If you remember anything from this homily, please remember these two sentences. Unforgiven anger imprisons. Forgiveness frees.
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. Thanks Peter. I made it. What? Really? How is that possible?
8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14. “How many more times? He just doesn’t ever listen to me.” “Oh, and she nags me all the time.”
15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21. Last week Fr. Lou in his homily quoted an article in the Wall Street Journal: “When Pope Francis appeared before a joint session of Congress in 2015, he spoke about the divisiveness that had overcome American politics. The Pope called for an end to ‘the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners.’ Few heeded his warning.
“Today a growing number of Americans regard their political opponents not as fellow citizens with whom they disagree, but as enemies; as politically, socially and even morally irredeemable.”
“And Jesus said, ‘I call you friends.’”
22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28. “I will never forget what he did to me. I can never forgive. Never! He’s a scumbag. I hope he goes to hell.”
29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35. I’m tired of counting. At least, we are almost half way there. “And Jesus said, ‘but I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father… So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.’”
36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42. I’ve mentioned in the past that I once was an “injustice collector.” I used to collect perceived injustices against me, my perception of people not treating me the way I felt they should treat me, or feel towards me, or figure out – without me telling them, how they should love me and be my friend.
I know that might sound odd or silly or, quite frankly stupid. But there was something self-serving in that mindset, a self-righteousness and a deep self-centeredness that closed in upon myself.
Or as our first reading so wisely put it, “Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight.” I used to hug them very tight and use them against the other. What pain I caused. To some, I have made amends. For others, I can only beg the Lord for forgiveness.
43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49. “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” How many times have we prayed these words! Thousands of times we have asked our heavenly, loving Father to forgive us because we have trespassed on someone else’s property – emotionally, physically, sexually, spiritually, ethically, professionally, etc. We ask for forgiveness on the condition that we forgive, that somehow we try to forgive over and over again, seeking to change our behavior, our attitude, our interactions, etc. Exhausting, yet so worthwhile.
50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56. “Can anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the Lord,” asks Sirach?
There was a point in my life when I felt so hurt that the only way I could deal with the pain was to lash out in anger. I hugged it tight in one form or another for years. It seeped into every part of my life without me even knowing. It was like the smoke outside. It was making me sick in ways that I could not even explain.
Counseling helped a bit, but it was my spiritual director who gave me the key to unlock the imprisonment of my unforgiveness. It may be helpful for you or someone you know. She told me to pray like this: “Jesus, I know you want me to forgive, but I can’t. I really don’t even want to forget them.
“So if you want me to forgive, and I know you do, then you have to do it in me, because I can’t. So I am giving you permission to forgive in me if you really want me to forgive, because I can’t do it on my own. I simply can’t. You have got to do it in me.”
57, 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 63. The key to that last prayer was that I had to do every time I thought of these folks, felt my hurt or was engulfed in my anger. I had to pray that prayer over and over again. There were days I became sick of praying it because I felt so awful, and the hurt seemed too much.
But I kept praying. Sr. Catherine kept encouraging me. It took a year and a half for Jesus to set me free. I was so stubborn.
Unforgiven anger imprisons. Forgiveness frees. Whenever I find myself walking back into that prison, I start praying that prayer over and over.
64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70. Forgiveness is a virtue, and therefore it is hard work, especially in our fractured, alienated and hyper-individualistic society. Hard work indeed. Some would even say, impossible.
Yet Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, love one another. As I have loved you, so also should you love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
My sisters and brothers, as disciples of Jesus Christ, as members of his Body, the Church, we are called to be different. We are called to be reconcilers, healers, friends, brothers and sisters not enemies, accusers, haters or blamers.
71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77. “There is no fear in love, for perfect love casts out all fear.” 1 John 4:18
78, 79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84. “And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them…’”
It doesn’t end at 70 or 77. It is a life long journey. Yet it is the only journey that helps in building the Kingdom of God here on earth until the fullness of the Kingdom comes when Jesus returns.
“Bless me Father for I have sinned. It’s been about a month since my last confession. Father, I get so discouraged because I keep coming back, asking God to forgive me of some of the same sins that I have struggled with over and over again. I feel like my resolve to try to amend my life is so superficial. What am I to do?”
Maybe these final words from Pope Francis will give us all the encouragement we need. He wrote, “God never tires of forgiving us. It is we who tire of asking for forgiveness.”
And again, “It is not easy to entrust oneself to God’s mercy, because it is an abyss beyond our comprehension. But we must! … ‘Oh, I am a great sinner!’ All the better! Go to Jesus: He likes you to tell him these things! He forgets, He has a very special capacity for forgetting. He forgets, He kisses you, He embraces you and He simply says to you: “Neither do I condemn you; go, and sin no more” (Jn 8:11).
Unforgiven anger imprisons. Forgiveness frees. 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 90, 91…