Forgiveness for the Lord, Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), September 11, 2011 Audio Homily

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Anthony of Padua Church, New Bedford, MA
Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
September 11, 2011
Sir 27:30–28:7, Ps 103:1-4 9-12, Rom 14:7-9, Mt 18:21-35

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click at the bottom of the page. The following text guided this homily:

FORGIVENESS FOR THE LORD

  • Tenth anniversary of the terrible evil of 9/11. The question for us is whether we’re going to mark the day as a faithful Catholic or mark it according to worldly categories, to live it as God would want or to live it as the devil would want. Today’s readings cannot be more challenging to us. Let’s ask God to give us the grace to live up to the challenge.
  • The first challenge is to respond to the terrible evil of 9/11. And it was evil.
  • There’s no other adequate way to describe the long-plotted murder of thousands of innocent people in order to instill dread in millions of others. As we saw on that day and in other terrorist attacks in Madrid, Moscow, Mumbai, London, Netanya, Bali, Casanblanca, Riyadh, Istanbul, Beslan, Baghdad and literally thousands of other less famous but equally as evil attacks. There are real villains in the world who continue to scheme how most effectively to massacre innocent multitudes to advance their agenda — and who deem it an honor to give their lives hijacking airplanes, strapping themselves with explosives, planting bombs or using automatic weapons in order to annihilate innocent fellow human beings.
  • The question is how do we respond to this evil. First, we must hate the evil. Second we must seek to bring perpetrators to justice. Third, we must seek, out of the principle of self-defense, to go after those who are plotting terrorist attacks to stop them from their desire of massacring the innocent to render them incapable of doing this harm. But what we can’t allow — and this is a strong temptation in the face of such evil — is that we be motivated by vengeance, that the hatred we have for terrorist actions lead us to hate the terrorists, to sink to their level, to exact revenge for all of the pain they’ve caused, to be as merciless to them as they are to others.
  • In today’s first reading, God speaks to us very forcefully about our avoiding vengeance.
  • Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight. The vengeful will suffer the LORD’s vengeance, for he remembers their sins in detail.”
  • God said to us in the book of Deuteronomy, “Vengeance is mine.” St. Paul, writing to the Romans, reminded them of this truth: Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
  • God tells us through Sirach that if we are vengeful toward others we, ourselves, are choosing to have God treat us according to the same merciless standard.
  • Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven. Could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the LORD? Could anyone refuse mercy to another like himself, can he seek pardon for his own sins? If one who is but flesh cherishes wrath, who will forgive his sins?
  • He then gets specific about our thinking of death, the mercy we’ll need, and acting with mercy.
  • Remember your last days, set enmity aside; remember death and decay, and cease from sin! Think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor; remember the Most High’s covenant, and overlook faults.
  • If God were not clear enough in speaking to us through Sirach, Jesus Christ himself was abundantly clear in today’s Gospel.
  • Peter, “How many times must I forgive?” We think we deserve a badge if we give someone a second chance. Peter was offering an eighth chance. But Jesus said that not even that was enough. Seventy-seven times! In other words, always, an infinity of forgiveness.
  • Then he gave one of the most important parables of all, one we don’t focus on, but we should really ponder, because it is central to our relating to the Lord and to each other as we really ought to.
  • I wish the translators of the NAB that we use for the readings at Mass had translated these passages literally, because I think it will help us better to appreciate what Jesus is talking about. It says about the first man who was brought in that he owed a “huge amount.” The actual expression Jesus uses is that he owed 10,000 talents. A talent was 1000 denarii. A denarius was a full day’s wage. To make things simple, let’s pretend that a person makes $100 a day, roughly $12.50 an hour. That’s a denarius. 1,000 denarii, therefore, is 100 x 1,000 or $100,000. So one “talent” in modern figures would be $100,000. The man owed ten thousand talents. 10,000 x 100,000 equals $1 billion dollars. It’s totally absurd, therefore, when this man begs for time to pay back the whole amount lest he and his family be sold into slavery. And the king, moved with compassion, doesn’t merely reduce what he owes, he remits the ENTIRE DEBT. He equivalently makes the man a billion dollars richer.
  • Then this man goes off and finds someone who owes him what the translation says is a “much smaller amount.” The actual expression Jesus uses is 100 denarii. If, again, we take an easy amount of $100 for a work day, 100 x 100 equals $10,000. So this man owed $10,000 to the one who had just been forgiven 1 billion or 100,000 times what he himself was owed. But he was merciless and refused to forgive the debt, having this fellow servant thrown in prison until his family was able to raise the entire debt. And the king was enraged, called back the first servant, and said, “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 the graphic language that corresponded to the contemporary understanding of hell, he said that the man was handed over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt, a debt that was practically infinite. Then comes the moral of the parable: “So will my heavenly Father do to you unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.”
  • We are the ones who have been forgiven the billion. What we need to forgive others is small in comparison to what God has forgiven us. Our sins led to his Son’s death on the Cross, and yet, through his mercy, God has forgiven us everything. We likewise are called to enter into his mercy for others, praying, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” To say, “I forgive you because you know not what you do.” This is easy, for example, when someone hurts us in a minimal way with, for example, an unkind expression or forgetting a birthday or anniversary. It’s very hard to do when someone murders a loved one, or murders 2,976 people hoping to have killed thousands more. But we have become rich in the Father’s mercy and we are called, especially today, to share that mercy, to become merciful rather than vengeful. Otherwise, we will not be forgiven.
  • For most of us, this teaching is really hard. I think it may be the hardest moral teaching that Jesus ever gave us.
  • Globe story of man who entered St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC 50 times before he could pray the Our Father, because he knew what it meant when he said, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.”
  • Most of us need help, to learn how to forgive.
  • First, is regular practice of sacrament of penance, where we receive God’s mercy and then learn from him how to be merciful to others.
  • But we need training. One of the most beautiful aspects of the NCW is that they form people to forgive as Jesus asks, forgive those who have raped them, forgive family members who have abused, forgive those who have done them incalculable harm.
  • If there’s a situation in your life that you really haven’t yet forgiven, this is a God-send, a God-given opportunity for you to learn how to forgive.
  • As we begin catechesis this weekend for all our children, this week we’ll begin catechesis for adults and mature teens in a really adult appreciation of the faith. The catecheses that begin on Tuesday and Friday nights this week are not “classes” in the traditional sense, but they explore in depth the meaning of our faith and the consequences for our lives. I’d encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity to grow in your faith.
  • The first lesson of 9/11 is that we’re called to respond to evil with good, with mercy, and not to keep the evil within ourselves by lack of forgiveness.
  • The second lesson of 9/11 is about death, including the possibility of a sudden death. Little did the 2,976 people who went to work at the Pentagon or the World Trade Center, or who showed up to fire stations in New York City, or who hopped on planes early in the morning at Logan, Newark and Dulles airports, know that that would be the last day of their life on earth. Little did their family members and loved ones know that they would never see them again in this world. Many since look not just at flying but at life in a different way. Whereas everyone recognizes that there’s always the possibility of a tragic accident occurring, 9/11 and the ongoing threat of terrorism has made us much more aware of our mortality and the preciousness of life. How should we respond?
  • The “Imitation of Christ” has a perennial counsel that has guided countless saints and others throughout the centuries: “In every deed and every thought, act as though you were to die this very day.” Once we start to do that, we begin to live in a different way. Some of the victims of 9/11 showed us how to live in this way, prioritizing the most important things that so often we put off until a “tomorrow” that may never come. Without worrying about the money, people picked up the expensive airplane phones to call family members and tell them once more that they love them or to ask for forgiveness. When some couldn’t connect with their family members, without shame they asked anonymous operators to pray with them the Lord’s Prayer or Psalm 23. And Todd Beamer and many others on United 93 heroically risked and gave their lives in order to save others’ on the ground. If we live each day in this way, interacting lovingly with family members, praying without shame, sacrificing ourselves for others, then death will not catch us as a thief in the night.
  • On Tuesday, two days before he would retire, Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia penned a beautiful reflection on the meaning of Christian death and how we should be preparing for it each day.
  • No one takes my life from me, I freely lay it down.
  • Morning offering.
  • Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit.
  • Each day we prepare by giving of ourselves over to God.
  • This is the lesson of today’s second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans: “None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself. For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.”
  • We live, giving ourselves to the Lord each day. If we do that each day, then when our time is up, even if it is sudden, we’re ready. It’s only when we’ve been living for ourselves, or living for this worldly goals, that we can be caught off-guard. The stark reality of the sudden death of 9/11 should help us to live each day according to what St. Paul describes, intentionally living it for the Lord.
  • That brings us to the last point. When we are living for the Lord, we will be living for others, because the Lord tells us to love others as he has loved us. After Peter three times confessed that he loved Jesus, Jesus responded by saying, feed my sheep, tend my lambs, feed my lambs. Our love for Jesus would be expressed in our love for others.
  • We saw this type of love for others as one of the responses to the evil of 9/11. People did not live for themselves but they lived for others.
  • We saw so much of this ten years ago. We saw it on United 93. We beheld it in the valor that induced hundreds of firemen and policemen to run into the Twin Towers when tens of thousands were running out. We have seen it in the gallantry of young soldiers and intelligence officers who have traveled far from their families to enter foreign caves, tunnels, booby-trapped streets and other perils to try to catch the terrorists. We saw it in the first instinct of millions who asked, “How can I help?,” as, within hours of the attack, ordinary people in New York and elsewhere stood in line for hours to give blood, and doctors, nurses and priests sprinted for miles to get to trauma units in case they might be needed. We saw it in our political leaders, who did what they were elected to do — lead — and did so under immense pressure with grit, courage, magnanimity and grace. In the midst of the dusty darkness of one of the worst days in American history, the rays of light from the best of Americans began to radiate. This type of heroism, of unity, of sacrifice shown by ordinary and extraordinary people, needs to persevere in order to outlast and triumph over the terrorists’ obdurate maleficence.
  • This is something to which we should all recommit ourselves on this tenth anniversary. This spirit — what some call the spirit of 9/12, the response to the evil of 9/11 — should continue, but each of us, in our own way, have gotten back to ordinary life. 9/11 is an opportunity for us to remember that we are always called to live for the Lord, to die for the Lord, to sacrifice for the Lord, and that means, as a consequence, to live, die and sacrifice ourselves for others.
  • I finish with what I called in the Anchor editorial this week the last word about 9/11. It’s God’s word, which we’ve heard this morning, but which we also see on our bulletin cover: the Ground Zero Cross, the perpendicular steel beams that rose out of the wreckage and has been moved into the 9/11 Memorial at the World Trade Center. Just as the Cross on Calvary isn’t merely a symbol of pain and death but of the love that bore that pain and the life that triumphed over death, so the Ground Zero Cross is a clear reminder that evil doesn’t have the last word. The last word goes to God, a word of justice against those who do evil and on behalf of those who suffer it, a word of mercy that brings light even out of darkness, a word of life in response to death. As we prepare in the holy Eucharist to receive the body and blood Jesus gave for us from the Cross, to forgive our sins, to forgive even the terrorists’ sins from ten years ago today, we ask him for the grace to live for him who lived for us, to die for him who died for us, and to forgive others as he has forgiven us first. This is the means by which we enter into the full richness of divine love and mercy. This is the means by which we all become this morning spiritual billionaires, sent out lavishly to spend it for God and others.

The readings for today’s Mass were:

Reading 1SIR 27:30—28:7

Wrath and anger are hateful things,
yet the sinner hugs them tight.
The vengeful will suffer the LORD’s vengeance,
for he remembers their sins in detail.
Forgive your neighbor’s injustice;
then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.
Could anyone nourish anger against another
and expect healing from the LORD?
Could anyone refuse mercy to another like himself,
can he seek pardon for his own sins?
If one who is but flesh cherishes wrath,
who will forgive his sins?
Remember your last days, set enmity aside;
remember death and decay, and cease from sin!
Think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor;
remember the Most High’s covenant, and overlook faults.

Responsorial PsalmPS 103:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12

R. (8) The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion.
Bless the LORD, O my soul;
and all my being, bless his holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits.
R. The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion.
He pardons all your iniquities,
heals all your ills.
He redeems your life from destruction,
crowns you with kindness and compassion.
R. The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion.
He will not always chide,
nor does he keep his wrath forever.
Not according to our sins does he deal with us,
nor does he requite us according to our crimes.
R. The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion.
For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so surpassing is his kindness toward those who fear him.
As far as the east is from the west,
so far has he put our transgressions from us.
R. The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion.

Reading 2ROM 14:7-9

Brothers and sisters:
None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself.
For if we live, we live for the Lord,
and if we die, we die for the Lord;
so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.
For this is why Christ died and came to life,
that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

AlleluiaJN 13:34

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
I give you a new commandment, says the Lord;
love one another as I have loved you.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

GospelMT 18:21-35

Peter approached Jesus and asked him,
“Lord, if my brother sins against me,
how often must I forgive?
As many as seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.
That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king
who decided to settle accounts with his servants.
When he began the accounting,
a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount.
Since he had no way of paying it back,
his master ordered him to be sold,
along with his wife, his children, and all his property,
in payment of the debt.
At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’
Moved with compassion the master of that servant
let him go and forgave him the loan.
When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants
who owed him a much smaller amount.
He seized him and started to choke him, demanding,
‘Pay back what you owe.’
Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’
But he refused.
Instead, he had the fellow servant put in prison
until he paid back the debt.
Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened,
they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master
and reported the whole affair.
His master summoned him and said to him, ‘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 handed him over to the torturers
until he should pay back the whole debt.
So will my heavenly Father do to you,
unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.”