7th Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 23, 2014 – Year A
Readings: LV 19:1-2, 17-18; Ps 103; 1 Cor 3:16-23; Mt 5:38-48
by Rev. Mr. Eddie Craig, Permanent Deacon
“Be holy” and “be perfect.” Today’s readings are book-ended quite nicely, aren’t they? Then in the second reading, St. Paul tells the Corinthians that their body is a “temple of God” and it is holy. So holiness and perfection are our calling. How can we, as humans, ever hope to do this.
Well, today’s Gospel is taken from the Sermon on the Mount. In fact, the Gospel for the last two Sundays and next Sunday also come from there. These three chapters of Matthew’s Gospel contain the core of what it means to be a Christian. In fact, if you are only going to read three chapters in the whole Bible, read Matthew 5, 6 and 7. In these three chapters are the secret to achieving our goal of holiness and perfection. As Fr. Louis pointed out to us last week, Jesus follows a pattern in His teaching where he takes a commandment from the law of Moses and steps it up a notch. He goes beyond the letter of the Law to the heart of its intent.
Jesus’ exhortation to love your enemies is perhaps his most difficult of His commands to live up to. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like loving them. It’s hard. We are suppose to love the bully, that guy that cut you off in traffic, the ex-husband or ex-wife, the murderer on death row, the abortionist,… The list goes on and on.
The key, however, to loving as Jesus calls us to is to learn how to forgive. That is easier said than done, but if we want to holy and perfect like God who is love, we must practice and if we are going to get better at something, it helps if we understand it.
So lets take a minute and look at what science can tell us about forgiveness. Studies have clearly shown that forgiveness is good for us. People that are able to more easily forgive others have measurably better emotional health. They suffer less depression and have higher self-esteem. Their relationships with others are stronger. They have more friends and enjoy closer bonds with them and they have longer marriages. Even the physical health of people that can forgive is better. They have lower blood pressure and lower rates of heart disease. They have fewer stress-related health issues and better immune system function.
So how can we all become better at forgiving? I would like to offer a few practical steps that can help. This is by no means an exhaustive list but it is a place to start.
First, we need to understand that forgiveness depends only on the individual. It does not require an apology from the other person or a change in their heart. Frequently these will follow but they may not. Forgiveness sometimes leads to reconciliation – but not always – and that’s OK. Keep in mind though, that reconciliation can not take place until there has been forgiveness.
Second, if you are struggling seek help. Talk to a friend that you trust – a pastor or a counselor. Sometimes saying what you are feeling helps us to deal with the emotions and take control of them. Another person may be able to offer advice or share their own experiences with you. It may also be helpful to read about the experiences of others. Scripture and our faith history are filled with inspiring stories of people that have rejected hate and found comfort by forgiving. St. Maria Goretti and her mother forgave Alessandro Maria’s killer, Blessed John Paul II forgave the man who shot him, St. Stephen forgave the people who stoned him and Jesus forgave the people who crucified him.
The final thing that I will share is a time tested technique that has been used by people of faith for millennia. It is a three step process. Step one is to pray. Step two is to pray more. Step three is repeat steps one and two over and over and over. We must never underestimate the power of prayer when we face seemingly insurmountable obstacles. God can move our hearts to forgive even the most grievous offense.
In 1994 when the horrible violence broke out in Rwanda, Immaculée Ilibagiza was home from college visiting her family. Fearing for her safety, her father sent her to the house of her pastor to hide. For 91 days, the pastor kept her and six other women safe in a small bathroom by concealing the door behind a wardrobe. Many times, the Hutu death squads searched the house trying to find the women, and she knew that her family and friends had been killed. As she sat in the tiny room, hungry and afraid, she passed the time by praying the Rosary but she always stumbled over a certain part of the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” She couldn’t bring herself to forgive the people that had murdered her family, but she realized she was being consumed by hate. She was afraid she would become just like her enemies. Finally, she asked God to forgive those who had done her so much harm. Eventually she was able to let go of her hate and forgive her family’s killers. She says that forgiveness saved her life. In her words, “It’s a new life, almost like a resurrection.”
God has called each one of us to become a holy and perfect temple of His Spirit. This is not an easy task, but we do not have to do it on our own. God has left us the Scriptures and the Church to help. Through the support of our brothers and sisters in Christ, through prayer and the Sacraments – especially Reconciliation and the Eucharist – we can achieve this goal and live with Him forever.