Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

If we are to take seriously today’s readings – that’s a tall order. From my years of work as a priest, I have seen that a large part of the problems that people have, stem from un-forgiveness, bitterness, resentment and even guilt (which can be anger and un-forgiveness towards ourselves). The recommendations of Jesus in the gospel today are very challenging form a natural point of view. Two little boys had an unmerciful row. At bedtime the eldest one Liam was nagging his younger brother Sean and his mother said: ‘Liam, you shouldn’t let the sun go down on your anger. Sean could die tonight and if he did you would never forgive yourself. You would always remember the last thing you did was fight with your brother. Go up and forgive him before he goes to sleep’. Off he goes reluctantly and this is what his mother heard him say: ‘Sean, I’ve come to forgive you in case you die tonight, but if you don’t’ die tonight; watch out ‘cos I’ll plaster you in the morning.’ On a more serious note; there was a Belfast woman who husband was shot as he drove the family to Mass. After the tragedy she was praying with her young son Gavin and he asked: ‘Mummy, will the men who killed Daddy go to heaven?’ Breathing a silent prayer, the mother replied, ‘If they are really sorry and ask Jesus to forgive them, then they will go to heaven’. Gavin replied: ‘well, if they are going to be there, I don’t want to be in Heave with them’. The mother thought for a moment and replied ‘If Jesus forgives and saves them, setting them free from their terrible sin, he will change them. They will be completely different people’. Gavin said: ‘Mummy. Let’s pray for these men and ask God to save them’. Jesus challenges us to respond to darkness with light. Instead of cursing the darkness why not light a candle. Most of us think we have done our Christian duty if we refrain from doing harm to our enemy. But Jesus asks more of us. He asks us to love our enemies. Even though this is difficult, that wonderful Belfast mother shows that it can be done. So does David in the first reading of our Mass today. Revenge and retaliation only add darkness to darkness. Sometimes we use up a large amount of energy in hating. Revenge may satisfy one’s rage, but it leaves the heart empty. When Jesus says ‘forgive your enemies, it is not for the sake of the enemy, but for one own sake, because love is more beautiful than hate. It is difficult to overcome the struggle of bitterness and revenge that well up inside of us, when we are badly treated by another. Forgiveness is never easy. Resentments can smoulder for along time. Prayer is the only answer. Anger cannot continue to develop where there is humble, sincere prayer. We will finish with a prayer that was found by the body of a dead youth in Ravensbruck concentration camp. It reads: “O lord, remember not only the men and women of goodwill but also those of ill-will. Do not remember all the suffering they inflicted on us; remember the fruits we have borne thanks to this suffering – our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, our courage, our generosity, our greatness of heart and when they come to judgement let all the fruits that we have borne be their forgiveness.”