Fr Noel's Homilies

Buzzword - Forgiveness
"Easier said than done" in many instances; and yet, the whole purpose of Christ's ministry was to encourage people to practise this difficult virtue. Today's readings are dominated by this theme of forgiveness and pardon.

Acts 2: 14,36-41: This is the assurance that Peter gave to the guilt stricken Jews in the first reading. For all of the enormity of their rejection of Christ, pardon and forgiveness was theirs for the asking.

1 Peter: 2. 20-25: The second reading gives us a summary of the divine plan of redemption - God becoming Man, suffering as a victim in expiation for sin, so that sinners may have the opportunity to repent and be forgiven

John 10: 1-10: The gospel portrays Christ as the caring Shepherd and guardian concerned with the well being of his flock, ready to welcome back those who had gone astray.

Point 1: - "To err is human; to forgive divine"! So wrote the English essayist, Alexander Pope, in his Essay on Criticism; and, with these words, he acknowledged how difficult it is for people to forgive. Recently I watched a programme on Queen Elizabeth 1. One of her many memorable statements is that spoken to the Countess of Nottingham - "God may forgive you; but I never can"! Modern variations of this mentality include the frequently expressed "I forgive, but I will not forget"!

Point 2: Forgiveness is at the very heart of the mystery of the Incarnation. God became man so that our redemption could be possible. The new commandment Christ taught - "[John 13:35] By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" - carried with it the need to forgive. [Luke 6:37] "Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven". Of course, this teaching was diametrically opposed to what people had been taught up to this point - "An eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth". Peter was so confounded by it that he questioned Christ - "[Mat 18:21] "Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?" [Mat 18:22] Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy times seven ".

Seventeen references are made in the New Testament in which Christ forgives. Among the more notable instances are his forgiveness of the woman taken in adultery -[John 8:10] "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" She said, "No one, sir." And Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again"; and the forgiveness of Peter's denial -[Luke 22:61] The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, "Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times. And he went out and wept bitterly; and, again, His words of forgiveness for His executioners -"Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do". How different to the attitudes we normally show - no condemnation, no biting harangue on the evil that had been done ; no dire threats about future failure! - simply forgiveness.

Conclusion: Just as forgiveness was at the heart of Christ's ministry, so a spirit of forgiveness must be present in our lives. Only the most self-righteous claim that they are without guilt and, therefore, do not need to be forgiven. Recall the words of Alexander Pope - "to err is human"! Scarcely a day goes by when we do not need to say "sorry". It could be that, to unleash the frustrations and harassment of the day, we have vented our temper on a child or something equally defenceless like the family pet. Maybe we have over-imbibed and made fools of ourselves and embarrassed friends and family. Or, through cowardice, lied our way out of a difficult situation; or, in a moment of passion, or as a result of a well laid plan, proved unfaithful to our commitment. Maybe through avarice, we have committed a grave injustice. Whatever! One thing is certain that unresolved guilt only makes a bad situation worse. On the other hand, forgiveness acts as a soothing balm to a troubled spirit. Two questions suggest themselves - to what extent does unresolved guilt contribute to the problems of present day society? And what do we mean when we regularly pray -"Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive others"?

Scriptural reference :[Mat 5:23] So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.