Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time – A

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“Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive?
As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.”

Opening Prayer of the Week
Lord Jesus, Savior of this world, I long to have a heart that is humble and that is able to repent even for small mistakes. Send upon me the Spirit of Truth, so that I may truly know who I am before you. Give me Lord, a broken heart. Take away from my heart all self-righteousness and self-centeredness. Give Me Lord, a heart of flesh and remove the heart where there is pride, jealousy, envy, anger, hatred, revenge, lack of mercy and kindness; which thinks and speaks evil of others, which rejoices in the pain of others, which depends on human beings and on the things of the world and not on you, Lord. Lord change my heart. Lord give me a heart like Yours.

Collect

Almighty God, our creator and guide, may we serve you with all our heart and know your forgiveness in our lives. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, on God, for ever and ever.

Reading I 

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Sir 27:30-28:7

Wrath and anger are hateful things,
yet the sinner hugs them tight.
The vengeful will suffer the LORD’s vengeance,
for he remembers their sins in detail.
Forgive your neighbor’s injustice;
then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.
Could anyone nourish anger against another
and expect healing from the LORD?
Could anyone refuse mercy to another like himself,
can he seek pardon for his own sins?
If one who is but flesh cherishes wrath,
who will forgive his sins?
Remember your last days, set enmity aside;
remember death and decay, and cease from sin!
Think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor;
remember the Most High’s covenant, and overlook faults.

Application

Is there one among us here who does not need and cannot profit by the advice of this saintly author? He lived about two hundred years before Christ came on earth. He had not the advantage of the example of God’s infinite love and mercy which was manifested in the Incarnation and practiced to a sublime degree by the Incarnate Son of God. But he can put all of us to shame by his deep understanding of the law of charity and mercy which he placed before his fellow-Jews.

We have seen God’s infinite mercy and forgiveness in sending his Son to raise us up to the dignity of adopted sonship, when we were sunk in sin. We have seen with what superhuman patience Christ put up with the offenses and insults of the leaders of those he had come to save. We cannot forget his prayer for forgiveness, offered to his Father as he slowly and painfully died on the cross. This was a prayer for the very ones who had so unjustly and cruelly condemned him to that death.

We Christians, who claim to follow and to imitate Christ, are absolutely dependent on the mercy and forgiveness of God to obtain salvation. Yet we can forget our leader and our faith when a fellow sinner offends us. We turn on our unfortunate fellowman and use every means in our power to “get our own back,” to wreak vengeance upon him. We forget the command and the example Christ has given us, and we think only of our own offended pride. By so doing we are gravely offending the infinite God because we are violating one of his basic commandments.

While we expect mercy and forgiveness from the infinite God whom we have offended, we often refuse a brother even a small measure of mercy and forgiveness. This is unchristian, unreasonable, and it is fatal for us, if we persevere in this state of mind. St. John says: “To hate your brother is to be a murderer, and murderers as you know do not have eternal life in them (1 Jn. 3: 15). While we are heaping just punishment, as we think, on our fellowman who offended us, it is on ourselves that we are heaping the more serious punishment: we are excluding ourselves from God’s mercy and God’s eternal kingdom.

“Forgive your neighbor…and your sins will be pardoned when you pray,” the saintly Sirach tells us today. Our divine Lord repeated this divine counsel when he told his disciples, and us, to say: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Let the Christian who continues to refuse forgiveness to those who offended him never say that prayer, because what he is saying is, ” God do not forgive me as I don’t forgive my neighbor.” This is calling God’s curse down on his own head. God forbid that any one of us could be so foolish as to let our offended pride prevent us from obtaining God’s forgiveness. Our own offenses against God should make us humble enough to be ready to forgive any offense committed by a neighbor against us. We should not only forgive, but should also be ready to follow our Savior’s example and to pray to our heavenly Father saying, “God, please forgive all those who have offended and injured us, they did not know what they were doing.”

Responsorial Psalm Ps 103:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12

R. The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion.

Bless the LORD, O my soul;
and all my being, bless his holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits.

R. The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion.

He pardons all your iniquities,
heals all your ills.
redeems your life from destruction,
he crowns you with kindness and compassion.

R. The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion.

He will not always chide,
nor does he keep his wrath forever.
Not according to our sins does he deal with us,
nor does he requite us according to our crimes.

R. The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion.

For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so surpassing is his kindness toward those who fear him.
As far as the east is from the west,
so far has he put our transgressions from us.

R. The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion.

Reading II

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Rom 14:7-9

Brothers and sisters:
None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself.
For if we live, we live for the Lord,
and if we die, we die for the Lord;
so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.
For this is why Christ died and came to life,
that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

Catechism of the Catholic Church” (CCC)

CCC 668 “Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.”1 Christ’s Ascension into heaven signifies his participation, in his humanity, in God’s power and authority. Jesus Christ is Lord: he possesses all power in heaven and on earth. He is “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion”, for the Father “has put all things under his feet.”2 Christ is Lord of the cosmos and of history. In him human history and indeed all creation are “set forth” and transcendently fulfilled.3

CCC 953 Communion in charity. In the sanctorum communio, “None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself.”4 “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”5 “Charity does not insist on its own way.”6 In this solidarity with all men, living or dead, which is founded on the communion of saints, the least of our acts done in charity redounds to the profit of all. Every sin harms this communion.

CCC 1971 To the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount it is fitting to add the moral catechesis of the apostolic teachings, such as Romans 12-15, 1 Corinthians 12-13, Colossians 3-4, Ephesians 4-5, etc. This doctrine hands on the Lord’s teaching with the authority of the apostles, particularly in the presentation of the virtues that flow from faith in Christ and are animated by charity, the principal gift of the Holy Spirit. “Let charity be genuine. .. Love one another with brotherly affection. .. Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints, practice hospitality.”7 This catechesis also teaches us to deal with cases of conscience in the light of our relationship to Christ and to the Church.8

1 Rom 14:9.
2 Eph 1:20-22.
3 Eph 1:10; cf. 4:10; 1 Cor 15:24, 27-28.
4 Rom 14:7.
5 1 Cor 12:26-27.
6 1 Cor 13:5; cf. 10:24.
7 Rom 12:9-13.
8 Cf. Rom 14; 1 Cor 5-10.

Application

In these short verses St. Paul reminds the Romans, and us too, of the fundamental privilege which the Incarnation has conferred on us. Too often, perhaps, the Incarnation has been equated with the redemption in the restricted sense of making atonement for our sins. By his life and death Christ did atone for all the sins of the world. But he did something much more basic for our welfare: he fulfilled God’s plan for our elevation to adopted sonship. When the Son of God took our human nature that human nature was united with the Godhead and we became brothers of Christ. We were given a share with God’s real Son in the Father’s kingdom. We ceased to be creatures only; we became intimately associated with Christ and therefore with God. Our earthly death (which would have been the end for us if God in his infinite generosity had not decreed otherwise) cannot now separate us from Christ and God. By his victory over death; his resurrection, Christ has obtained a resurrection for all men.

Today, St. Paul’s words recall this joyful truth to our minds. We are no longer individual creatures with a few years to live on earth: we have an eternity of life and of happiness awaiting us when we die. Death has no longer any terrors for a true Christian. As the preface of the requiem mass says: “by death life is not taken away but is changed.” Our earthly death is the door through which we enter into eternal life. Therefore, instead of being an occasion for grief and tears it should be an occasion for rejoicing. It means not that someone has left this earth and lost this temporal life but that one of Christ’s brothers has reached heaven and gained heaven and gained eternal life and happiness.

If we meditate more often on the basic effect which the Incarnation has had on us, raising us up to son-ship with God and the possibility of an eternal life in God’s kingdom, we will be able to face the trials of life with greater courage; we will resist temptations to sin more strongly, for sin alone can prevent us from gaining possession of our eternal heritage and we will see in our earthly death not a disaster but the welcome call of God to become a chosen member of his heavenly household.

If we live a truly Christian life, we live to the Lord and if we die in God’s grace, as we shall if we have lived a truly Christian life, we die in the Lord. What more could the infinite love of God do for us? The little he asks us to do in return is a trifling wage to pay for such an eternal reward.

 

Gospel

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Mt 18:21-35

Peter approached Jesus and asked him,
“Lord, if my brother sins against me,
how often must I forgive?
As many as seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.
That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king
who decided to settle accounts with his servants.
When he began the accounting,
a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount.
Since he had no way of paying it back,
his master ordered him to be sold,
along with his wife, his children, and all his property,
in payment of the debt.
At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’
Moved with compassion the master of that servant
let him go and forgave him the loan.
When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants
who owed him a much smaller amount.
He seized him and started to choke him, demanding,
‘Pay back what you owe.’
Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’
But he refused.
Instead, he had the fellow servant put in prison
until he paid back the debt.
Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened,
they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master
and reported the whole affair.
His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant!
I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to.
Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant,
as I had pity on you?’
Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers
until he should pay back the whole debt.
So will my heavenly Father do to you,
unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church” (CCC)

CCC 982 There is no offense, however serious, that the Church cannot forgive. “There is no one, however wicked and guilty, who may not confidently hope for forgiveness, provided his repentance is honest.”1 Christ who died for all men desires that in his Church the gates of forgiveness should always be open to anyone who turns away from sin.2

CCC 2227 Children in turn contribute to the growth in holiness of their parents.3 Each and everyone should be generous and tireless in forgiving one another for offenses, quarrels, injustices, and neglect. Mutual affection suggests this. The charity of Christ demands it.4

CCC 2843 Thus the Lord’s words on forgiveness, the love that loves to the end,5 become a living reality. The parable of the merciless servant, which crowns the Lord’s teaching on ecclesial communion, ends with these words: “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”6 It is there, in fact, “in the depths of the heart,” that everything is bound and loosed. It is not in our power not to feel or to forget an offense; but the heart that offers itself to the Holy Spirit turns injury into compassion and purifies the memory in transforming the hurt into intercession.

CCC 2845 There is no limit or measure to this essentially divine forgiveness,7 whether one speaks of “sins” as in Luke (11:4), “debts” as in Matthew (6:12). We are always debtors: “Owe no one anything, except to love one another.”8 The communion of the Holy Trinity is the source and criterion of truth in every relation ship. It is lived out in prayer, above all in the Eucharist.9
God does not accept the sacrifice of a sower of disunion, but commands that he depart from the altar so that he may first be reconciled with his brother. For God can be appeased only by prayers that make peace. To God, the better offering is peace, brotherly concord, and a people made one in the unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.10

1 Roman Catechism I, 11, 5.
2 Cf. Mt 18:21-22.
3 Cf. GS 48 # 4.
4 Cf. Mt 18:21-22; Lk 17:4.
5 Cf. Jn 13:1.
6 Cf. Mt 18:23-35.
7 Cf. Mt 18:21-22; Lk 17:3-4.
8 Rom 13:8.
9 Cf. Mt 5:23-24; 1 Jn 3:19-24.
10 St. Cyprian, De Dom. orat. 23: PL 4, 535-536; cf. Mt 5:24.

Application

On reading or hearing this story of the merciless servant, each one of us would rightly judge him a mean, low type of man, a heartless man, who puts himself outside the pale of mercy. He throttled his fellow servant for a paltry debt of ten dollars, and would not listen to the poor man’s plea for mercy. When we hear what the king did to this heartless servant we heartily approve and say; “It served him right, he got what he richly deserved.”

We had better stop and think for a moment today and reflect that we ourselves may be that merciless servant described in the parable. Every time we have sinned mortally we have incurred an unpayable debt to God. Each time we have received absolution we have come out of God’s courtroom as free men. A weight greater than a million dollar debt has been lifted from our shoulders. A fate worse than generations of earthly imprisonment; that is, eternal slavery, has been spared us because of God’s loving, infinite mercy. How then can it happen that we could be so heartless, mean, and foolish as to refuse to forgive a neighbor for some offense he has committed against us?

Yet it happens, and it may be that there are some among us here today who continue to have enmity in their hearts against neighbors who offended them. In their hard-heartedness they cannot get themselves to forgive and forget. Are these not following in the footsteps of the merciless servant? Will they not receive the punishment of the merciless servant, a punishment richly deserved? This will be the fate of all unforgiving Christians; they will meet an unforgiving God when they are called to settle their accounts.

That day has not yet come for us. We still have time to put our affairs in order. We still can forgive all our enemies from our heart. If we do not, we are cutting ourselves off from the possibility of having our own sins and offenses forgiven by God. We have the solemn word of our divine Lord for this in the lesson he draws from the parable: “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you (that is, deliver us up to eternal slavery) if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.

 

FORGIVENESS

Forgiveness does not mean that God says to me: Your evil deed shall be undone. It was done and remains done. Nor does it mean that he says: It was not so bad. It was bad – I know it and God knows it. And again it does not mean that God is willing to cover up my sin or to look the other way. What help would that be? I want to be rid of my transgression, really rid of it. Again, were one to say: Forgiveness means that I remain a sinner, but that God in his magnanimity attributes me with sanctity, thus giving me a share of his own unimaginable divine grace, the thought would be so complicated and so full of reservations that it would be untenable with the meaning of Scriptures. Forgiveness also does not mean that God gives me the strength never to repeat my sin. Even if this were so, my old sin would still be there; forgiveness could never spirit it away. That would be deceitful and impure. How could God’s immaculateness ever reconcile itself to such a thought?

What possibility then does exist? Only one: that which the simplest interpretation of the Gospel suggests and which the believing heart must feel. Through God’s forgiveness, in the eyes of his sacred truth I am no longer a sinner; in the profoundest depths of my conscience, I am no longer guilty. That is what I wanted – only that! If such complete eradication of my sin cannot be, then it should stand. Bit it can be; that is the sense of Christ’s message.

Whether or not such forgiveness is possible cannot be determined by you or me according to any ethical or religious principles. The question can be answered by revelation only, which clearly reveals who God is. He is the God of Justice, who not only rejects sin, but absolutely condemns it; the holy one who hates sin with divine hatred; the true one who neither veils nor covers, but penetrates to root and essence. And now, Christian revelation continues, in a mysterious and supremely holy sense infinitely far from mitigating the majesty of virtue, God lives beyond the reaches of good, and therefore of evil. He himself is the good – but in inconceivable freedom; freedom from all ties, even from ties as ultimate as the conception of good. Such freedom renders him more powerful than sin. It is the freedom of love. Love is not only kinder, more alive than mere justice, it is more than justice – higher, mightier, in sense and essence. Such then the love that enables God to rise and, without in the least impairing truth and justice, to proclaim: Thy sin no longer exists!

Monsignor Romano Guardini

Magnificat Sept. 2011

Closing Prayer

Prayer for Forgiveness

Forgive me my sins, O Lord; forgive me the sins of my youth and the sins of mine age, the sins of my soul and the sins of my body, my secret and my whispering sins, the sins I have done to please myself and the sins I have done to please others. Forgive those sins which I know, and the sins which I know not; forgive them, O Lord, forgive them all of Thy great goodness. Amen

– Anonymous

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About Benedicamus Domino

Let Us Bless The Lord - A Benedictine oblate's weekly study of the Catholic Church's Sunday Sacred Liturgy. I hope that families and friends will benefit from this as a prayerful way to prepare and actively participate in the holy sacrifice of the Mass.
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