+In the Name of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Pope Francis’ recent homily on today’s Gospel from March 2015 spoke to me.
The Holy Father writes:
“Asking forgiveness is another thing: it’s not the same as simply saying, ‘excuse me.’ Did I make a mistake? ‘Sorry, I made a mistake. But, ‘I have sinned!’ – that is different: the one has nothing to do with the other. Sin is not a simple mistake. Sin is idolatry: it is to worship the idol, the idol of pride, vanity, money, ‘my self’, my own ‘well-being’. So many idols do we have!
Jesus teaches us to pray to the Father in this way: ‘Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.’ If I am not able to forgive, then I am not able to ask for forgiveness. ‘But, Father, I confess, I go to confession ….’. ‘And what do you do before you confess?’ ‘Well, I think of the things I did wrong.’ ‘Alright’ ‘Then I ask the Lord for forgiveness and promise not to do those things again.’ ‘Okay…and then go to the priest? Before you do, however, you’re missing something: have you forgiven those who have hurt you?
This is what Jesus teaches us about forgiveness: first, asking forgiveness is not a simple apology, it is to be aware of the sin, of the idolatry that I have committed, of the many idolatries; second, God always forgives, always – but He asks me to forgive [others]. If I do not forgive, in a sense, I close the door to God’s forgiveness. ‘Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”
When I was living in Port Royal, PA I was assisting a non-denomination friend of mine with his church plant. I knew this pastor for a while and although we didn’t always agree on theology, we respected the other’s views. One day at a council meeting, the pastor decided that the church would no longer say the Lord’s Prayer during worship service. Needless to say this ruffled quite a few feathers and I must admit I was shocked by such a statement. After the meeting he and I sat for a little and chatted. He explained to me that those in his flock did not fully understand what they were asking God. “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” AS WE FORGIVE! He went on to explain that unless they are actually forgiving those who have wronged them, then God will not forgive them of their own wrongdoing. At first I thought maybe he lost his marbles, but then I began to realize what he was saying. There was a pretty ugly rift going on in his small congregation and those in the pews were harboring a lot of resentment against others in their church family. Until such time as they could learn to forgive, they should not ask God to forgive them as they forgive others. If He did, their sins would not be forgiven. This theory is echoed again in the above homily by Pope Francis. For God to forgive us, we must first forgive others.
Now I will admit the timing of this homily is rather ironic for me. Lately I have been feeling used by someone close to me. I felt wronged. I felt anger. As I sit here writing this homily, I am forced to not just guide you and direct you my brothers and sisters down the path of righteousness, but to look inward and examine my own faults and shortcomings. I pray the Lord’s Prayer daily. Often many times in one day. Until now, however, I just rattled the words off without weighing the importance of the words. Without realizing that I too am asking God to forgive me the same way I forgive others. That’s a scary thought really!
“But I’m right! I was wronged! I don’t deserve how I am being treated! I did nothing to this person! I do, do, do and in the end I get hurt!” Sound familiar? I’m sure it does. We all think these things from time to time. I know I have and to be honest still do. But God is speaking to us through today’s Gospel and through the words of Pope Francis. Forgive! Forgive! Forgive! How often? Seventy times seventy. Forgiveness is not easy. It hurts. It’s hard. It can make us vulnerable. To be a Christian is to be “Christ like.” No one said it was going to be easy. In fact, the Gospels make it quite clear it will not be. But if we want to be forgiven of our own sins, we must first and foremost forgive those who have sinned against us. Whether they deserve it or not. By this act of mercy, the Lord will be merciful unto us.