March 15, 2020 - Pastor Message04/08/2020
THE YEAR OF DISCIPLESHIP RECONCILIATION (CONT.) “Then Peter approaching Jesus asked him, ‘Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times’” (Matthew 18:21 22).
Continuing our Lenten reflection on reconciliation and its importance in the life of a disciple of Christ, we turn this week to forgiveness. Recall that reconciliation is a threestep process: repentance on the part of the offender; forgiveness on the part of the offended; and atonement or reparation on the part of both. Last week we reflected on repentance, the act of turning away from sin and all that separates us from God and one another. But to what do we turn? Enter forgiveness.
In justice, we deserve total separation from God and others for all eternity because of our sins in other words, Hell. But God does not abandon us. Though we choose to walk away from him, he does not walk away from us. He comes after us, the crazy shepherd seeking out his lost sheep (Luke 15). He forgoes the retribution and punishment we deserve and suffers it himself in the person of his Son on the cross. That is how much our God loves us, that he would not punish us for our sins as we deserve but instead offers us forgiveness through the sacrifice of his Son.
But if we would accept that gift, we need to follow his command to love others as he loves us, including forgiving those who wrong us, as we recite in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” At first glance, this might seem as if we can somehow earn God’s forgiveness by first forgiving others. In reality, forgiveness can never be earned. Of its very nature, it is a free gift. However, reconciliation also requires repentance, as we discussed last week. When we fail to forgive others, which is a moral obligation for Christians, we sin. As long as we refuse to repent of that sin, we refuse to be reconciled with God, and his forgiveness remains an unaccepted offer.
The forgiveness of those who hurt us is a grave obligation for Christians, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Our natural reaction when someone hurts us is to seek retribution. We need supernatural help. Forgiveness is an exercise of the theological virtue of charity. If we would forgive others as God forgives us, we need to experience the liberating power God’s mercy ourselves through frequent celebration of the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. Only by God’s grace can we forgive as he forgives, and the ordinary means of experiencing that grace is through regular, sincere confession.
While not Catholic, Dr. Martin Luther King effectively sums up the meaning of Christian forgiveness: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” May we usher more of God’s love into the world by celebrating his forgiveness in the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation and by extending it generously to others through forgiveness of those who hurt us.
Fr. Marc Stockton