Saturday, February 21, 2009

Friendship and Forgiveness

(7th Sunday in Ordinary Time, B)

The gospel we hear today is a special opportunity for our reflection. It’s special because it doesn’t require a lot of translation, because we find ourselves, right now, in the exact same situation as the people in the passage. Learning that Jesus was at home, they went to his house to hear his teaching and to seek healing and forgiveness. Brothers and sisters, this is exactly what we are doing here; we have assembled in Jesus’ house in order to receive his teaching, healing, and forgiveness.

And so the unnamed people in the gospel can help us to notice what’s going on with ourselves and what we’re called to today. In this regard, let’s notice two things: First of all, what the passage teaches us about Christian friendship, and second, what we learn about the forgiveness of sins.

We’re all familiar with the role of faith in Jesus’ healing miracles. It’s not just that Jesus heals someone; the gospels often say that Jesus “saw” someone’s faith, or he says something like, “Your faith has made you well.” Now notice in the gospel we hear today, Jesus sees not only the faith of the person in need of healing but “their faith,” that is, the faith also of the friends. This man’s friends, through their outrageous action of breaking through the roof in order to get their friend to Jesus, demonstrate the intensity of their faith in Jesus’ healing power. This is an image of Christian friendship! And it challenges us to ask ourselves how far we are willing to go to bring those we love to Jesus. Are we willing to climb up on top of houses and break through roofs so that those we love might also receive the healing and forgiveness Jesus offers? Are we hesitant to do the outrageous to connect others with Jesus? Well, once we really know the gift of forgiveness of sins, I think we won’t be, because we will know how freeing and healing it is to be forgiven.

It’s funny; I think the forgiveness of sins is one of hardest doctrines of Christianity for people to believe. In some ways I think it’s easier to believe in some of the more sublime truths like the Resurrection or the Blessed Trinity than it is to believe in the forgiveness of sins. Sometimes I ask people in confession if they believe they are forgivable. Some people don’t think so. So I tell them to pray the Apostle’s Creed as a penance, which, as you know, contains the line “I believe…in the forgiveness of sins.”

I remember once how my father said that he didn’t believe in forgiveness because it was unjust. In a certain sense of commutative justice, based on equal retribution, forgiveness seems unjust because it lets go of injury and doesn’t seek recompense. But this is an incomplete idea of justice, because justice must always be directed to the common good. And as long we hold on to evil, whether it be in an unwillingness to forgive ourselves or each other, evil will reproduce inside us. It will either turn inside and become depression or turn out and become violence. Forgiveness puts an end to the self-replicating cycles of sin and violence.

This is why God forgives. It’s not because God is a nice and patient person. It’s because God is utterly and perfectly good and has no interest in punishment or retribution. God is only interested in the healing and lifting up of the world. That’s why in the first reading from the prophet Isaiah, God explains that he forgives sins for his own sake! We too, if we want to be good to ourselves, will learn to forgive ourselves and each other, so that we might not hold on to the evil and the injury that brings misery into the world. And having found that forgiveness, like the friends in the gospel, we’ll be willing to do anything to bring others to the forgiveness we have in Jesus.


Ian Ransom said...

Wonderful reflections and instructions, Father. I, too, find myself smiling when I read of how the Lord was more concerned with seeing the willingness to ~be~ faithful than with the need to work signs and wonders. Well done. Thank God for our sentient and devout priests.


Brother Charles said...

Thank you for your encouragement, Ian. Good to meet you!

Tom, S.F.O. said...

Great homily, Brother. I look forward to your posts.

Lisa said...

Father, when you talked about our unwillingness to forgive ourselves or each other, and the evil that comes from that, I immediately went back to where you said, "it challenges us to ask ourselves how far we are willing to go to bring those we love to Jesus." You've given a pointed reminder of the terrible, terrible damage that comes to so many when we are unwilling to let go of those problems that we should have long ago given to our Lord. Thank you.

standing maryanna said...

Fr. Charles, I have just discovered your blog today and I thank God for it. I have placed it in my favorites so that I can continue to benefit from your homilies and reflections.

Your gentle direction is in stark contrast from some of the other Catholic blogs I have been reading. I thank you... May God protect and guide you...

Brother Charles said...

Thank you for your encouragement, Maryanna! God bless you.