Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost—21 October AD 2007
The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in Latin and English
Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
Dominica Vigesima Prima post Pentecosten
enough, it helps to read a bit more than what is contained in the day's
Gospel. That way, we can put what our Lord has to say in greater
perspective. We loose something, for example in today's Gospel, if we
are tempted to think that our Lord is speaking merely about monetary debt.
is, in fact, speaking about forgiveness in general; for immediately before
this passage, He answers a question put by Peter, saying that Peter should
forgive someone who sins against him, not just “up to seven times,” but
rather, “up to seventy times seven times.”
And that, by the way, is not our Lord's way of saying four hundred and
ninety. It is His way of saying that we should always be forgiving, no
matter how many times we are offended. Such forgiveness of those who
hurt us is a precondition for receiving God's forgiveness for the wrongs we
have done against Him and His law. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we
forgive those who trespass against us.”
our Lord is not saying that we are to overlook evil; there is a difference
between forgiving, and condoning bad behavior. In today's parable, the
master forgave his servant because the servant not only asked forgiveness, but
also offered to pay the debt in full. It is the same when we sin; God
doesn't forgive us until we are ready to come before Him, express our sorrow
for our bad behavior, and offer to correct the problem; hopefully in such a
way that it will not happen again. For every act of forgiveness there
needs to be a corresponding act of repentance on the part of the one who has
in this chapter, our Lord speaks of a man who lost one of his hundred sheep,
and of his rejoicing when, after leaving the ninety-nine, he went and found
the lost one. He is speaking of His Father in Heaven, who rejoices over
our repentance, precisely so that He can forgive us.
also speaks of fraternal correction.
The evildoer must be admonished, so that he knows that he is doing wrong; he
must be told how he can amend his ways and do good instead of bad. If he
refuses to listen, then several other people ought to admonish him, or even
the local church. This is not an act of "judging," or being
"judgmental," but rather it is how God expects us to cope with evil
that is done to us by our brothers, and how He expects us to deal with evil
that is being done against Him. Fraternal correction is always done with
an eye towards this combination of repentance and forgiveness.
is an interesting concept here; one that our society seems to have largely
forgotten: Christians don't bring law suits and argue their differences
We are expected to negotiate with each other, or to obtain the help of
mediators, or perhaps to ask for resolution by the judgment of the clergy.
A civil law suit ought to be a last resort, and even then, undertaken for the
most serious of reasons.
many times must we forgive? We must always forgive those who harm us and
repent. But what of those who will not repent? Our Lord says that
those who will not listen to fraternal correction are to be treated like the
“heathen or like the tax collectors.”
Presumably, He says this on the
theory that those who persist in bad deeds will come around if they are made
to feel as outcasts. Certainly, we ought not to give them the
opportunity to sin against us again if we are able to arrange otherwise.
No matter how forgiving we might be, we should not be the cause of someone
else's evil; whether it be against us or against God. Sometimes we have
to be stern with people who keep doing the same bad thing over and over; even
with those whom we love.
or two later He speaks about the power of those who pray together. In
this context it seems that we should not give up praying for the conversion of
those who do evil.
It ought to be the practice of every Catholic to pray for his enemies as well
as for his friends.
of this can be very difficult. It is not always easy to bring the wrong
doer to repentance. It is not always easy to be forgiving. But it
is a condition of receiving God's forgiveness for the evil that we do
might close be recalling what Saint Paul had to say, and be recognizing how
well it applies to forgiveness and repentance. We are not struggling so
much, he tells us, with human frailties, as we are with “the deceits of the
devil.” If we are to forgive, we must also repent. We must
concern ourselves not so much with earthly arguments and schemes for
negotiating with those who do evil, but rather, we must “take up the armor
of God,” being girt with “truth” and “justice” and “peace.”
But, above all, our dealings with each other must be formed by “faith” in
the “Word of God.” For only by the exercise of divine grace can we
do the things that will matter in eternity.