Sunday, September 10, 2023



"If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he refuses to listen to you and anybody else, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.”
Matthew 18:15-20

In today's gospel, we are presented with a three-step process for resolving conflicts. First, go talk to the person face to face. If that doesn't work, take somebody with you who you both trust. If that doesn't work, go to someone in the church - maybe the pastor or deacon - and if that doesn't work, then treat them like you would a "Gentile or tax collector!" Just how would Jesus treat a gentile or a tax collector? He would love them anyway!

I have been a priest for 53 years. I can honestly say that the most spiritual experience of my life was not the day I was ordained, not the day I said my first Mass, baptized my first baby, married my first couple, anointed my own mother before she died or presided at my first funeral. The most spiritual experience of my life was the day I decided consciously to forgive and seek forgiveness from a family member. I finally realized that taking offense is just as toxic as giving offense.

I read that lists 160,510 books on the topic of forgiveness. That’s 31,629 more than on sexuality. What does that tell us about the human heart and what it hungers for most?

You haven’t experienced freedom unless you have experienced the freedom that comes when you let go of resentments that sear your soul, preoccupy your thoughts and drain your strength. Yet, there are so many people who hug their hurts and nurse their wounds in an all-consuming preoccupation because they cannot “let go.”

When they refuse to forgive, they choose to be “right” over being free. Catherine Ponder said it best when she said, “When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person by an emotional link that is stronger than steel. Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free.”

The biggest mistake people make when it comes to forgiveness is to believe that it is a favor one does for the one who has wronged them. It was Suzanne Somers who said it best when she said, “Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself.”

Lewis B. Smedes said it this way: “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” Alan Paton pointed out, “When deep injury is done us, we never recover until we forgive.”

Another mistake people make when it comes to forgiveness is to believe that forgiveness is a sign of weakness and spinelessness if you don’t “stand up for yourself.” Actually, as Mohandas Gandhi pointed out, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

The refusal to forgive keeps one imprisoned in the past. Paul Boese put it this way: “Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.” Archbishop Desmund Tutu of South Africa said, “Without forgiveness, there is no future.” Forgiveness is basically a choice to have a future over a past.

The biggest obstacle of all to forgiveness is the belief that the one who wrongs you needs to apologize, make amends and show evidence of change. While that is certainly part of justice, it is not essential.

Forgiveness is most powerful when it is unilateral and unconditional. Unilateral and unconditional forgiveness is a sign of ultimate strength, because when you forgive unilaterally, you take charge of your situation and refuse to be someone else’s victim any longer.

One of the most useful insights on the subject of forgiveness I have ever stumbled across was one from the Nazi concentration camp survivor, Victor Frankl, in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning. He wrote these deeply meaningful and truly useful words: “Everything can be taken away from a man but one thing — the ability to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”

We cannot always control what happens to us or around us, but we can choose how we want to respond. Things do not always work out. People divorce. Employees need to be fired. Children break our hearts. Friends let us down. Parents fail at parenting. In a world where revenge, vindictiveness, reciprocation, retribution and retaliation seem to be the most typical responses, we can train ourselves to respond differently.

Today, I would also like to talk about the virtue of magnanimity, meaning to be generous in forgiving, eschewing resentment or revenge, and being unselfish and other-focused. The word comes from two Latin words: magna, meaning great, and animus, meaning soul or mind. Being magnanimous means being “big minded” or “great souled.” It has nothing to do with who is right or who is wrong. It simply means to freely choose to be “noble” regardless of who is right and who is wrong.

It is really about “making a good ending” by choosing to be “big minded” or “great souled” regardless. Magnanimity is possible only for those who are not addicted to being right and who do not have a burning need to be faultless.

In life, we come face to face with unexpected circumstances, people who let us down and things that do not turn out the way we want them to be. Misunderstandings, human mistakes, bitter disappointments and shattered dreams are actually part of normal living. The more important thing to remember in those circumstances is that what happens is often not nearly as important as how we choose to react to what happens.

It takes magnanimity to go through a divorce without bitter vindictiveness and revenge. This is especially true when children are involved. In such cases, we might not be able to teach them about the permanence of marriage, but we can teach them about how to be civil, gracious and respectful with adversaries. It is as much of a gift to oneself as it is to the other, because it takes too much energy to carry a grudge.

It takes magnanimity to forgive an ungrateful child, a hurtful spouse or a hateful sibling, a former friend or a mean co-worker and treat them well without being bitter, resentful, caustic and hostile. All the time and energy it takes to nurse wounds that we would as soon not heal is ultimately self-punishing anyway. It takes magnanimity to forgive and make the first move toward reconciliation without needing to exact an apology. That is noble indeed. Taking the high road of humility is not a bad road to take for a relationship worth saving.

My best advice that I can leave you with today is this: pick up the phone, write an e-mail or ring a doorbell and make the first move toward reconciliation with anyone you have hurt or been hurt by. Pray over it for a while before you act. No matter the response you get, whether it is good or bad, let it go. It will be easier if you understand that you won't be doing them a favor or even God a favor, as much as you will be doing yourself a favor! Do it for your sake! Let yourself out of that prison of resentment, anger and grudges. Be free whether it is anger toward others, yourself or the Church! As Mark Twain so wisely said, “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”

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