The following in Bishop Caggiano’s homily for the Twenty-Fourth Sunday In Ordinary Time:
My dear friends,
We come here this morning on this beautiful day with the first hints of autumn to hear a very sober, direct, one could even say blunt, lesson from the Lord Jesus. And it comes to us in this parable about our desire to be forgiven; married to the command that we forgive others.
In fact, that command is not new. For we heard in the First Reading from the Prophet Sirach how even among God’s chosen people, they were clearly taught that you need to forgive your neighbor. And then when you pray, your sins will be forgiven. They are intricately linked.
So I thought today, a good question to ask is, why? Why are they linked? What is it that the Lord is trying to teach us in His love – not in His judgment – in His mercy and care for you and me, what is it that He’s trying to teach us do that we can be truly open to the forgiveness of our sins and truly free to forgive our neighbor?
So let us begin with the gift given us by God the Father through Jesus His Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Through the death and resurrection of Christ we believe that He has forgiven all sin, provided that the sinner comes forward and does what? In contrition of heart, recognizing his or her sinfulness, asks for that gift. In order for us to receive the gift we need to prepare our hearts to receive it.
Because, my friends, like any other gift, God will not force it on us. He will not give it to us unless we are ready to accept it.
And so what allows us to be contrite of our sins? Truly contrite, really contrite, honestly contrite. It’s when you and I in humility look ourselves in the face and admit the truth of what we have done, with no excuses. No “it’s my other neighbor’s fault”, “it was my wife’s fault”, “it is my brother’s fault”. Or this one: “it was circumstance.”
No. The truth. When we’ve dishonored our neighbor ourselves, when we have not given right worship to God, when we’ve chosen selfishness over selflessness, the truth – the brutal honest truth in humility – what does it do? It cracks the heart open, makes us recognize that we need to surrender in order to be healed.
And it is in that broken heart, if I may call it that, that the rain, the shower, the water, the grace – however you want to describe it – of God’s forgiveness that’s always there, comes flooding in. And we’re healed. And we find the peace and a joy in which we’re set free, almost as if we are reborn.
Why is that linked to the forgiveness of our neighbor? Because, my friends, the same quality is required to forgive our neighbor. For the truth is, when we are on the short end of the stick – meaning when we ask God to forgive us – that’s easy. When this person who told me off or cheated me or betrayed me asked forgiveness, that’s a different story, isn’t it? When we’re at the short end of the stick, it’s a much more different reality.
And yet the humility of that moment is what allows us to forgive them. Because the truth is, we may have gotten the short end of the stick from this person, but how many times have we given it to someone else? That there is a commonality.
None of us in this church escape sin. And when we look our neighbor in the face, it’s with the contrition we asked of God. In the humility of knowing my own limits, I can offer forgiveness in God’s grace and allow that person the same freedom I want for myself. For the hold on to the grudges, or the silence, or to refuse to let that person go free in God’s grace, is to condemn me to slavery.
And allow me to ask you a very blunt question – how do you know, how do I know, that my contrition before God is honest and true?
One of the ways is whether or not that same humility is present when my neighbor asks to be forgiven. For if I refuse to forgive him or her, am I really sorry to Him? And you see my friends why the Lord loves us so deeply that He commands us to do the one, so that we might receive the other fully, totally and completely.
And the interesting thing is, this commandment is so important that in the only prayer the Lord Jesus gave us directly from His own mouth, which we recite, I presume, every day – certainly every time we come to Mass – we call it the Lord’s Prayer. What do we say? Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
My dear friends, our spiritual homework this week is to pray for the grace, to live the power of the word as.