Reflection on 24th Sunday: 13th September 2020

70×7 = Infinity

In Scripture, numbers usually point beyond a numerical value to a symbolic significance. The number seven is one of the most significant in the Bible. Scholars say it denotes completeness or wholeness and 70×7 = Infinity. In today’s gospel reading Jesus is telling us that forgiveness is not a quantifiable event. It is a quality; a way of being, a way of living, a way of loving, a way of relating, a way of thinking and seeing. It is nothing less than the way of Christ. If we are to follow Christ then it must become our way as well. It is infinite compassion. There are no limits to his forgiveness.

C.S. Lewis writes, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until there is something to forgive”. When we look at our lives we will find broken promises, hurt feelings, betrayals, harsh words, physical and emotional wounds. Beneath the pain, the wounds, the losses, and the memories lies the question of forgiveness. Forgiveness does not originate in us. It begins with God. We do not choose to forgive. We only choose to share the forgiveness we have already received. The merciless servant was tortured when he refused to forgive his fellow servant. An unforgiving spirit creates its own suffering. It builds up walls of bitterness and resentment and there is no escape until we come to forgive.

Jack Kornfield reminds us that “if your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” Forgiving others begins by “having compassion for all those unwanted parts of ourselves.” ( Pema Chodron) Forgiveness also extends to reality itself: to forgive it for being so broken, a mixture of good and bad. We can only surrender to the mystery of that paradox by trustfully allowing God to lovingly hold together the opposites within us, within our neighbour and even our enemy, and within reality itself.

After being imprisoned in South Africa for 27 years for his protest of apartheid, Nelson Mandela said “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” Forgiveness creates space for new life.

Adapted from various sources inc Michael Marsh, Richard Rohr

Gospel: Matthew 18:21-35

Peter came and said to Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, is lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Reflection on 23rd Sunday: 6th September 2020

Forgiveness

“Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” These words have appeared in the gospel 3 times in the past few Sundays.. Today, Jesus is not just addressing Peter, he is talking to all ‘his disciples’; he is talking to us. We have the power to bind one another up by our unforgiveness, gossip, criticism, negativity. We have the power to loose and release one another from those bonds by the mystery of forgiveness. Nothing new happens without forgiveness. Without forgiveness, we remain frozen in the past, frozen in our negative memories, frozen in anger. Unless we become people who let go of our past, let go of our hurts, we just keep repeating that past over and over again. Forgiveness is the only way to free ourselves from the entrapment of the past. Forgiveness is God’s job description: to unbind, to free us so that something new can happen.

We may initially wonder if forgiveness is being advocated in Jesus’ words at the beginning of this gospel reading where he says that if a person refuses to repent after a process that involved three different encounters calling for repentance, then he should be “treated like a pagan or tax collector”. What is our immediate understanding of these words? Many of us would say that it means that the offender must be put out from the community and be regarded as an outsider and we would justify our decision by saying that this drastic and final step was to be taken not in a spirit of revenge or vindictiveness but out of real concern for the wellbeing of the whole community. Let’s read that verse again. Jesus said, “Treat him like a pagan or tax collector.” How did Jesus treat pagans and tax collectors?………. Jesus showed them unending love and respect. He treated them with the dignity that was due to someone created in the image of God. When we speak and act with love, God will act through our words, our actions, our attitudes, our gestures. “Whenever two or three of you are gathered in the right spirit, there I am.” Forgiveness could almost be described as the very name of God.

Richard Rohr and an unknown source

Gospel: Matthew 18:15-20

Jesus said to his disciples, “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

“Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

Reflection on 28th Sunday: 13th October 2019

Thanksgiving

Anne Voskamp writes the following: As I reflected on Luke 17, I remembered my Sunday School teacher Mrs Morrison and could hear her voice asking, “Do you always remember to say thanks?” Yes, I think I know this one, so I skim through the passage. “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Rise and go; your faith has made you well.’” Wait. I trace back. Hadn’t Jesus completely healed him? Exactly like the other nine who were cured but hadn’t bothered to return to thank Him. So what does Jesus mean, “Your faith has made you well”? Some translations read, “Your faith has saved you.” Saved you? I dig deeper. It’s ‘sozo’ in Greek, the original language of the New Testament. Sozo means salvation, true wellness, complete wholeness. Jesus came that we might live life to the full. And when did the leper receive the saving to the full, whole life? When he returned and gave thanks. Our wellness, our wholeness is intimately related to the giving of thanks. Mrs Morrison hadn’t said that.

Thanksgiving is the evidence of our acceptance of whatever He gives. Thanksgiving is necessary to live the well, whole, fullest life. Thanksgiving –giving thanks in everything- always precedes the miracle.

In Luke 22:19 we read: “And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them.” In the original language ‘he gave thanks’ reads ‘eucharisteo’. The root word of eucharisteo is charis, meaning ‘grace’. But it also holds the derivative, the Greek word chara, meaning ‘joy’. St Augustine says that without exception, all try their hardest to reach the same goal, joy. That has always been the goal of the fullest life – joy. And my life knew exactly how elusive that slippery three-letter word, joy, can be. But where can I seize this holy grail of joy? Is deep chara joy to be found only at the table of thanksgiving? Is it that simple?

As long as thanks is possible, then joy is always possible. Joy is always possible: whenever, meaning now; wherever, meaning here. The holy grail of joy is not in some exotic location or some emotional mountain peak experience. The joy wonder could be here! Here, in this piercing ache of now, joy might be – unbelievably – possible! Is the height of my joy dependant on the depths of my thanks?

Ann Voskamp. One Thousand Gifts: A dare to live fully, right where you are

Reflection on the 5th Sunday in Lent: 7th April 2019

Divine Mercy

‘If you treat an individual as he is, he will remain as he is. But if you treat him as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.’ (Goethe). Jesus sees the potential in every person he meets. Today’s gospel shows us how in his presence people feel capable of more. He guides them to the realisation that their growth is far from finished. Mercy gives the sinner a future when there seems to be no future. He recognises the wrong done but does not demand a penalty for it. This gospel passage models mercy at its very best. Mercy looks at others with compassion, it understands, it does not condemn, it sets free, it enables, it gives life. This ideal continues to inspire many, but for a variety of reasons Jesus’ example of tenderness and mercy proves difficult to imitate. Some of the hindrances to that imitation need to be named if we are to overcome them.

One obstacle is fear. The scribes and Pharisees are very uncomfortable with moral failure. According to their standards of justice the sinner must pay the price for what he/she has done. If the law is not kept and failure isn’t punished then the danger is that chaos will take over and chaos is very scary. In their eyes the observance of the law makes for order and that keeps chaos at bay. For Jesus too the law gives direction to life, but he looks to its deeper significance and to the need to understand each individual who seeks to follow its guidance.

Another obstacle is the self-centredness that wants more, whether it is more freedom, more control, more material goods or more power. This attitude finds tolerance and forgiveness very demanding. It is becoming increasingly evident that the more individual our views and beliefs become, the higher the levels of intolerance.

A story that begins with deathly accusation ends with divine mercy. Where the community’s condemnation would have led the adulterous woman to death, Jesus’ mercy leads her to new life. A story that begins with exposing the sin of an individual ends with exposing the sinfulness of all. Where the community begins with awareness of the woman’s sinfulness, this encounter with Jesus makes them aware of their own sinfulness. A story that begins with human testing of the divine ends with divine invitation to repent. Jesus reveals a new order in which all are called to repentance and the experience of divine mercy. Jesus’ desire for us is not death but new life.

Sources: galwaydiocese.ie/reflection; Living Liturgy