September 11, 2005 (24 th Sunday Ordinary Time)
Our scriptures are filled with Good News today. . . Good News about God’s forgiveness, and Good News about our call to forgive as God forgives.
Our responsorial psalm today says it all: “The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion.” Our God redeems our lives from destruction, and crowns us with kindness and compassion. Have you ever stopped to imagine God crowning you with kindness and compassion? God crowns us. God has such reverence and high regard for us, even in our sinfulness, that God crowns us with kindness and compassion. We are royalty in God’s eyes, even in our sinfulness. This is almost unfathomable when you stop to really think about it. The psalm goes on to say that “as far as the east is from the west, so far has God put our transgressions from us.” We can think of east and west as geographical places, or we can think of east and west as time: the rising of the sun and its setting. The sun never sets without our being forgiven by God. The sun never rises without the promise of a new day, a restored relationship with our God.
Our God, according to the Psalm, is “slow to anger and rich in compassion.” Slow to anger. Isn’t this just an incredible quality!? It’s a rare quality. Think of people in your life who are “slow to anger.” I am convinced that people who are “slow to anger” have a special link to God. These are probably people who have been forgiven themselves, people who have somehow experienced the infinite patience and forgiveness of God. They have allowed this experience to become such a part of them that they too have become “slow to anger and rich in compassion.” All of us are called to live this kind of forgiveness. Impossible, you might be thinking. Easy to say, but so hard to do. Can we really crown with kindness and compassion those responsible for the deaths of our loved ones in the terrorist attacks in New York four years ago today? Can we really crown with kindness and compassion those responsible for the Church scandals and the abuse of our children during these recent years right here in our own archdiocese? These are just two examples of the horrible things that human beings can do to each other. . . two examples of things that lead us to be anything but “slow to anger and rich in compassion.” These recent events haunt those of us who believe in a God of forgiveness, a God who calls us to the same kind of forgiveness. Many of us are still, years later, “hugging tight” our “wrath and anger” over these transgressions.
So, how is it possible? How can we forgive the way God forgives? How can we keep our hearts from being hardened by such painful experiences? I have no easy answers to these questions. I only have hope in the paschal mystery - that somehow the death and resurrection of Christ, which we commemorate in this Eucharistic feast, will gradually have its transforming effect on us . . . building us up, more and more, into the body of Christ . . . building us up, more and more , into the presence of the one who is slow to anger and rich in compassion. . . building us up, ever so slowly, into the one who cries from the cross: “Forgive them for they know not what they do.”
St. Paul tells us today that “if we live, we live for the Lord.” With Jesus, it is possible to become people of forgiveness. Even Peter, who in today’s gospel thinks of forgiveness as a something to be measured and counted, eventually dies on a cross, much like Jesus did. Like Peter, our notion of forgiveness has to shift from something that can be counted or scored to a way of being in the world. Forgiveness is not a thing to be counted. It’s not a matter of keeping score or counting transgressions. Forgiveness is a way of life, a way of being with each other that sees everyone and everything as GIFT from a loving, merciful God.
Our ability to forgive others grows in direct proportion to our ability to see ourselves as forgiven sinners. St. Ignatius, in his Spiritual Exercises reminds us that we come to see this best at the foot of the cross, as we gaze up at the one who crowns us with kindness and compassion.
Forgiving our brothers and sisters from the heart is no easy thing. We cannot do it alone. But we believe that with Christ by our side it is possible. With Christ in our hearts, we can forgive from the heart. With Christ in our midst, our hearts will not harden. On this September 11, on this anniversary of so much pain and suffering,
Let us really begin to live this mystery. Today, at the foot of the cross, at this Eucharistic table, let us try again, to begin forgiving from the heart.
John C. Wronski, S.J.