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Do you forgive little things?

By 15 September, 2017January 2nd, 2023No Comments
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By F. Luis Casasus, General Superior of idente missionaries
Commentary on the Sunday Gospel of 17-9-2017, Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Book of Sirach 27:30.28:1-7; Letter to the Romans 14:7-9; Saint Matthew 18:21-35)

“A man called Ove” is a 2015 Swedish film. Ove is a 59-year-old widower, depressed after losing his wife, who died six months previously. After working at the same railroad company for 43 years, he is pushed toward retirement. He is the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse.

However, behind the cranky exterior there is a story and sadness. His attempts to hang himself are repeatedly interrupted by an Iranian immigrant, who is always asking for his help. Later, Ove goes to the train station and plans to jump in front of a train. However, a man on the platform faints and falls onto the tracks. Nobody moves to help him, so Ove jumps down and drags him off the tracks. Again, Ove tries to commit suicide using a shotgun, but is interrupted by two young men he had assisted previously, ringing his doorbell…calling for his help again. With these events, little by little, his life completely changed and his stifled generosity burns out from him in an exemplary and moving manner.

This is a beautiful allegory of the power of our unitive faculty. When we approach our neighbor with patience, without judging him and reassuring him that he is loved, something deep begins to change in ourselves and if we do it in His name, He takes this change to the extremes. This experience is stronger than out thoughts and our desires, more powerful than any other event in our existence…suicide attempts included.

Forgiveness does not mean certain things.

  1. 1. Forgiveness does not mean that I allow the other person’s sin to go on, or that I say it does not matter.
  2. Forgiveness does not mean that giving up my right to demand repentance and restitu­tion will be easy or quick.
  3. Forgiveness does not mean denying the pain that the other person’s sinfulness cost me.
  4. Forgiveness does not mean that the perpetrator can escape dealing with God for his/her sinful behavior
  5. Forgiveness does not mean that life can now be the same for me as before the offense; it may mean that some possibilities or opportunities have been destroyed for me forever because of it.
  6. Forgiving someone does not erase the need for wisdom and discretion in the future.
  7. 7. Forgiving is not forgetting, All that is needed in order to forget something is having a bad memory or a need to suppress it. I help perform the miracle when I remember and still forgive.
  8. Forgiveness is not smoothing over things. Forgiveness cannot happen until I acknowledge that the offense was wrong and that I am hurt.

We do not have to forgive every day betrayals, backstabbing or someone who hurt us physically, but we have continuously the opportunity of forgiving little things, like someone being late, forgetting about a meeting, being not very communicative or not taking out the garbage. Maybe when Jesus responds to Peter that we have to forgive seven times seventy He is not using hyperbole…

Forgive little things so when you need to forgive something big, you will know how. But the main reason to continuously forgive limitations, missteps and mistakes is that it is the most efficient and unquestionable proof that a person is becoming more and more like Jesus, Meek and Humble of heart: Be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, even as God also in Christ forgave you (Ef 4: 32). Every time you forgive you become more like Jesus.

Pope Francis spells out the implications of the parable of the Unforgiving Debtor: Jesus affirms that mercy is not only an action of the Father, it becomes a criterion for ascertaining who his true children are…. Pardoning offenses becomes the clearest expression of merciful love, and for us Christians it is an imperative from which we cannot excuse ourselves.

The principle here is, “the one forgiven much should forgive much.” In other words, the principle of forgiveness is that grace or forgiveness to another is without limit.

Jesus is teaching His disciples and us by extension, that forgiveness should be in like proportion to the amount forgiven. The first servant had been forgiven all, and he then should have forgiven all. In like manner, a child of God by faith through Christ has had all sins forgiven.

Pope Francis recalled the words of the Our Father, in which we say: Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. He explained that this is “an equation”. In other words, If you are not capable of forgiveness, how can God forgive you? The Lord “wants to forgive you, the Pope added, but he cannot if you keep your heart closed and mercy cannot enter. One might object: Father, I forgive, but I cannot forget that awful thing that he did to me.… The answer is to ask the Lord to help you forget. (1st March 2016).

We are all in need of mercy because we are all sinners. We are weak and often succumb to temptations, we have a wounded nature: If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1Jn 1:8). For this reason, we must be ever ready to forgive each other simply because we are fellow sinners.

Forgiveness given presupposes that one is capable of receiving. God surely forgives, but are we docile and disposed to receive His forgiveness? To receive divine forgiveness, we must have a contrite heart. This is what the first reading is underscoring. What is a contrite heart? It is more than just sorrow for our sins. It is more than just an emotional sentiment of regret. A contrite heart is one who comes to full realization that his sins are hurting others, especially his loved ones and himself. When a person arrives at this understanding, then he will take action and make a resolution not to continue hurting others. Instead, he will now walk the way of truth and love. This is one of the fruits of our Didactic Lesson in the Ascetical Examination; in my prayer I should draw lessons from my own sins.

The parable of the Unmerciful Servant is not just a threat; it has a positive teaching about the power of forgiveness. And there are many true stories confirming this:

Some years ago, a young adult son of an Afro-American woman was brutally murdered. She found herself receiving care from her local church and she decided to renounce to the power of evil in her life, which meant for her to forgive her son’s murderer. It would not be easy. She decided that what she needed to do was to visit the killer in jail and keep on doing that until she could bring herself to forgive him.

Speaking to her son’s murderer face to face was the most difficult thing she had had to do in her whole life. The support she needed was for someone from the church to go with her on those visits until she felt able to go alone. Every week for two years that mother visited the jail, accompanied for 18 months by another member of that congregation, until she felt able to go alone. She then felt she was ready to forgive him, to renounce the power of evil in her life, and to become a member of the community that knew and lived by this reality.

Years later the convicted murder was released and incredible as it seems, the two of them began to work together on education programs to prevent young people restoring to violence

That is the power of forgiveness.

As mentioned above, divine forgiveness is manifested and ensured by giving us a new opportunity, a very precise mission. Look at the story of Paul, for he was a murderer of Christians! Look at what Jesus did to him… the man was turned around, and used to be one of the greatest names in the whole New Testament! Look at Peter, how much God used him even after Peter denied Jesus three times…

But most important than meditating on any biblical episode is whether you and I pause and reflect on our personal case: What have I done and how have I been forgiven? What is the mission that unexpectedly and undeservedly I received as a proof of this forgiveness? At least, I have to recognize that the flame of my faith has not been extinguished…Yes; these are very useful points for reflection in our prayer:

* How have I been forgiven?
* How have I forgiven others? How have I not forgiven others?
*When have I missed out, stuck in my stubbornness, and failed to apologize and ask for forgiveness?

The reconciling work of Christ would not be complete if men are also not reconciled among themselves. The reconciliation that Christ has come to bring is not simply our reconciliation with God, but within ourselves, and with others. The righteousness of God demands that we are in right relationship with God, others and self.

It is pride that prevents us from seeking God’s mercy and forgiveness. This is especially true when it comes to the sacrament of reconciliation and our Ascetical Examination. It is our pride that prevents us from revealing our sins to another person. Shame is a consequence of sin as in the case of Adam and Eve who tried to hide their sins. If we want to find the strength to forgive, we must confess our sins and then meditate on the passion of Christ to give us strength. Only then can we be touched by His unconditional mercy for us, and only then can we in turn be merciful and forgiving towards others.

We do not choose to forgive. We only choose to share the forgiveness we have already received.

Those who cannot forgive are those who have never experienced God’s forgiveness or have never pondered about it. If we find it hard to forgive, then let us sincerely beg God for this grace today. God will give us the grace of forgiveness and we in turn will receive His mercy as well. Very much like the servant in the parable, we need time to reflect for ourselves our own sins and God’s abundant mercy. Only then, could we truly forgive our fellow servants. We must keep the words of Jesus in mind: Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?