The 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]
September 11, 2011
On the tenth anniversary of terrorists attacking our nation, the bishops of the United States speak to the Catholics of our country:
“Today’s readings offer an uncomfortable, but clear challenge to us on this anniversary of the… terrorist attacks: [that is,] the challenge of forgiveness. [Hearing these readings, we might think that these Scripture readings were chosen just for this anniversary date. But these are the same readings that Catholics in every country of the world hear every three years on this 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time.]
“The first reading from the Book of Sirach reminds us to… turn over to the Lord our anger and desire for vengeance[.] … We are not to be vengeful; we are to forgive. [Sirach tells us what happens to the vengeful:] The vengeful will suffer the Lord’s vengeance, for he remembers their sins in detail[.] … [Those who want to be close to God, must be like Him, and] forgive: Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.
“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 [that they] are in need of forgiveness. Mercy does not cancel out justice[. It does not cancel out] the need for conversion[. … The] Christian in the world… [longs] for justice, but we entrust final justice… always to God. As long as we believe in the power and mercy of God, we [must] hope for this[, or we are acting contrary to the way in which God Himself acts].
“Note that the reason given for why we should forgive, both in Sirach and in the [Responsorial] Psalm, is that none of us [is] free of sin and guilt. We are all sinners, we have all done wrong. Yet, God [has offered forgiveness to every one of us], and so we must [offer forgiveness to] others. The [Responsorial] Psalm proclaims that God has not dealt with us as our sins merit, nor requited us as our deeds deserve. God treats us with forgiveness, love and compassion, and we must do the same. As we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
“Again in the Gospel, the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, we hear the story of the master (representing God) who forgives the servant of his debt (the servant [representing] us). … God forgives us not because we deserve it, but because God is merciful. Yet, when that servant does not extend the same forgiveness to others, he gets himself into trouble, for he has not acted toward others the way the master acted toward him. We are called to forgive those who sin against us. This message is made clear by Peter’s question to Jesus, Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times? Jesus answers, “Not seven times but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:21-22).
“We have probably heard this instruction many times and we can sometimes take it for granted. It may be easy to apply to everyday situations: [we will say, “]I will forgive you for leaving your dishes in the sink, being late to pick me up, forgetting my birthday,[“] etc. But in fact, these everyday situations are ultimately about developing an attitude of forgiveness that can define our lives. Without that kind of attitude, what will we do about the really difficult situations in life:
“…the close friend who says something hurtful behind your back;
…the spouse who cheats; …
…the murderer on death row;
[…the child who betrays the values that his parents instilled in him;]
…the terrorists who plotted and carried out the attacks on September 11, 2001?
“Our inclination may be simply to say that some things are too terrible to forgive[: some things go beyond the limits of forgiveness]. Certainly, it is only human that we must often go through a period of anger, bitterness, and mourning. [And p]erhaps, we will never forget some wrongs.
“But there is [divine] 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 it go and entrust the other [person] to God[,] who is better able to deal with [him than we are]. The teaching on forgiveness 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. …
“Jesus is not urging us simply to be passive in the face of evil. We must still work to protect the innocent and to hold those who perpetrate crimes against humanity accountable. But at the same time we are called to forgive even while asking, in love, how we can move forward in truth and love. Forgiveness requires that we address the situation in a… loving way, instead of with… hatred.
[I also read from the pulpit the Holy Father Pope Benedict's Letter to Archbishop Dolan, president of the USCCB, dated September 11, 2011. It can be found at the web page below.]