Keeping up a nodding acquaintance
Sarah Hewit Frier was the niece of Father Augustine Hewit, C.S.P., associate founder, in 1858, of the famous American religious order, the Paulist Fathers. Through her Paulist connection, she became acquainted, as a girl, with the great American convert, journalist and philosopher, Orestes A. Brownson. But apart from having famous kith and kin, Sarah achieved a bit of glory on her own as the author of a catchy little epigram.
A few years before her death in 1953 she wrote these wise and witty lines which all of all would do well to remember and act on:
Every day I pass the church,
I stop and make a visit,
For fear that when I’m carried there
The Lord will say, “Who is it?
” …Remember your last days, set enmity aside; remember death and decay and cease from sin!” (Sirach, 28; 6 Today’s first reading)
If your day is hemmed with prayer, it is less likely to unravel.
-Father Robert F. McNamara
Q336: To “forgive” another 77 times (Mt 18:21-35) seems to be an exaggeration. Is there a way to break open the meaning intended by Jesus?
Several years ago a preacher friend named Mark Whittaker (ecumenical preachers network called PRCL) said something that always stuck with me. He asked this question: If Ed McMahon came to your door with a check for $11 million dollars, how would you say “thank you”? Is something more required than just jumping up and down for the cameras?
If you think about it, just how do you say a meaningful “thank you” to someone who has saved your life? Or is it just impossible to express your feelings in a way that would seem to “match” the gift itself? Look at the Crucifix in your church and in your home (if you don’t have one, are you sure you are a Christian?). That simply represents a most incredible and unrepeatable gift, the gift of eternal life. The Crucifix is “the” sign of our eternal salvation! Yes, eternal salvation! Just how do you say “thanks” to a gift like that?!
We Americans tend to think in terms of “obligations” — we were invited to a great party, now we feel “obligated” to pay them back… we were given a great birthday gift, now we have to match it in return… Oh, you dumb Americans (that includes me)! We need to learn simply to accept the gift with love, with no strings attached, with no obligations. And it is out of that very same love that we do, in fact, respond in kind with as much love as we can muster for the purpose.
God has forgiven us for all of our sins. What is our response? There is no way we can “repay” him for his free gift of love. But if our hearts are tuned in correctly, we will learn that love freely given drives us to give it away. Jesus forgave us our sins, paying a terrible price for our sinfulness, showing the depth of his love for his brothers and sisters. Now that very same gift calls us to give away – in imitation of Jesus – all of the love and forgiveness we have in our hearts, gifts to be passed on to others. “77 times” means Jesus wants it all – all the forgiveness in our hearts, all of the gratitude, all of the love — gifts he gave us for the simple purpose of passing them on as his disciples.
KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! The gates of forgiveness are always open to anyone who turns away from sin (CCC #982). Everyone must be tireless in forgiving each other both the petty and the serious; the charity of Christ demands it (CCC #2227). It is our own heart that binds us to heaven or hell, just like the “merciless servant” found out in today’s gospel (CCC #2843).
Forgive Us Our Trespasses as we Forgive Those who Trespass Against Us.
Today’s readings sound like a commentary on the Lord’s Prayer. How many times do we really think about the meaning of those words as we say them? Jesus tells us we must always forgive. Doesn’t it sometimes seem as if God is unreasonable, as when Sirach tells us “anger and wrath are hateful things.” Can we really help the way we feel in the face of hurt and injustice? No, but Sirach didn’t say we are sinners for feeling that way, but for “holding on to them,” for “nourishing those feelings. Forgiveness does not mean pretending that no injustice or hurt has been done. It does mean trying to overcome those feelings and working at forgiveness. Forgiveness is a process that may take time. The greater the offense, the more time it may take to heal, but the first step in the process is to stop clutching the offense to ourselves, brooding over the hurt. We are not told to forgive because the offense wasn’t real , but to forgive as the Lord has forgiven us.
Lord, you reveal yourself as slow to anger and rich in compassion. You pardon our iniquities; you heal our ills. Share your compassion with me that I may be your instrument of compassion and forgiveness toward others.