How many times must I forgive?
On this second weekend of September we have a special blessing for the parish as we celebrate the addition of our new St. Helena Memorial Plaza, our new meditation fountain with the life-sized statue of our Patroness. The sculptor will be here today and explain how he created the beautiful original work and the fountain. After we will move on to our new Parish Life Center, which was built as the result of process with the parish nearly 3 years ago, with our ministry coordinators and a parishioner questionnaire. I remember the first time I was assigned here over 17 years ago and noticed how many of you would gather on the sidewalk after Masses to catch up w/each other. The Plaza and Center provides for our parish and school; a place to build community and get you off the sidewalk!
Many of our parishioners and school families invested in our campaign along with other persons in our community and a local foundation. We also received over 500,000 of in kind donations. The center and plaza are your gift for today and for generations to come.
A witness of service for the good of others includes a paradox that our faith and relationships can teach us-that happiness includes self-sacrifice. And some of you have sacrificed to help us have a place to gather, to educate, to celebrate, to socialize and grow as a faith family.
Our readings for today speak of self-sacrifice and with themes of forgiveness, reminders of the essence of Christ’s sacrifice. There is more joy to be had from forgiveness towards others than from a lifetime of being self-righteousness. Forgiveness is one of the most important hallmarks of belonging to Christ and growing to be more like him. Without forgiveness, we are stuck in the past with little hope for the future. Even worse, some can be stuck with resentment and anger for an entire lifetime returning to the same scarred wound and picking on it.
There is a saying that many use, about 8 people claim authorship, “harboring resentment is like you taking poison and waiting for the other person to die” Our faith beliefs and our life experiences remind us that life cannot be fully lived without forgiveness, self-sacrifice and compromise. Christian formation and family witness with moral-development are all linked and based upon giving up something for the good of others.
We teach our children and youth to be socially conscience. In our parochial schools and religion classes we teach that social responsibility is based on the moral teachings and life of Jesus who calls us to forgive others as we are forgiven. Christ gives us the mandate of forgiveness because he knows it helps us grow closer to him and have peace. Such peace comes from God calling us to the heart of our own goodness, which is His presence in us. The core of our life is God’s gift of life. God tells us to forgive as God forgives us. It is the message from our first reading, the haunting passage from the book of Sirach. The powerful beauty of the insight of the author proclaims of God: “Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.”—Almost the words of the Lord’s Prayer. And that forgiveness of the Lord we hear expressed in our beautiful Responsorial Psalm, “The Lord is kind and merciful…” If we would just believe that!
God can open a space in the human heart, a space that God alone can fill and call people back to fruitful participation in the Sacrament of forgiveness: Confession. God has made forgiveness so important, that happiness and fulfillment depend on it–in this life and in the next. And St. Paul tells us in his Letter to the Romans, that our actions of mercy and forgiveness are expected of us because we are responsible to live for the Lord.
But perhaps most memorable for us is the answer and command of Jesus to Peter in our gospel today, when Peter asks Jesus “Lord when my brother or sister wrongs me, how often must I forgive them? As many as seven times?” And what does Jesus answer? “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.”
Forgiveness and reconciliation are the essence of love. Our human potential in the Lord is living the commandment of forgiveness. Such forgiveness needs be more than lip service. It must come from the heart. Despite our human limitations and sinfulness, the Lord understands us and forgives us, and loves us. Yet we can become paralyzed by our mistakes and sins, unwilling to forgive ourselves or to accept God’s forgiveness we just sit with it. We get stuck rather than getting up and moving on in a better direction. Sitting with guilt over not believing God’s forgiveness can lead us to fail to forgive others
Those of you who are married certainly know sacrificial love coupled with forgiveness and how love grows with such sacrifices. Your lives demand more sacrifice for your children in the growing responsibilities. The division of labor is not always equitable between parents and requires self-sacrifice, more tolerance and lots more forgiveness. Often couples tell me that as marriage and children require more self-sacrifice along with more patience and forgiveness they experience a greater love for one another. They do not mean there are rough times, the need to forgive and fight to get through those times. However, the struggles can increase the bond of faith in God and increase their bond to one another.
We cannot love without forgiving, we cannot truly forgive if we do not love as Christ calls us to do.