the problem here is guilt. So many of us are oppressed by a deep ingrained sense of guilt. We often feel guilty, although when pressed we would be hard put to it to say what it was we had done wrong. Deep in our bones there is a brooding sense of unworthiness, a sense of having transgressed some unknown law.

As a priest, I have often heard people express a belief that they cannot be forgiven, that they have made such a complicated mess of their lives that there is nothing that even God himself can do to forgive them and put things right. They feel that there can be no forgiveness for them, no healing of their minds or souls that can bring them comfort. They fall into despair.

The fundamental message of Christianity is precisely the message of love. God loved the world so much that he gave his only son up to death for our sakes. The love God has for us is expressed in the deepest form of sacrifice. He loves us—this is the basic premise—we then ought to love ourselves.

Anyone we love we can forgive because forgiveness is an act of love. In order for us to live our lives in a way that is in accord with our basic dignity as human beings we need this fundamental regard for ourselves. A self-respect which enables us to be at peace with ourselves.

I am not talking here about an inflated ego which exaggerates our status but rather a basic appreciation of ourselves as created by God and considered worthy enough by him that he should make such a sacrifice for our sake.

We acknowledge that we have sinned; we acknowledge that only God can heal and forgive us and so we turn to him in deep humility and love. But we do not acknowledge sins that we have not committed. We do not make believe that there are obstacles within ourselves that God cannot overcome.

No, we realize that we are truly lovable in his eyes and because he finds us so lovable he forgives us all our faults and failings and draws us to himself in the great act of salvation.

Here is a little parable I found which illustrates the difficulty we experience in changing our old well-established thought patterns. A man found an eagle's egg and put it in the nest of a backyard hen. The eaglet hatched with the brood of chicks and grew up with them. All his life the eagle did what the chickens did, thinking he was one of them. He scratched the earth for worms and insects. He clucked and cackled. And he would thrash his wings and fly a few feet into the air like the other chickens.

Years passed by and the eagle grew old. One day he saw a magnificent bird flying overhead. It floated with graceful majesty among the powerful currents of wind hardly even flapping its wings. The old eagle looked up in awe. “Who's that?” he said to his neighbor. “That's the eagle, the king of the birds,” said his friend. “But don't give it another thought. You and I can never be like him.” So, the eagle never gave it another thought and died thinking he was a backyard chicken.


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