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Bishop's Homily for the 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time

September 17, 2017

Twenty-fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A – September 16/17, 2017
[Sts. Peter & Paul Church, Honolulu]

I was angry, and I was right! That was the reality in my relationship with a particular person. Because of this, I found fault with almost everything he did. I took whatever opportunity I could to let others know that I was angry and I was right. I even decided to confront the person who had committed this offense against me, and when I did, he said, “Whether you are right or wrong, your anger is a cultivated anger.” And he was right about that. I had nurtured my anger against him, cultivated it, embraced it. Once he had the courage to say that to me, it turned me around. I saw how foolish I had been because I was causing nothing but grief in his life and in my own, and I was bringing darkness, not light, to the lives of others. I decided to apologize to him. While his behavior that originally made me angry did not change, my whole outlook changed. I felt free of the dirt and drudge that I had been heaping up. Today I have a much deeper respect for this person.

What I was doing was obviously not unique to me, since as far back as the Book of Sirach spoke of the foolishness of the person who hugs wrath and anger tight, who embraces them as if they were some great prize. But in reality to do so is like picking a sore so much that it gets infected, and healing becomes much more difficult. Jesus, of course, teaches us in today’s gospel and in so many other ways that mercy is healing for both the offender and the one offended. It is cultivating forgiveness that is his great challenge to us.

In a marriage, it is easy to be annoyed by a particular fault of the spouse, and sometimes the annoyance is embraced to the point that it becomes a major issue.  It takes a lot of energy to cultivate forgiveness rather than to hold tight to indignation, but in the end both parties will benefit.  In a family, someone may have said or done something very hurtful, and people do not talk to that person for years.  The anger is nurtured, even to the next generation, so that one may not even know why we don't talk to Uncle or Auntie So-and-so, but only that we don't.  It is not easy to nurture forgiveness, but in the end, it makes everyone free.

We need to reflect upon what forgiveness means, and what it does not mean. We sometimes fail to forgive because we feel it indicates that what the person did was not wrong. No, the wrong that was done does not become right just because it is forgiven. It is forever and always wrong. But we choose not to nurture it, not to let it infect us and others. I think of Saint John Paul II, who went into the prison to see the man who had attempted to kill him and forgave him. After the Pope forgave him, I am sure a burden was lifted from the Pope’s shoulders and from the shoulders of the offender, and from all our shoulders. But the man remained in prison, because what he had done was still wrong.

Another obstacle to forgiveness is the notion that the offender does not deserve such a gift and that we think we would be too magnanimous to grant forgiveness.  Peter, of course, thought he was being magnanimous in suggesting that we should forgive seven times, but Jesus makes it look measly by saying we must be ready to forgive seventy-seven times. But this parable today teaches us that we forgive, not because the offender deserves it or we feel magnanimous, but because it frees us, too. To forgive is to give ourselves a gift of freedom from the burdens of a grudge.

And, of course, another obstacle is pride, which puts more value in my being right than on my being in right relationship. Notice in the parable that the unforgiving steward is the one who is himself cast into prison, bringing about the exact opposite effect he had hoped for.  How many of our public protests today start with a legitimate anger against some injustice, yet end up in violence and hating those we deem to be so hateful?  When anger and wrath are nurtured and embraced, this is what happens.  But when we take up the difficult cross of forgiveness and do the hard work of nurturing it, we set everyone free.

I believe one of the beautiful things about a Catholic parish is that we come together with people of all ages and backgrounds who live in our neighborhood.  We may agree with them, and we may not, but we do not walk away and start our own church if we disagree.  Instead we stay together to work things out, to forgive and we ourselves want to be forgiven, and to nurture not anger but mercy.  It is here that we learn these challenging lessons of the gospel. We may not agree with someone, but we treat them with respect. Another person may be dead wrong about something, and we might be justifiably angered, but we do not nurture the anger as if it were some great prize to be clung to and shown off. We learn from Jesus himself and the great example of his life, death and resurrection, that being right or wrong is not the final consideration. Being merciful can lead us to a freedom that is true and authentic, and that no one can take from us.