p. Luis CASASUS | President of the Idente Missionaries
Rome, February 19, 2023 | VII Sunday in Ordinary Time
Lev 19:1-2.17-18; 1Cor 3:16-23; Mt 5, 38-48.
1. Authentic forgiveness. When we speak of Christian forgiveness, it is customary to recall sublime and truly moving cases of people who have been able not to condemn those who have caused them terrible harm. It is worth remembering them, because at least they teach us that we can forgive in any situation. Let us begin with an example:
Immaculée was born and raised in a small village in Rwanda, Africa. She enjoyed a peaceful childhood with her loving parents and three brothers. Education was very important in her household, so it was no surprise that she did well in school and went on to the National University of Rwanda to study electrical and mechanical engineering. It was while she was home from school on Easter break in 1994 that Immaculée’s life was transformed forever.
On April 6 of that year, the assassination of the Hutu president sparked months of massacres of Tutsi tribe members throughout the country. Not even small, rural communities like Immaculée’s were spared from the house-by-house slaughtering of men, women and children.
To protect his only daughter from rape and murder, Immaculée’s father told her to run to a local pastor’s house for protection. The pastor quickly sheltered Immaculée and seven other women in a hidden bathroom. For the next 91 days, Immaculée and the other women huddled silently in this small room, while the genocide raged outside the home and throughout the country.
While in hiding, anger and resentment were destroying Immaculée’s mind, body and spirit. It was then that Immaculée turned to prayer. She began to pray the rosary as a way of drowning out the anger inside her, and the evil outside the house. It was that turning point towards God and away from hate that saved Immaculée.
After 91 days, Immaculée was finally liberated from her hiding place only to face a horrific reality. finding her entire family brutally murdered, with the exception of one brother who was studying abroad.
After the genocide, Immaculée came face-to-face with the man who killed her mother and one of her brothers. After enduring months of physical, mental and spiritual suffering, Immaculée was still able to offer the unthinkable, telling the man, “I forgive you.”
2. The day-to-day forgiveness. But Christ speaks to us today of forgiveness as something that is not occasional in our lives, nor is it “a problem” that certain people who are resentful or very much hurt may have.
When I began to understand the words of the Our Father, which we learned as children, I was always troubled by the phrase “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us“. Of course, it was easy for me to forgive, because my childish heart had no room for rancor or resentment, but because I was unable to understand what my offenses against God could be. Nor was I able to imagine what God would have to do to forgive me, in case of an emergency. From time to time I had a problem with the other children, perhaps with a teacher, but I could not understand how I could offend someone as important as God. My theological knowledge did not go that far.
As an adult, when I understood how beautiful childhood innocence was, I came to understand that God did not have to forgive me “once in a while”, but continually, and that Jesus’ life in this world was a continuous act of forgiveness to friends and enemies. To the crippled man of Capernaum, to Mary Magdalene, to the adulteress of Jericho; to the Samaritan woman, to Zacchaeus, to those who betrayed him….
I am certain that I have received forgiveness from God, especially when I have missed countless opportunities to do good. There are so many that I am sure I am not aware of many of them. But the most important thing is that the forgiveness of our Heavenly Father always manifests itself as one (or many) new occasion to do good in his name.
When Peter asks Jesus how many times we should forgive, he answers Peter that there is no limit, because the “method” of forgiveness is how our merciful God acts. His forgiveness is the constant offering of His love, which requires to be reciprocated by man and, that is, an inner conversion to create a heart that loves and feels loved. In this way, injustice is not encouraged, nor is there room for fear or arrogance, but for trust and benevolence without limits.
Christ presents today several examples of how to forgive and a very relevant one is how to do it in the face of abuse of power.
It often happened that the Roman soldiers or some local squire forced the poor peasants to act as guides or to carry loads. We have an example in the passion narrative: Simon of Cyrene was forced to carry the cross of Jesus (Mt 27:31).
The zealots, that is, the revolutionaries of that time, suggested rebellion and the use of violence to oppose such exactions. The Greek philosopher Epictetus urged caution: If a soldier confiscates your ass, do not resist and do not complain, or you will be beaten and eventually you will need to deliver the animal.
Jesus does not make any consideration of this kind. He does not call for caution. He simply says to his disciples: If anyone forces you to go one mile, go two. It is not just a rule of wisdom. It does not suggest a strategy to convert the aggressor. It does not even guarantee that such behavior will yield positive results in the short term. He asks the disciple that, without doing calculations, to keep the heart free from resentment and to refrain from any response that is not dictated by love. For an authentic disciple of Christ, it is the greatest possible witness in such situations. The Holy Spirit will do the rest of the work.
3. Apologizing. When speaking of forgiveness, we often forget the importance of asking forgiveness from others for our forgetfulness, mistakes, misunderstandings, or anything in our conduct that has robbed them of peace. Let us meditate carefully on what Fernando Rielo says in his Mystical Conception of Anthropology:
The pharisaic attitude, which is of the one who characterizes himself by verbal incontinence. The persons who incur in this attitude begin to speak and in the measure that the conversation progresses, the center and the topic is complacency with themselves or from themselves. Example of this attitude is found in the Pharisee that gave thanks to God and compared himself with the publican, believing himself, to be better than he. This is the sort (or type) of overbearing person that never recognizes erring, that does not ask for forgiveness or finds it difficult doing thus or that thinks that he does everything well and better than the rest.
We should not think that this is something that happens “to others”…
The inability to ask for forgiveness is related to rigidity, fanaticism, accentuated distrust and sometimes to a depressive personality.
To ask for forgiveness implies empathy; not to do so, arrogance. Any educator, psychologist or sensitive person knows that human beings have several mechanisms, born of fear and pride, to NOT ASK FORGIVENESS:
* Denial: The Pharisaic attitude mentioned above.
* Forgetfulness: Simon, the Pharisee, did not offer Jesus water to wash his feet and did not greet him as he should have done (Lk 7: 44-47). Perhaps he thought that he had already done him much good by inviting him?
* Minimization: “I once raised my voice to my wife, but that did not lead me to mistreat her.”
* Justification: “The truth is that I did not speak ill of him with the intention of destroying his reputation, it was a pedagogical act on my part“.
* Attribution of blame to the victim: “I stopped talking to him because it was like talking to a wall“.
* Attributing blame to personal or external factors: “Because I’m so busy, I really don’t have time to say goodbye when I leave the house“
* Getting carried away by self-centered reactions: remaining merely remorseful, sometimes moving on to self-destructive behaviors or even suicide (Judas Iscariot).
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. It is the requirement of gratuitous and unconditional love that does not expect any counterpart and that, like God’s love, reaches even those who do evil.
The second part of His commandment – pray – suggests the means by which we can practice love for those who persecute us in many ways, those who make our lives impossible: prayer. It purifies the mind and heart from the thoughts and feelings dictated by the logic of this world and makes us see evil with the eyes of God, who has no real enemies.
Jesus asks the disciples to let shine in our behavior the character of our heavenly Father, who makes his sun rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the just and the unjust.
Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. The perfection of the Jew was the exact observance of the precepts of the Torah. For the Christian, it is love without limits, like that of the Father. Perfect is the one who lacks nothing, who is whole, whose heart is not divided between God and his ego. The readiness to give everything, to keep nothing for oneself, to place oneself totally at the service of people, including the enemy, puts one in the footsteps of Christ, leads to the perfection of the Father who gives everything and excludes no one from his love.
Nothing can change the past, but forgiveness can change the future. Our faith tells us that God can do everything, even obtain fruit from our offenses against our neighbor…if we allow him to do so, asking for forgiveness in the best way: without making the offended person feel violent or uncomfortable, in a discreet manner, without exaggerating our expression and, above all, with sincerity.
In the Sacred Hearts of Jesus, Mary and Joseph,