Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost—13 October A.D. 2013


The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in Latin and English
Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost
Dominica Vigesima Prima post Pentecosten

    Often enough, it helps to read a bit more than what is contained in the day's Gospel.  It often helps to read a number of verses before and after the selection read in church.  That way, we can put what our Lord has to say in greater perspective—put it “in context,” as they say.  We lose something, for example in today's Gospel, if we are tempted to think that our Lord is speaking merely about monetary debt.[1]

    He 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.”[2]   And that, by the way is not our Lord's way of saying 490.  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.”[3]

    But 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 done wrong.

    Earlier 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.[4]  He is speaking of His Father in Heaven, who rejoices over our repentance, precisely so that He can forgive us.

    He 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.[5]  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.

    There is an interesting concept here; one that our society seems to have largely forgotten:  Christians don't bring law suits and argue their differences before pagans (or secular courts).[6]  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.

    How 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.”[7]    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.

    A verse or two later He speaks about the power of those who pray together.[8]  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.  And, it ought to be our practice to pray together—with fellow parishioners, with friends and family.

    Forgiveness and fraternal correction 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 ourselves.

    We 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.



Dei via est íntegra
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