The Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]
Sirach 27:30—28:7 + Romans 14:7-9 + Matthew 18:21-35
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references to the Catechism of the Catholic Church cited for this Sunday by the Vatican’s Homiletic Directory:
CCC 218-221: God is love
CCC 294: God manifests his glory by sharing his goodness
CCC 2838-2845: “forgive us our trespasses”
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Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight.
The great British convert and apologist G. K. Chesterton once said, “Forgiving means to pardon the unpardonable, or it is no virtue at all.” By contrast, you and I often are willing only to forgive if we deem someone’s sins not too serious or offensive. Today Jesus challenges us to go further in being instruments of His Divine Mercy.
On this Sunday in the midst of Ordinary Time, we ought to think back to the Sunday after Easter Sunday. The Church calls this day Divine Mercy Sunday, in honor of Jesus instituting the Sacrament of Confession seven days after His Resurrection. The gift of this Sacrament is anything but ordinary. Yet the fruits of this sacrament are meant to help each Christian face the ordinary challenges of forgiving others as we have been forgiven.
One way to realize to what extent we ought to extend mercy to others is to turn the table. We ought each day to consider how much God Himself has blessed us in showing us His mercy. We ought to remember that each day we act sinfully, in a way that calls for God’s mercy.
All of us long to find a place where we are at home, where we are trusted. But even more importantly, we long to find a place where we can be forgiven, for we know that there are times when we fail to live up to the trust that people place in us. We might ask ourselves, “Which is more important to me: trust or forgiveness?”
If we look to our own experiences, it’s easy to answer these questions. When we consider the workplace, we can hope that our employers or supervisors might be patient and help us when we have trouble with a task.
But if we were to imagine our worst Monday, a day in which hour after hour produced nothing but terrible results, and finally ended in a major blunder or misjudgment, we would naturally expect to receive a pink slip instead of forgiveness. Businesses have to trust people, or they wouldn’t have any employees. But they do not have to forgive endlessly. They can only tolerate a certain amount of error. After that, the relationship is over.
All of us long to find a place where we feel at home, which first and foremost means a place where we know we can experience forgiveness despite our sins. We want a home where our relationships are not defined by, or at risk of termination because of, our sins.
Home is not simply where the heart is, but where the forgiving heart is. The home in which we find the deepest sort of forgiveness, a selfless and generous forgiveness that seeks to build up the one who has transgressed: this is our truest home.
The Church, wherein we share in the Body of Christ, is our truest home both on earth and in Heaven. By right, we should feel most at home there, before its altar, because it is there that we revel in the source of all forgiveness. When the priest speaks those words that Christ spoke at the Last Supper, we are taken into that home where forgiveness was first given by the God-man, when He said, “This is the Cup of My Blood. It will be shed for you and for all, so that sins may be forgiven ….”
But in this home, we find not only forgiveness. In our home which is the Church, sharing in the Eucharist means giving thanks not only for the forgiveness wrought by Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross. We also give thanks for the fact that when we share fully in this sacrament, we receive not only a share in Christ’s forgiveness. We receive a share in the life of Christ himself. We receive not only the Forgiver’s forgiveness. We receive the Forgiver.
To receive forgiveness is to be restored to our former self. But to receive the Forgiver means not simply that we’re restored to our former self, but that we’re raised from our state of sinfulness even beyond our old self, to a share in the life of the Forgiver’s Self. We share in the life of Christ, and so are asked to offer forgiveness to others as Christ does: to all persons, in all circumstances, forever.