Forgiveness entails sacrifice

Alexander Pope, in his poem An Essay on Criticism wrote, “To err is human; to forgive, divine.” With these few words, Pope managed to convey the essential message of the readings today.

Forgiveness Entails Sacrifice

In our hearts, we know what Sirach says to be the truth: “Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight.” We know the truth of it, we despise ourselves for clinging to such hateful things, yet, we cannot resist holding onto them, hugging them tight.

Those who have ever read Herman Melville’s classic novel Moby-Dick will recall the depths to which Captain Ahab was willing to sink in his hatred for his nemesis, the whale, Moby-Dick. His final words speak of his unrelenting hatred, “Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart, I stab at thee; for hate’s sake, I spit my last breath at thee.”

It is in our nature to begrudge others who have wronged us, yet we often carry those grudges like badges of honor, garnering satisfaction in just thinking of how we might avenge the wrongs we have endured. But then, “Revenge is a dish that is best served cold” and it always leaves a bitter aftertaste.

It is in nursing our feelings of hurt and injury that we begin to think of all the ways we are right and superior to the one who has sinned against us. Yet that simply leaves us frustrated and angry; no matter how right we think we are in the moment—and we relish that feeling, don’t we? —that feeling never lasts, ultimately it comes crashing down around our feet.

Forgiveness is the opposite of wrath and anger. There is a deep and abiding relationship between forgiveness and love. When we refuse to forgive those who have wronged us, we are, in truth, refusing to love them. And it is never acceptable not to love, for Christ has commanded us to love one another just as we love ourselves. The same holds true of forgiveness.

In our time, people are consumed with anger, consumed by hatred for perceived injustices, real or imagined; people somehow feel justified in visiting wrath upon each other over their self-assured belief in a righteous cause. We hear it all the time: “These others owe a debt to me, and I am going to make them pay every penny.” While there may be truth behind such claims, yet, as Jesus observes: others may owe a debt to you, but to whom are you indebted?

On Easter Sunday of 1960, a year before his death in a plane crash, Dag Hammarskjold, the second Secretary-General of the United Nations, wrote “Forgiveness breaks the chain of causality because he who ‘forgives’ you—out of love—takes upon himself the consequences of what you have done. Forgiveness, therefore, always entails a sacrifice.”

Forgiveness exacts a price, for you can never break free of the chains which bind you to the injury inflicted by others without sacrifice. Refusing to forgive, by its very nature, locks us into a vicious cycle: refusing to pardon the other seals ourselves off from the very experience of pardon. When we harden our heart, setting our judgment in concrete, it is only our heart that grows cold. Refusing to forgive, saying “I will never forgive,” hardens the heart.

Unforgiveness is a rejection of love. If we refuse to forgive, we make it impossible to love or receive love.

In a sermon, Saint Augustine spoke of the unforgiving debtor in the Gospel for today. He said:

The Lord puts the parable of the unforgiving debtor before us that we may learn from it. He has no desire for us to die, so he warns us: ’This is how your heavenly Father will deal with you if you, any of you, fail to forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’

 Take notice now, for clearly this is no idle warning. The fulfillment of this command calls for the most vigorous obedience. We are all in debt to God, just as other people are in debt to us. Is there anyone who is not God’s debtor? Only a person in whom no sin can be found. And is there anyone who has no brother or sister in his debt? Only if there be someone who has never suffered any wrong.

Do you think anyone can be found in the entire human race who has not in turn wronged another in some way, incurring a debt to that person? No, all are debtors, and have others in debt to them. Accordingly, God who is just has told you how to treat your debtor, because he means to treat his in the same way.

There are two works of mercy which will set us free. They are briefly set down in the gospel in the Lord’s own words: ‘Forgive and you will be forgiven, and Give and you will receive.’ The former concerns pardon, the latter generosity. … 

As regards pardon he says: ‘Just as you want to be forgiven, so someone is in need of your forgiveness.’ Again, as regards generosity, consider when a beggar asks you for something that you are a beggar too in relation to God.

When we pray we are all beggars before God. We are standing at the door of a great householder, or rather, lying prostrate, and begging with tears. We are longing to receive a gift—the gift of God himself. …

If we think of our sins, reckoning up those we have committed by sight, hearing, thought, and countless disorderly emotions, I do not know whether we can even sleep without falling into debt.

And so, every day we pray; every day we beat upon God’s ears with our pleas; every day we prostrate ourselves before him saying: ‘Forgive us our trespasses, as we also forgive those who trespass against us.’ …

Which of our trespasses, all of them or only some? All, you will answer.

Do likewise, therefore, with those who have offended you.

Forgiveness is a journey that leads us to love, a journey on which we are invited to look deep, not only at those we would forgive, but into ourselves. Forgiveness becomes real only when we discover that the sins of our brothers and sisters are alive in us. Forgiveness cannot be measured, counted, or rationed; it is not a single heroic act, but an on-going journey of redemption that begins in the heart of God.

Some sixteen years ago, I found the strength to ask God to liberate me from my sins; a feeling so indescribably delicious! His forgiveness lifted my soul and altered the course of my life. Six years ago, on September 17, 2011, I lay prostrate before the Altar of the Lord, humbly accepting his call to serve him in a new and surprising way, as a member of the clergy, a Deacon in the service of the Body of Christ. It was in that moment I realized just how infinite his love and how complete his forgiveness. And for that I pray: “O God, have mercy on me a sinner. Amen.”

Homily #140
Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
Sirach 27:30—28:7
Romans 14:7-9
Matthew 18:21-35

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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