CATHOLIC HOMILIES: 23RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – YEAR A
HOMILY TOPIC: FORGIVING ONE ANOTHER
BY: Fr. Mike Lagrimas
Gospel: Mt 18:15-20
1. The Marian Message
a) On Friday, September 8 (9 months after Dec 8), is the Feast of the Birth of Mary. She was conceived without sin in the womb of her mother St. Anne. And now the Immaculate Conception is born into the world, the only sinless human being of all times. The Woman chosen by God from eternity who will crush the head of the serpent is born. That is why she is called the Dawn of Salvation. This is the meaning of her title “Stella Maris” (Star of the Sea). This star is at its shiniest just before the break of dawn. It announces the coming of Light.
b) At birth, a person’s future is not clear yet. His birthday is not something significant. But if that person becomes great later on in life, his birthday becomes something memorable and important in society. Mary’s birth is different. This is because she is the Immaculate Conception, the creature prepared by God to be the Mother of His Son for the salvation of mankind. So her birth is already a very important event in the world. She invites us to gather “round about my cradle” and rejoice at her birth.
c) We gather “round about my cradle” of the newborn Mary, not only to celebrate, but also to contemplate on her virtues that made her truly the greatest disciple of her Son Jesus. “For this, I am leading you along the way of humility, of littleness, of simplicity, of innocence, of trust and of your greatest filial abandonment” (letter
e). These are the virtues, which we have to live in order to become ready to truly forgive and love one another.
d) These virtues will truly make us pleasing in the eyes of her Son Jesus: “He gathers into the precious garden of his divine love the humble, the poor, the simple, the weak” (letter f). As more people follow the virtues of Mary, peace will soon be a reality since forgiveness and love will abound in the world: “I now see close at hand the dawn of the new times for the Church and for all humanity” (letter i).
2. Background Information
a) The reality of war has been a constant experience of mankind. Yet war is man-made. It is not God’s will that man will fight against one another, and kill one another. This sad reality is caused by man’s desire to retaliate, to take revenge. Jesus proposes the surest solution to this problem: forgiveness. This is what people find difficult to understand. But the only way to put an end to wars and finally attain peace is to forgive. And while men continue with the vicious circle of revenge, the spiral of violence continues to escalate. There is no end to war in the world unless people learn to forgive. And when war continues, there is no other direction but self- destruction. That is where the world is heading to, unless people learn to forgive.
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b) On the personal level, forgiveness is also the key to physical, emotional, mental and psychological health. Medical researches have shown us that 80% of our physical ailments are psychosomatic, which means that they originate from the mind, and they affect the physical body. Hatred, jealousy, resentment, insecurities and all those negative feelings which accumulate in our hearts give us sleepless nights, loss of appetite and these lead to the malfunctions in our brain and vital organs, eventually leading to major diseases like hypertension, heart ailment, cancer and the like. These negative feelings are spiritual garbage that we keep inside us. They stink, and spread evil in us and around us. They have to be dumped out. This we do by learning to forgive and forget. Then we regain peace in our minds and hearts, and regain health in mind and body. In forgiveness, we are not the losers; we are the ultimate winners. Forgiveness benefits more the forgiver than the forgiven.
c) Most importantly, forgiveness is the key to spiritual health. As we always say, “To err is human, to forgive is divine.” When we forgive, we become more like God, because forgiveness is one of the main qualities of God. Love has different forms. To God, love is agape. To a parent, love is respect. To a spouse, love is fidelity. To a friend, love is kindness. But to an enemy, love is forgiveness. So when Jesus said, “Love even your enemies”, the most concrete way to do it is by forgiving them, as He has shown us on the cross: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”
d) Forgiveness is the surest proof of genuine discipleship. A true follower of Christ can be seen in his ability to forgive. This is because, in order to forgive, several major Christian virtues are required: humility, self-denial, generosity, understanding, patience, kindness, and love. A quotation says: “When love is thin, faults are thick; and the easiest to find are faults.” When there is an abundance of love, humility, patience and other such virtues in a person’s heart, forgiveness comes easy. That is why a person who easily gets angry and always desires to take revenge can never be considered a true Christian.
e) Forgiveness is also the condition to obtain God’s pardon. We are all sinners. We need to be forgiven also. That is why in the Lord’s Prayer, we say, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. God will not forgive us if we do not forgive our brothers. This is the lesson in the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Mt. 18:23-35) which comes right after this teaching.
3. The Sunday Gospel
a) Forgiveness is not just a matter of saying “I forgive you.” Rather it entails a twofold action: towards ourselves and towards the erring party. Towards ourselves, forgiveness means forgetting the hurt done to us. We do not forget the wrong done to us; that is already a historical fact. But we have to forget the hurt; when we still remember the hurt, we will get angry again, and that means we have not really forgiven. Towards the erring party, forgiveness is doing something concrete to help him. This is the message of the Gospel: fraternal correction.
If we really love our brother who sins, we will wish that he would not remain in error and sin. In that regard, we do not become an accomplice in the sin. This is what Leviticus 19:17 talks about: “You will not harbor hatred for your brother. You will reprove your fellow countryman firmly and thus avoid burdening yourself with a sin.” Hence, we have to do something to correct him. Jesus gives us the four steps in fraternal correction. These were taken from the Law, particularly in Leviticus and Deuteronomy.
1. The first step is to talk to the erring brother one-on-one. This is where we fail most of the time. Most of us either have fear in confronting the person, or have a misguided respect or deference, especially when the person concerned is a superior or an authority figure. So, instead of talking to the person concerned, we tell it to somebody else. That someone else will also tell somebody else, and the story gets farther and wider and bigger. It results in personality assassination. This is already murder, not physical but moral, a violation of the commandment “Thou shalt not kill”. We have destroyed the honor and good name of the person. He has been judged without the chance to explain and defend himself. This is when spreading intrigues, rumors and gossips becomes deadly, a grave mortal sin.
2. The second step comes in when the person does not listen to the one-to-one encounter. Jesus said that we should take someone else with us in talking to the person “so that every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.” This is taken from Dt 19:15 –“whatever the misdemeanor, the evidence of two witnesses or three is required to sustain the charge.” Jesus quoted this in one of His teachings: “and in your Law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is true” (Jn 18:17).
3. The third step: “report it to the community”, the “ekklesia” or “qahal” –gathering of the brethren. This is the Church, the community of believers. The community can help the erring brother to mend his ways. At the same time, the members have the right to know and be protected from the threat to their spiritual and moral wellbeing.
4. The fourth step is expulsion from the community: “treat him like a gentile or tax collector”. This is what is called excommunication (“ex” – outside; “communitas” –community). He does not anymore belong to the community. So he also loses all the rights of membership. One of the powers conferred on Peter in Mt 16:19 – the power of binding and loosing – is here conferred also on the community of believers. St. Paul mentions this penalty in 1Cor 5:11: “But I now write to you not to associate with anyone named a brother, if he is immoral, greedy, an idolater, a slanderer (tsismoso, intregero), a drunkard, or a robber, not even to eat with such a person”. We have to be kind and merciful to sinners who are outside the Church; but to those inside the Church already, we have to correct them, and if not, we have to impose disciplinary actions on them, such as excommunication. The main purpose of this action is more therapeutic than punitive, that is, to move the erring person to repentance and conversion.
b) “If your brother sins (against you)” – “The fault in question is grave and notorious (public); it is not necessarily committed against the one whose duty it is to correct it. The phrase “against you” or “to you” was just added by some commentators; it is probably to be omitted.” (Commentary from the Jerusalem Bible.)
The truth about the evil of sin has to be clearly proclaimed in the world today. Pope Benedict XVI repeatedly talks about the “dictatorship of relativism”. People are trying to take away the concept of objective truth, and consequently, take out the concept of intrinsic evil and sin. The modern means of media communications try to portray that sinful behaviors are common among famous and powerful people and so they are already acceptable and even desirable. As a result, people are being encouraged to commit sin without remorse. They would say, “it’s just a matter of getting used to” – “sanayan lang iyan!” When people get used to a sinful behavior, they are not anymore bothered by their conscience. And when they are reminded of the evil of sin, they get offended. It is, therefore, important to remind all Christians, priests and laity alike, of our duty to proclaim the truth about evil and sin, and the reality of hell. Sin must never be ignored. We have to reject it swiftly and firmly, and bring people to repentance and conversion, the soonest possible time.
c) When we fail to correct our erring brother, we also sin by omission. Through the prophet Ezekiel, God gives this strong warning: “If I tell the wicked, ‘O wicked one, you shall surely die,’ and you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way, the wicked will die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death” (Ez 33:8). This is also what Lev 19:17 referred to: “Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt.”
The truth is, when we fail to correct an erring brother, we are actually assisting him in committing sin. There are nine ways of assisting in another’s sin: 1) by counsel (pagpapayo ng mali), 2) by command (pag-uutos ng mali), 3) by consent (pagsang-ayon sa mali), 4) by provocation (pang-aasar at pambubuyo), 5) by praise or flattery (pambobola), 6) by concealment (paglilihim), 7) by partaking (pagsama sa paggawa ng mali), 8) by silence (pananahimik), and 9) by defense of the ill done (pagtatanggol ng mali). We need to teach people about this because many are not aware that they are already helping other people commit sin and practically pushing them to hell!
d) “If two of you on earth agree to ask anything at all, it will be granted to you by my heavenly Father” – This is also mentioned twice in Jn 15:7, 16. This means that Jesus is sure and serious of what He is revealing to us. That is the power of community prayer. Jesus gives the reason: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in their midst.” It is good to pray individually; that is very commendable. In fact, Jesus usually prayed alone. But we cannot say that because we pray individually, we do not need anymore to go to Church for the Mass or to come together in prayer. In fact, Jesus is very clear in this statement. In the gathering of His followers in His name, He is present there. So their prayers will be heard and granted by the heavenly Father. Let us therefore, give particular attention to the Prayers of the Faithful each time we come to Mass. Let us also remind one another to come together for community prayer, family prayer, and especially to the Eucharistic celebration. Jesus is with us, and our prayers will be lifted up to the Father. That is the meaning of the usual ending of every prayer at Mass: “We ask this through Christ Our Lord.” Pay attention to the plural “We” and to the “through Christ”. He is our sole Mediator with the Father in heaven. The heavenly Father cannot refuse what His Son Jesus asks of Him on our behalf. Isn’t it wonderful? It is just unfortunate that many Catholics do not take these words of Jesus seriously enough.
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