Rememberance and Forgiveness

Homily – 24th Sunday Ordinary Time – Cycle C
St. Mary Church, Trenton
September 10 & 11, 2011
– 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on U.S. Soil of 2001

Sirach 27:30-28:7
Matthew 18:21-35

This was one of the more challenging days to preach. The events of 10 years ago of September 11, 2001 could not be disregarded and the constant reminders in the media of remembering that day were the experiential context of his congregation in which the homilist found himself having to preach the Gospel this Sunday. Except, Jesus’ words were in contradiction to what most of the civic memorials, U.S. policy and media coverage proclaimed concerning a response to the tragedy. Preachers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ must be careful to engage the culture but not baptize the culture’s perspective. Yet, preachers find themselves desiring to be accepted by their congregation, especially when they’re still new in town, like me, so that the Word of God will have a chance to heard “in season and out of season.” Jesus didn’t seem to worry about acceptance, did he? Maybe I shouldn’t either.

Suggested reading at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops web site
9/11: The Catholic Church Remembers
I especially recommend the reflection by the Rev. James Martin, S.J. on finding the paschal mystery at Ground Zero (both the video and text) The Parable of Ground Zero

Homily Text
            You can not avoid being told to remember this weekend. In every newspaper, every radio program, every TV newscast people are being told to call to mind the events of 9/11. We are commanded to never forget by the many notices of memorials for those who perished on September 11, 2001 on this tenth anniversary of the tragedy. Honor the fallen by calling them to mind. And sometimes, there is a not so subtle message to remember that we must be vigilant and to get them before they get us, again.

            Now, memory is a gift to human beings, a part of the nature of God given to humans. To be able to recall the past and bring the past into the present is in some way a sharing in the power of God. Memory is also part of how we build relationships with people. A child learns to remember the face and voice of her mother and is bonded to this particular human being from the beginning of life. The ability to remember in some ways is what makes us human. It also makes us like God. Some people say because God remembers us, because God keeps us in his mind, we continue to exist.

            But the ability to remember, the gift of memory can also get us in trouble. The ability to recall an experience, especially with the assistance of video and audio technology, can also be a burden that leads people somewhere other than sharing in the nature of God. Remembering an event can get a person stuck in the past, unable to let the past go and move into the future. Remembering the hurt someone caused a person, recalling over and over again the insult to a person’s reputation done in the violence of words or deed can keep humans from letting the past go. Haven’t we all known someone who has carried a grudge for years, maybe never spoken again to a sibling over some perceived insult? More often than not, the grudge holder is angry. More often than not the person who can’t seem to let the past go becomes a sore, angry person that’s not pleasant to be around. People get stuck in the past when the act of remembering takes on an obsessive or pathological nature. The fruit of remembering the hurt caused by another that a person can not forget is a desire for vengeance, and anger that wishes for evil to befall the person who sinned against me. According to Sirach this morning, the sinner (i.e. the one cut off from the experience of God because they have cut off their relationship with other people) gets trapped in vengeance, a cycle of violence against other people. Isaiah is saying “Let God handle the vengeance, the deciding of the fate of those who do evil things, because human beings don’t know when to stop and will only end up destroying themselves in every way possible.” Humanity tends to perpetuate the cycle of violence and death. Only God can break the cycle and bring about the right relationship of humanity.

            So, here we are on the 10th Anniversary of 9/11 and by chance (or maybe no so by chance for God has a biting sense of humor sometimes) what does Jesus have the bad timing to say to us in a nation remembering the horror of destructive violence that befell people working in tall towers, a 5 sided office building or having the bad fortune of holding a ticket for an airplane flight that day? Forgive! Really bad timing, Jesus. Forgive!? I can forgive my spouse for what was said in the heat of an argument. I can forgive my children who don’t appreciate the sacrifices I make so they can have a good life. But isn’t there a limit to forgiveness? Aren’t some things to horrendous to forgive?

            Let me read something from a message by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“It is important to remember, however, that forgiving another does not mean absolving them of responsibility.  To forgive another is to confirm that they have done wrong and are in need of [a new order of human relationship that doesn’t seek to destroy others] .  Mercy does not cancel out justice or the need for conversion, but it does open up a path of charity that encourages and gives [those who need forgiveness the time to embark on a path of] conversion and justice.  For the Christian in the world, we live in mercy and we long for justice [that is; the correct, good and life-giving order between humans], but we entrust final justice (final conversion) always to God.” (“Liturgical Considerations for September 11” )[1] 

Jesus, when he says “forgive” isn’t saying forget anything bad happened, Jesus isn’t encouraging us to forget the hurt that was caused by evil in our midst or make up excuses for the bad behavior. We must acknowledge evil was at work in the lives of those who cooperated with evil. Jesus is also reminding those who choose to listen, that justice is not a matter of destroying those who hurt us.

No, forgiveness recognizes that evil and relationships between human beings are “out of order.” But, then forgiveness recognizes that to be a person who forgives like Jesus is to refuse to let the past dictate how I will relate with people in the future. Disciples don’t get into a pathological recalling of the past, but let the past inform the need to work for a new day where people are reconciled to each other, instead of being enemies. To forgive is to look for ways to change our relationship with those who trespass against us so that the relationship is life-giving instead of full of death. To forgive is to decide not to deny those who do violent acts the time to experience conversion of heart. I do not excuse the actions of those who destroy human life, but I refuse to be mastered by the desire for vengeance. As a disciple of Christ I seek reconciliation of the broken, fractured relationships that caused a desire for vengeance in the first place.

            Again, listen to the wisdom of our nation’s bishops:
“…there is great wisdom in Jesus’ words about forgiveness. Our human experience tells us that when we hold on to anger and hatred, it eats away at us. It can begin to change us and make us into persons we never wanted to be. In some ways, forgiveness frees the one who forgives from carrying that burden.  We can let the [burden] go and entrust the other to God who is better able to deal with [those who do evil].  The teaching on forgiveness [in today’s gospel] is about being like God, who is merciful. It is about recognizing something of ourselves in those who commit the greatest evils, for no one is free of sin. Finally, this teaching on forgiveness is about being able to live with the peace of love instead of hate, which tears and destroys.” (“Liturgical Considerations for September 11” )[2]

            Yes,  it’s easy to forgive the everyday things people we love do to us that hurt us. The daily discipline of practicing forgiveness in little ways trains us to do more brave and heroic kinds of work for the reconciliation of humanity in collaboration with Jesus whose Body, whose presence in the world we claim to be.

            As our Bishop likes to say, we’re “redeemed sinners.” We’ve been forgiven by God for occasionally betraying God by our selfish sinful acts. Our usually small acts of damaging human relationships in the schema of the big picture has been repaired by Jesus’ death. God, thank God, is merciful an doesn’t hold a grudge against those willing to refuse to be the servant of evil. Except God, also, does seem to expect some sign of gratitude on the part of redeemed sinners; some sign we get the message that vengeance, and grudges and living in the past instead of embracing a hope of a different future perpetuates the power of death he’s saved us from by being united to Jesus’ death in baptism. He expects us to work for the reconciliation of humanity, even when evil shows its self so powerful. The kingdom of God is only experienced by those who do not give up on the mission of Christ also entrusted to us. A sharing in the very nature of God, a participation in the everlasting experience of peace is only available to those who leave vengeance to God, those who spend the time given them for conversion of heart on this earth to draw people of “every race, language and way of life into the kingdom” of a humanity reconciled with each other and God through the saving deed of Jesus. This is God’s plea to humanity, whether Christian, Jew, Muslim or whatever: “Don’t throw away the chance to live in a new order of creation by dwelling on those things which do not move us into the future. Choose to live in mercy!”

© September 11, 2011, Rev. Joseph C. Rascher

[1] Annotated from:United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Liturgical Considerations for September 11.” Accessed September 10, 2011.

[2] Annotated from:United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Liturgical Considerations for September 11.” Accessed September 10, 2011.


About frjcrascher

Pastor of St. Mary Catholic Church in Trenton, IL View all posts by frjcrascher

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