7th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

     About two and a half years ago I made my professional film debut. About three and a half years ago, a parishioner of mine, who seemingly had the all-American family was hit head on by a high school student who crossed the center lane while texting and driving. While she miraculously survived her great career was over. After countless surgeries she is able to walk, and talk and live a semi-normal life, but I’m sure the pain will never go away. Her two young children were in the car with her and although physically unharmed I can only imagine the nightmares they must have had as they remembered the scene of their mom laying lifeless in the driver’s seat or the countless weeks she fought for her life in the intensive care unit. To make a very long story short, AT&T has an anti-texting and driving campaign called It Can Wait and they wanted to do a video on this woman’s story as a part of her campaign. So I was asked to be involved in two scenes. First they wanted to recreate the prayer service we held at the parish the night after the accident and they wanted to shoot a scene with me and this woman having a conversation about her recovery. I asked the Emmy nominated director what we were going to talk about and he said that he had a question in mind but he wasn’t going to tell me until the cameras started to roll because he wanted the conversation to be raw. So there I was in my own church, lights everywhere, the camera, this woman and myself in the pew, and the Emmy nominated director giving us last second instructions. The camera’s start and he said I want you to talk about trying to forgive this high school student and for the next 15 minutes or so in front of the camera and the production crew, this woman and I began to wrestle with the question, how do forgive someone who has taken so much of your life. How do you forgive someone who has radically and forever altered your life? Fortunately for me I was prepared for this discussion because just a few months earlier I had another woman in my office whose son had been savagely murdered and the man who killed her son was facing his execution date on death row in the near future. She too wanted to know how she was supposed to forgive the man who brutally killed her son.

     God willing none of us ever experience those extreme situations, but I think if we are honest all of us have to admit that there are relationships in our life where it is tough for us to forgive, where it is tough for us to live out today’s Gospel which calls us to forgive those who have offended us. If you are anything like me, we can recount times in our lives where we have sat there and said I know I am supposed to forgive, but it’s not easy. Yet, the more I think about forgiveness, the more I’m convinced it’s not supposed to be easy. You see true forgiveness is a choice to enter into pain and sin and address the dysfunction rather than pretend it doesn’t really exist.

     Sadly, today forgiveness is often equated to a feeling. It is often wrongly reduced to simply an emotion or a way to cope with being hurt. In attempting to cope with a transgression, forgiveness is reduced to simply agreeing to forget and move on, but this is not forgiveness. Not only is this dishonest, but it is also unhealthy because it only serves to suppress the pain which will undoubtedly come roaring back later.

     True forgiveness demands that we first accept that a transgression has occurred. It then requires us to admit our own pain and suffering before calling us to an honest recognition that the person who has hurt us is indebted to us. While justice demands that those who offend us give us what they owe us, it belongs to the state to administer justice. For as today’s Gospel reminds us we are not arbiters of justice, but rather agents of charity. We as Christians are called not to justice but to forgiveness, which demands we make the choice to release our transgressors from their debts. Forgiveness then is the free choice to release the transgressor from the debt they owe, it is the choice to set the other person free.

     Forgiveness has nothing to do with our own feelings, but rather is rooted in the choice to love the one who has hurt us, by seeking only the best for them. Since forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling, it is often the case that we can release a person from the debt they owe us and still experience the sting of what they took from us. Forgiveness is not the choice to make ourselves feel better, it is the choice to release another from their debt. In releasing, another from their debt we do not necessarily put the transgression behind us or pretend that it didn’t happen. No, we enter into the transgression and do the hard work of healing. Now healing doesn’t me we return everything to how it was before the transgression, often that is impossible, but rather often forgiveness demands that we release the transgressor and move forward in our healing. Unless we take the first step of forgiveness, we can never move forward with our own healing, after all, how can we expect to heal when we refuse to release the one who has hurt us in the first place.

     True forgiveness is ultimately rooted in humility. It demands that we step back and admit that just as we have been hurt, we too have hurt others; that we must have our sins forgiven just as we forgive the sins of those who sinned against us. True forgiveness challenges us to step back and look to the cross and see the only Son of God, He who knew no sin, hanging there for our sins and recognize our call as Christians to follow after Christ wherever that might lead.

     My friends “to follow Christ means to become one who loves as God has love.”[1] God loved us so much that when we had trespassed against Him, He forgave us at the price of sending His only Son into the world to die on the cross. Jesus shows us forgiveness is not just a word we offer, but rather requires hard work. It demands that we enter into the dysfunction, pain and sin and address it. While we may be able to come up with all kinds of excuses not to forgive, the teaching of Christ is clear; if we want to be forgiven, we must forgive as others who trespass against us. “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”[2] While this is hard it is possible and we can never forget that we are offered our own forgiveness on no other terms. To refuse to forgive others is to refuse God’s mercy for ourselves.

[1] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger,.Dogma and Preaching Applying Christian Doctrine to Daily Life. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011. Pg 129.

[2] CS. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses. New York: Harper One, 1949. Pg  182.

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