Archive for the ‘Forgiveness’ Category

Forgiving others is crucial (and maybe easier than you think.)

September 12, 2020

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

In Jesus’ parable today, a servant owes his king a huge debt, more precisely (in the original Greek) 10,000 silver talents. This was an amount equal to 150,000 years’ worth of labor in the ancient world, something akin to $4.5 billion today. It’s an unrepayable debt, but the servant’s king is rich in compassion; he feels pity and forgives the man’s entire loan.

Now, this servant was a creditor himself, and one of his fellow servants owed him a significant but much smaller amount, literally 100 denarii, which was 100 days’ wages back then. Think of it like $10,000. The newly debt-free man sought out this fellow servant and started to choke him, demanding, “Pay back what you owe!” Despite pleading for patient mercy, that first servant put the second into debtors’ prison until he should pay back his debt.

Now when other servants witnessed all of this they felt deeply troubled by it. They went and reported the whole situation to the king and master of them all. The king summoned the unforgiving servant and pronounced a swift judgment: “You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?” Then, in anger, his master threw him into debtors’ prison as well until he should pay back his whole debt.

The king was clearly angry. One rarely-considered reason for his anger is that all of these servants were his own. The 100 denarii debtor suffered by being tossed into prison, his fellow servants suffered from witnessing the scandal, and all of this impacted the king personally. Their distress affects him deeply, for the king is compassionate, but it affected him in another way as well: his servants being detained or disturbed by this unhappy affair kept them from doing his important work. They’re all his servants, but the actions of one impeded the others from freely and fully fulfilling his will.

Of course, the king and master in this parable represents God. Who on earth forgives someone’s $4.5 billion personal debt like our Lord forgives the debt of our sins? And we are each his servants, like St. Paul says, “whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.” So, if we are to learn a lesson from the servant whose great debt was forgiven, how can we avoid imprisoning or impeding our fellow servants? Through merciful love.

When someone is angry with you, yells at you, or criticizes you, when you know someone dislikes or despises you, how does that affect you? Does your tension and anxiety go up? Do you think about that person and the situation obsessively? Do you run scenarios in your mind about what you wish you had said or done previously, or what you’ll do the next time you cross paths? Do you avoid that person, or the places they could be, and feel uncomfortable in their presence? Do you gossip to others about your ongoing bitter conflict, thereby spreading the scandal to them? If so, then you’re being imprisoned, partially impeded in your peaceful service of our Lord.

We can easily have this effect on others by how we treat them. And cherishing and nurturing our own anger makes a prisoner of yourself to anger. When you experience some slight or shortcoming from another, be gracious. Maybe just let it be; let it pass. Give their actions a most-generous interpretation. Mistakes are more common than malevolence. And you yourself have bad days, too.

Sometimes, though, we need to address matters for the common good. As we heard about last week, love sometimes calls us to do fraternally correction. But when we do it, let’s do it with a kindly, gentle spirit, sharing the truth in love that they might be able to receive it. Merciful love is necessary to keep each other out of prison, the prison of unrepentance and the prison unforgiveness.

In the Our Father, we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Jesus teaches his disciples, “If you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.” And at the end of today’s parable, Jesus warns us that our fate will be like that of the unforgiving servant ‘unless you forgive your brother from your heart.’ Now many Christians find this teaching deeply disconcerting. They’re troubled because they believe they just can’t forgive. But I usually find they think this because they imagine forgiveness means something it’s not.

Forgiving is not the same thing as forgetting. You can’t force yourself to have amnesia and forget. You might remember the misdeed for the rest of your life. And forgiveness doesn’t mean saying what someone did wasn’t serious or wrong. The offense committed may have been a grave sin and to say otherwise would be a lie. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that what someone did no longer hurts. Only grace and time can heal some wounds, but we can forgive even with lingering pains. Forgiveness doesn’t require you to pretend nothing happened. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that everything must go back to the way it was before. Forgiveness might lead to full reconciliation, but not always. You can forgive someone even before they can be trusted. You can forgive even before they are sorry for what they did. Why? Because forgiveness means loving someone despite the wrongs that they have done.

Forgiveness is loving someone despite their sins. Is there someone you’re worried that you haven’t forgiven? Then pray for them, because you can’t hate someone and pray for them at the same time. Is there someone you find it hard to pray for? Then that’s whom you should pray for, for their sake and for yours. Jesus came to reconcile us to one another and to the Father. So have mercy. Jesus works to heal the wounds of sin and division. So have mercy. And Jesus intercedes for us with our Father. So have mercy, too.

Conversion Within — 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

March 3, 2020

Ash Wednesday, the beginning of our Lenten journey to Easter, is only a week and a half away. The season of Lent is for penance, conversion, and growing closer to our Lord. Jesus comes not only to forgive sinners but to transform us into saints. This year, would you like to become the best person in Christ that you have ever been? If so, then let’s begin to form a plan.

Lots of people give up something during Lent. Some people give up a particular food, like cookies, chocolate, ice cream, candy, potato chips, or pizza. Some people give up something they drink, like coffee, soda pop, or alcoholic beverages. Some people give up a habit, a thing small like spitting, chewing Gum, or biting their nails, or something grave, like smoking, chewing, or vaping. While other people give up desserts, snacks, junk food, fast food, or meals at restaurants. What do all these popular penances have in common? One’s mouth.

Fasting from a particular food or beverage is a fine Christian penance. Unless you’re exempted by age or health, abstaining from meat on Ash Wednesday and Lenten Fridays is already a part of our hared Church disciplines. But far more important than the things eat or drink with our mouths are the things that go on within our souls. Jesus once summoned the crowd and said to them, “Hear and understand. It is not what enters one’s mouth that defiles that person; but what comes out of the mouth is what defiles one.” When Peter and the disciples asked what he meant by this, Jesus explained: “The things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, unchastity, theft, false witness, blasphemy. These are what defile a person.” The small and secret choices we make inside us lead to manifest effects around us.

First, an important point about the things that go on inside us. Thoughts, feelings, imaginings, and memories will often arise in our minds unexpectedly, unsought, and unreflectively. A temptation can be like this; an ugly thought or feeling, an idea or inclination to do something wrong, can come our way without our having willed it. Some people think they’re sinning when this happens. Not so. Remember that a saint is not someone who never experiences temptation, but someone who chooses what’s right and good and loving even when faced with temptation. We only do good or evil when we make a choice of the will; a choice to act or not act, to keep thinking about something or to try to think about something else. I mention all this because people commonly confess unwilled temptations they never consented to as if they we sins. Mere temptations are not sins or failures; they are a crossroads where we can choose the holy path, they are an occasion for us to do Christian battle, they are an opportunity for us to deepen our relationship with Christ.

In today’s Gospel from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus calls us beyond merely external holiness that other people can see to holiness through and through: “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Jesus reminds his disciples, “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill. You shall not commit adultery. Do not take a false oath.” But then Jesus goes even further, for instance: “I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa, [blockhead]’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.” Murder doesn’t come out of nowhere. It comes from contempt and hatred of others. As a Christian, you are not allowed to hate people. Scripture insists: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. This is the commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” True, you might enjoy some people more than others. The nose might not find it pleasant to be around the armpits in the Body of Christ even as each member serves the others’ good. If there is anyone you dislike, remember that likes and dislikes are natural, but love—to will the good of another—is a decision, a choice you can always make. If there is anyone you hate or strongly dislike, I urge you to pray for them, since it is impossible to pray for someone and hate them at the same time. Perhaps for this Lent, focus on giving up your criticism of others and choose to focus on the best in everyone.

Jesus continues, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’” Why did Adam and Eve put on clothes after they ate of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and evil? It’s not because their bodies were shameful, but because each of them realized for the first time that they could be manipulated and exploited by the other, used as a thing rather than loved as a person. This is what lust is, using another person as a thing for my own pleasure without care, concern, or love for them. And to think that lusts entertained in secret have no impact on how we behave or treat others in public is naive. Sexual sins can cost you your soul. For this Lent, perhaps focus on giving up using others for your pleasure and choose to see and love each person, even strangers, as God-loved person they are.

And finally, Jesus observes: “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow. But I say to you, do not swear at all; not by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is his footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.” Apparently, some of Jesus’ Jewish contemporaries tried to gain the credibility associated with solemn oaths while avoiding divine punishments for speaking falsely. Jesus corrects them noting that all things are God’s, so to swear falsely by Heaven, Earth, Jerusalem, or your own head is no less sinful. Instead, Jesus teaches: “Do not swear at all (in everyday life.) Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one.” Your reputation for speaking the truth should be such that no oaths are necessary. Now being honest doesn’t mean you have to share every your thought or answer every question. But Jesus never lies, and he wants you to be like him. And once you no longer have dishonesty to evade responsibility, your other behaviors will improve as well. Maybe for this Lent, focus on giving up lying. Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No,’ to be closer to the Holy One.

Lent, a season for penance, conversion, and growing closer to our Lord is just around the corner. This year, would you like to become the best person in Christ that you have ever been? Then form a plan to welcome the grace of Jesus Christ to transform you from the inside out.

The Mercies of Two Adams

February 24, 2019

In our second reading this Sunday, St. Paul compares the First Man to the Last Adam. In our Gospel, that Second Adam (Jesus Christ) shares teachings on forgiveness which have reshaped the world. Catholic spiritual tradition holds that when Jesus descended to the Abode of the Dead on Holy Saturday he found Adam and announced that the gates of Heaven were now open to him and all the Old Testament’s friends of God. If Adam went to Heaven we know he practiced forgiveness himself because Jesus says “if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.” I’d like to begin by reflecting on three people from Adam’s life whom he had to forgive; and each one has a practical lesson for us touching on forgiveness.

One person Adam had to forgive was his wife, Eve. “She saw that the [forbidden] tree was good for food and pleasing to the eyes, and the tree was desirable for gaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” Adam had to forgive her for doing this, but he also had to seek her forgiveness. He had been charged by God with protecting her and the garden. He was with her as the Serpent spoke, and he failed in his duty. Adam and Eve had to forgive each other.

Now a foolish person insists that other people are completely at fault one hundred percent of the time. After a conflict, even if I didn’t sin (even if I did nothing intentionally that I knew to be wrong at the time) I can still reflect upon how I could have expressed myself or handled the situation better. Mistakes are not sins—we can only sin on purpose—but we should learn from our mistakes.

Another person Adam had to forgive was his son, Cain. Because he felt snubbed, Cain was filled with jealous anger towards his brother. “Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let us go out in the field.’ When they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.” This was the first recorded murder, and Adam had to forgive his son for it.

In 1981, Mehmet Ali Ağca shot the pope in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. St. Pope John Paul the Great nearly died, but two years later after he had recovered he went to visit his would-be assassin in prison. I remember being amazed as a kid in CCD class to learn that the pope sat at an arm’s length from the unshackled man who almost killed him in order to personally forgive him. Significantly, the pope did not ask Italy’s leader or government to release Ağca at that time. Ağca served twenty-nine years in prison until his release in 2010. Similarly, God showed his mercy and did not destroy Cain the murderer, but God did place punishments on him.

Sometimes withholding punishment is not kindness because we need discipline, to experience just consequences for our actions, for our own good. As the Letter to the Hebrews says, “whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he chastises every son he acknowledges. … At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.” Mercy and forgiveness do not rule out experiencing any consequences.

A third person Adam had to forgive is one you might not expect: Adam had to forgive the Serpent. Was the wicked Serpent sorry for what he had done? No, but Adam had to forgive for Adam’s own sake. Unforgiveness is a bitter poison we drink in hopes of hurting someone else. Renouncing our claims to vengeance against another actually sets us free.

Jesus said we must forgive to be forgiven ourselves, but some people think they can’t forgive because they think forgiveness means something it doesn’t. Forgiveness is not to say that the sin wasn’t wrong, or that it’s no big deal, or that it doesn’t hurt anymore, or that it never really happened, or everything can go back to how it was before. Forgiveness means loving someone despite their sins, even if prudence may require us to keep a healthy distance from them (as with the Devil.)

Does God hate that ancient serpent, the Devil, the father of lies and a murderer from the beginning? Amazingly, no. As the Book of Wisdom says, “you [Lord] love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for you would not fashion what you hate. [And] how could a thing remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you? But you spare all things, because they are yours…” God hates what Satan does, but loves him still. God hates the sin, but loves the sinner. In the end, the wicked will not be annihilated, made to no longer exist, but given the disassociation and space away from God they desire forever. God hates no one and neither should we.

In several places in the New Testaments, St. Paul draws parallels between Adam and Jesus. St. Paul wrote the Romans: “just as through the disobedience of one person the many were made sinners, so through the obedience of one the many will be made righteous.” The First Adam gave life to all his descendants, and the Last Adam gives life to all who follow him. The Old Adam, by his selfish sin, condemned the world; but the New Adam, by his holy self-sacrifice, redeems us. The First Adam, as we have seen, practiced forgiveness, but Jesus Christ is personified Mercy.

Consider how autobiographical Jesus’ Gospel teaching on forgiveness is. Jesus says, “To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well.” During the Passion, at his Jewish trial before the Sanhedrin, “they spat in [Jesus’] face and struck him, while some slapped him, saying, ‘Prophesy for us, Messiah: who is it that struck you?’

Jesus says, “From the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic.” “When the [Roman] soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four shares, a share for each soldier. They also took his tunic, but the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top down. So they said to one another, ‘Let’s not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it will be…’

Jesus says, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” The religious leaders sneered at Jesus as he hung on the Cross. Even the soldiers jeered at him. But Jesus prayed for them saying, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”

Jesus says, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you,what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same.” St. Paul wrote to the Christians at Rome, “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.

Jesus says, “If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, and get back the same amount. But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High…” Jesus gave of himself knowing that many would give him nothing in return, he loves sinners knowing that many will not love him back. But Jesus is his Father’s Son, merciful as he is merciful, loving as he is loving, good as he is good, and generous as he is generous. And Jesus invites us to also be children of the Most High like himself.

So let’s be generous in every way towards Jesus, who gives us mercy, our every blessing in life, and his very self in the Eucharist. Jesus’ teaching at the close of today’s Gospel is true not only for financial giving but for every gift to God, for God is never outdone in generosity: “Give, and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.” Let us be merciful and generous like Jesus is towards us.

“Egyptian Christians are made of Steel!”

April 23, 2017

Last Palm Sunday, in Egypt’s Nile Delta, a terrorist detonated a suicide bomb in a Coptic Christian church. 27 were killed and 78 wounded. Then, just hours later, there was another bombing at Saint Mark’s Cathedral in the coastal city of Alexandria. The Coptic patriarch had just finished celebrating Palm Sunday Mass when another terrorist attempted to get inside that church. At least 17 were killed and 48 wounding, but many more may have been murdered if the killer had not been prevented from entering by security guards at the gate.

These attacks are a reminder that Christian persecution and martyrdoms are very much alive today. An Egyptian TV news show interviewed a Christian woman whose husband, AmNeseem, was one of those gatekeepers who restrained the second terrorist and died in the blast. The mourning widow’s words and the reaction of the Muslim news anchor in the studio are remarkable:

My Five Most Common Bits of Advice in Confession

July 17, 2015
Peter Swims to Jesus on the Shore in John 21

Peter was not afraid to approach the Lord whom he had denied, leading to his tripartite reconciliation. We can encounter Jesus likewise in the Sacrament of Confession.

Of the seven sacraments, Confession is my second favorite (after the Holy Eucharist.) This holds whether I am the one absolving or the one being absolved. It feels good to have that joy of a fresh beginning, or to know that I have helped another come nearer to the Lord. Having our sins forgiven does us incredible good — exorcists say a good confession is more powerful than an exorcism — but the priest in the confessional usually also offers some advice to help us cooperate with God’s grace, sin no more, and live daily life with peace.

Priests tend to hear certain sins or fears more often than others in confession, and in response to these a priest will tend to give similar advice. At risk of making my priestly counsel stale, but in hopes of spreading these helpful lessons for the benefit of many, I have detailed below the five most frequent pieces of advice that I share in confession.

Being Tempted Is Not The Same As Sinning

No priest should say that a sin is not a sin, but priests do right to free troubled consciences from guilt about things which are not sinful. Guilt from experiencing temptation is one example. Temptation, in and of itself, is not a sin. A temptation becomes a sin when we welcome its presence and give it our “yes.”

Sometimes people confess having bad thoughts or desires. I ask them whether they welcomed or entertained these temptations or if they resisted them. This matters because thoughts, feelings, and desires will often come our way without our willing them, but it is what we choose that is important. Only when our will chooses do we act in a saintly or sinful way. For instance, choosing to resist a temptation by praying or distracting ourselves is a holy deed. A saint is not someone who never knows temptation—he or she will likely understand temptation better than most—a saint is someone who consistently chooses love and the Lord even amidst temptation.

Good & Bad Reasons For Missing Mass

Our Sunday obligation flows from the commandment to keep the Lord’s Day holy. Whenever someone confesses missing Holy Mass I ask whether it was by their own choice. (Again, what we do not choose is not our sin.) Sickness, hazardous travel conditions, or the need to care for others are all serious reasons that justly excuse us from attending Mass. However, deliberate, willful absence (such as on a family vacation) is a sin to be avoided. Using the internet and a telephone we can plan ahead to find and celebrate the Lord’s Sacrifice wherever our travels take us.

Forgiving May Not Be What You Think

Sometimes anguished persons confess that they just cannot forgive someone, even though they want to. Usually, this turmoil is due to thinking that forgiveness means something it does not. For example, without a bout of amnesia, we cannot literally “forgive and forget.” And trying to agree that past sins done to us were not actually wrong is a lie against the truth. Sometimes sins break relationships and circumstances such that things cannot go back to same way they were before. Or, perhaps we may still feel the pain inflicted—for some wounds cannot be healed merely by our willing it, but only with grace and time. However, none of these realities prevent us from forgiving. In fact, the person who desires to forgive already has everything they need to begin.

Forgiveness means loving someone despite past wrongs. Jesus calls us to love everyone, which means that we must forgive everyone. If you fear that there is someone whom you hate or whom you have not forgiven, simply pray for them. It is impossible to both will the eternal good of another (as we do in prayer) and to hate them at the same time. If you are praying for them, you are loving and forgiving them. The Holy Spirit may prompt you to take further steps in forgiveness down the road, but your prayer begins to open you both to the transforming power of God.

Training Yourself Not To Misuse Holy Names

Crude language is bad, but swearing by misusing the holy name of God or his saints is worse. Our love and respect for someone should be reflected, not negated, by our words. Whenever someone confesses the habitual sin of taking the Lord’s name in vain I suggest a new habit: The next time you misuse a holy name, as soon as you realize it, follow it with a praise (such as “I love you, Lord,” or a “Glory Be…’) This will do three things: it will help undo the wrong with a good (getting you back on the horse,) it will help drive out the bad habit with a good one, and it will present a Christian witness to anyone who may have overheard your profanity.

Apologizing To Your Children

When parents confess to yelling in (uncontrolled) anger at their kids, I ask them whether they apologized to their children. This is a good and beautiful thing for a parent to do because it models true Christian behavior for the children: “I needed to discipline you because you were doing something wrong, but I shouldn’t have yelled at you. I’m sorry.” If we want our children to repent of wrongdoings and seek forgiveness, we must walk the talk and show them how it looks. Authority is most respected when it manifests integrity.

The Seven Deadly Sins & Seven Lively Virtues

March 6, 2014

Pride is lowered by Humility

Envy is opposed by Admiration

Wrath is tamed by Forgiveness

Sloth is stopped by Zeal

Greed is relinquished by Generosity

Gluttony is moderated by Asceticism

Lust is controlled by Chastity

Which lively virtue will you focus on growing?

 

Set To Heaven — 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year A

February 13, 2011

This morning, consider this important question: Are you a thermometer or a thermostat? In this life, we can live like either thermometers or thermostats. A thermometer (as you know) accepts whatever temperature, hot or cold, that happens to surround it. A thermometer acts passively to the world’s influence. A thermostat, on the other hand, does not submit to the world around it. A thermostat is set to an ideal temperature and strives to attaint its goal.  As Christians, we should be as thermostats, and we should all be set on Heaven.

Do you think about Heaven much? Do you ever meditate on what it will be like? I think many of us get so drawn in by the here and now that we fail to give Heaven much thought. Yet, I think we would all be strengthened by meditating on it more; on what it promises and what it requires.

The next life is a mystery about which we can know a great deal. As Saint Paul says, “What God has prepared for those who love him, this God has revealed to us through the Spirit.” For example, we know that there will be no suffering or death in Heaven. The Book of Revelation says God ‘will wipe every tear from our eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order (the way of this world) will have passed away.’

There shall also be no hatred in Heaven. No one with hatred in his or her heart will be able to enter. The Book of Wisdom teaches that God hates none of the persons he has made. He does not always like all the things that they do, but it is His love for each one that continues to hold them in being, and will hold them in existence forever. In order to see God in Heaven, we must become like Him. This is why Jesus forbids not only murder, but hatred in the heart as well. Consider how wonderful it will be to live in Heaven at peace with everyone.

After the resurrection, when our dead bodies are reconstructed from the dust, those who are just will be remade, stronger, handsomer, more incredibly beautiful, than they have ever looked before. Will their perfect bodies have any flaws? If glorified bodies do have “flaws,” they shall be as the wounds that remain in Jesus’ hands and side, beautiful and glorious forever. In this life, the beauty of one’s soul has little relationship to the beauty of one’s flesh; but in Heaven, the holiness of the saints shines out for all to see. 

In Heaven, in this midst of this overwhelming beauty, no one shall lust and none shall exploit another. Lust and exploitation go hand in hand. There is a good reason for the expression “to lust for power,” for lust is about manipulating another for one’s pleasure. Instead of lust, everyone in Heaven shall desire the true good of one another from their hearts.

In this life, temptations will come whether we want them or not, but remember that temptations in themselves are not sins—it is only when we say “yes” to temptation, when we choose to sin as temptations suggest, that we can be guilty of a sin such as lust. Until we can refuse temptation’s invitations, until all lust is driven from our hearts, we are not yet ready for Heaven. This is why Jesus teaches not only against adultery, but against lust in the heart as well. How wonderful it will be to full of love for all, purely, from our hearts, and to receive that same overflowing love in return.

Our lives on earth we are full of questions. But in Heaven, every question which has answer will be answered for us. As St. Paul told the Corinthians, “At present we see indistinctly, as in a [cloudy] mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.” Heaven is a place of transparent truth. There, the barriers to communication disappear. In Heaven, we shall know others fully, and be fully known ourselves. No lies nor concealments are possible there, “for there is nothing hidden that will not become visible, and nothing secret that will not be known and come to light.” Until we are free of lies, until we are people whose ‘Yes’ means ‘Yes,’ and whose ‘No’ mean ‘No,’ we are not yet ready to live in Heaven.

If we die in God’s grace and friendship, we may still have some attachments to sin, and be unprepared for Heaven. But, thanks be to God, there is Purgatory, to clean us up and make us perfect, so that we may enter the Father’s house and join the feast of Heaven. Though there is Purgatory, we must always aim for Heaven. If you shoot a bow and arrow and aim carefully for the bull’s-eye, you will probably miss but still hit the target. If you shoot only aiming at the target in general, you will probably miss and hit the ground. So aim for Heaven, lest any of us miss entirely.

Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. So let us not default to world’s standards. Do not be a thermometer. Set your thermostat to the perfection of Heaven. Meditate on it and strive for it, and you will experience the joys and blessings of Heaven beginning in this life.

Investments & Debts — 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year C

September 19, 2010

Last week we heard Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal (or squandering) Son. Today He tells us about a debt-canceling steward. These stories offer similar lessons: the first lesson is about how to use our wealth profitably.

The prodigal son wastes his wealth on himself, on a life of self-indulgence, and he finds himself poor and alone. But hisgood father uses his wealth to generously cloth and feed him, and he thereby restores their relationship. Today’s steward gets reported for squandering the master’s property and is soon to be sent away destitute. But the prudent steward finds a way to always have a place to stay. He forgives others’ their debts and thereby wins their friendship. The first lesson is that we will lose whatever we hoard for ourselves, but whatever we invest in love will have an everlasting return.

The reason we exist, the reason we were created, is for personal relationships with God and each other. And when we die, we will take nothing with us, except these relationships. Our computers, cars and credit cards will be left behind, but personal love remains with us. A $100 bottle of wine can be enjoyed for an evening, but then it is lost forever. A donation to Catholic Relief Services can save a life, and a donation to Relevant Radio can save a soul, and someday, when all of our investments in love for family, neighbors and strangers are revealed, they will give us everlasting joy forever. So “I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth, so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”
 
The second lesson of these parables is the importance of forgiveness. The good father wins back his dead and lost son, because he is willing to forgive him. The older son, however, is unwilling to forgive. He refuses to enter the house of his father and will not join the feast until his heart is changed. The good father symbolizes God, and the house is Heaven, and unless we forgive everyone one from the heart, we will refuse to join the feast. The second parable is also symbolic. God is the rich man and we are the squandering steward. Consider how much He has given you and how fruitlessly you have used it. At the end of our lives we will be called to give an account of our stewardship, and who can stand that judgment? This is what we must do: we must forgive our debtors their debts by forgiving their sins against us.

A sin forms a debt because it takes away from others what is owed to them by right. Every sin makes a debt, first and foremost to God, but also to the people trespassed against. It is speculated that the steward in the parable was forgiving his master’s debtors the part which was his own commission. If we are prudent like him, we will quickly take the opportunity to forgive our debtors the debt owed to us by forgiving the sins they have sinned against us. For we have it on Jesus’ word, “If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.”
 
Now a lot of people refuse to forgive, or think that they can’t, because they think forgiveness means something its not. To forgive another’s sin is not to say that what they did wasn’t wrong—that would be a lie. And forgiveness doesn’t mean convincing yourself that the wrong doesn’t hurt—Jesus forgave his enemies amid excruciating pain. To forgive, all you need to do is to will the good of your trespasser. If you can pray for them, you are forgiving them. On the other hand, if there is anyone that you find that you are unable to pray for, then you have not forgiven them. That is the person whom you must pray for, for your own sake as well as theirs. So let your “supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone… This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.”

Jesus’ parables teach us this: to use our wealth for lasting profit, and to forgive our debtors their debts. Let us be prudent to obtain true riches on earth and a everlasting home in Heaven.

Christ in the Sacraments — 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year C

June 15, 2010

To understand today’s gospel, it helps to know a little about the Jewish culture of Jesus’ day.  For example, when the Jews would sit down to eat dinner they would not sit at all–they “reclined at table,” on beds that came up the edge of the table. You would have a cushion under your chest or under your side, as you ate with your free hand, with your legs laid out behind you. This clarifies how the beautiful, penitent woman was able to access to Jesus’ feet. This also explains how John was able to lay his head upon Jesus’ chest at the Last Supper to ask Him who would betray Him. The Beloved Disciple was not a contortionist–he was laying beside Jesus at table.

A second important thing to know about the Jewish culture of Jesus’ day to appreciate this gospel is to understand how they felt about feet. The Jews considered feet to be among the dirtiest, humblest, and lowliest parts of the human body. This is why our parish’s patron, St. John the Baptist, said, “[There is] one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.” In that Jewish culture, servants could not be commanded to wash the feet of others; it was considered even beneigth the dignity of a slave. Now we can understand the significance of the woman washing Jesus’ feet, and how much it means that Jesus later washed His disciples’ feet at the Last Supper.

But what was this woman thinking? Had she forgotten to bring a towel and a bowl of water at home? Was she so dumbstruck that her lips were unable to form the simple words, “I’m sorry and I want to return to God?” No, she knew what she was doing when she used her tears to cleanse, her hair to wipe, and her lips to kiss Jesus’ feet. When she heard that Jesus was going to be eating at the house of Simon the Pharisee I doubt she was holding that alabaster jar of ointment in her hands. No, she had to go and get it, and as she did she thought about exactly how she was going to approach Jesus.

What was Simon the Pharisee thinking? Had he forgotten about the customary curtesies in welcoming guests to one’s house in that culture: water for washing their own feet, oil for anointing one’s head against the harshness of the desert, a kiss in greeting at the door? Maybe he thought these were just optional, dispensible rituals. Regardless, Jesus put his finger on one major contributing factor: Simon the Pharisee loved Jesus little, while the beautiful penient woman loved Him greatly.

Simon gave Jesus an external gift, a meal in his home, but in addition to her ointment, the woman gave a gift of her very self; her tears, her hair, her kisses. As she had sinned with her body, she now sought to honor God though her body.

How does all of this apply to us? When we consider this beautiful, penitant woman and Simon the Pharisee relate to Jesus, we see two approaches the sacraments. For some, in the manner of Simon the Pharisee, the sacraments are just rituals, traditional customs, liturgical hoops the Church has us jump through. But for others, those with the heart of the woman who loved much, every sacrament is a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. If you onlt remember one thing from this homily, remember this: every sacrament is a personal encounter with Jesus Christ.

Consider the sacrament of marriage. Today, some people say, “As long as we love each other, what difference does a ceremony in a church and a piece of paper make?” But these people do not realize that the sacrament of marriage actually makes present the love between Christ and his Church. The love between husband and wife not only resembles the love between Christ and his Church–like all the sacraments, marriage actually makes present. If your marriage is sacramental, and you and your spouse do not put up obstacles in the way, you can experience firsthand to love with which Jesus loves His bride, the Church, and how the bride receives her Lord. You experience the intimacy between the two and you can tap and draw on their love and the power in your marriage. marriage is a personal encounter with Jesus Christ.

Today, some people say, “I don’t really have any sins, but if I did, why should I have to go tell my sins to a priest to have my sins forgiven? God can hears my prayers. Won’t he’ll forgive me anyway.” Imagine if the penitent woman had stayed away from Simon’s dinner party that night in the gospel and prayed to God at home. Would she have been forgiven? Perhaps, but she would not have had her life-transforming encounter with Jesus Christ. When you go to confession, you are personally encountering Jesus through the priest. If the priest does not put up obstacles in the way you will hear the words of Christ to you. And even if the priest does get in the way, you will hear that words that Jesus wants you to hear, just as He had said to the beautiful penitent woman: “Your sins are forgiven, go in peace.” The sacrament of reconciliation is a personal encounter with Jesus Christ.

These days some people say, “There’s a lot of Sundays in the summertime and a lot of things to enjoy on the weekend. Is it really that important that we come to Mass every Sunday?” To ask this about the most Blessed Sacrament is to be like Simon the Pharisee. Had Jesus not come as his guest that night, Simon would not have missed Him much; Simon would not have been that disappointed. And even after receiving Jesus under his roof, I can imagine Simon being left unchanged. But the beautiful penitent woman, who took Jesus’ flesh to her lips, was forgiven her sins and was filled with grace by the encounter.

In the celebration of this sacrament, and at every sacrament, let us appraoch Jesus with her humility, reverence, and love.

Thursday, 23rd Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

September 11, 2009

If you are among those who hear, you heard Jesus giving a challenging message today.  But He is only asking us to do as He Himself has done.

Jesus gave to everyone who asked of Him. He loved His enemies and did good to them. For those who struck Him on one cheek, as He carried the cross, He did not unleash upon them the furious fire of God. Jesus offered them His other cheek as well, that they might be saved, not destroyed. Maybe they took His cloak from Him when they arrested Him in the garden, but He never asked for it back. When they arrived at Golgotha, He let them take His tunic as well. Jesus did good to those who hated Him, He blessed those who cursed Him, and prayed for those who mistreated Him. Dying on the cross He said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” Jesus did unto others as he would have them do.

Jesus did as He would have you and me do. If we imitate Him we will receive a reward as great as His; a full measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing. But we must do as St. Paul tells us: “As the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.”

August 8 – St. John Marie Vianney

August 17, 2009

For many years, around 300 people would travel by train each day to a small town of 230 people. Why did they come? They came because they sought the mercy and counsel of Christ in the confessional of John Marie Vianney. Why did Father John 12 to 17 hours a day sitting in his confessional? He was there because he believed that this sacrament was that important.

Today we often hear people say, “Why do I have to confess my sins to a priest when I can just pray to God directly? It’s like the complaint of Aaron and Miriam in the first reading,  “Is it though Moses alone that the Lord speaks?”

Jesus, in the upper room, breathed on his apostles and said to them, “Receive the holy Spirit.  Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” Did Jesus give them this authority and power for no purpose at all?

Jesus gave us the sacrament of reconciliation because we need it. Confession prevents my sins from just being between me and myself. It prevents me from making mountains into molehills, and molehills into mountains. It allows me to know with absolute confidence that this sin of mine is forgiven forever. When we go to confession we acknowledge the Incarnation, that Christ redeemed us in His flesh, not merely by composing a prayer to the Father.

If you are too shy to admit your sins to a priest, who won’t know who you are, and couldn’t tell another soul even if he did, then what makes you think you will have the poise to stand face to face with Christ at the judgment?

When Miriam and Aaron sinned, they turned for mercy to the Lord’s servant, Moses, and their sin was healed. If you have neglected confession, please come. There is mercy, peace, and God’s help awaiting you.

If you already go to confession with some frequency, then please offer a penance today for the conversion of sinners. St. John Vianney did penances for conversions because he was convinced that it made a difference.

In the Gospel we heard that every sick person who came and touched Jesus’ cloak was healed, but those sick people first had to be brought to Jesus. Help carry them.

Thursday, 19th Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

August 17, 2009

Today we heard the parable of the debt-ridden servant. You and I, of course, are the first servant with the unpayable debt. The debt of our sins. And the Lord, our King, has taken the loss, upon Himself, to gratuitously forgive our debt. But, at our judgment, He will receive important testimony about how we have treated those who have owed us much lesser personal debts.

This is why some Christians pray, “forgive us our debts and we forgive our debtors,” while we pray, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Who is it that you’re not sure you’ve forgiven?

Remember this:  To forgive another’s sin is not to say that the wrong wasn’t wrong, and it is not trying convince yourself that the hurt doesn’t hurt. If you can pray for the good of your offenders, you have a forgiving heart.