My homily today at 5:00pm Mass at Holy Ghost:
Homily – Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – February 19, 2017
Dear friends, listen carefully to these words from today’s first reading. “Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people.”
“Cherish no grudge,” now THAT’S an interesting way to describe how we’re tempted to react when someone does something that hurts us. It got me thinking about how we can so easily fall into the trap of actually ENJOYING being angry with those who insult, hurt or take advantage of us.
We seem to like cursing those who do us wrong and we enjoy telling our friends what a jerk he or she is, don’t we? Some will also indulge themselves in handing out the “silent treatment,” thinking this will really show them how much they’ve hurt us. Right? Yes, we seem to CHERISH holding a grudge…we think of it as a precious right of sorts.
I’ve known people who haven’t spoken to someone for years over a misunderstanding or a careless insult that they refuse to let go of. Often times it’s a family member. I’ll bet you know someone like that too.
In a strange way we may be proud of the fact that we’ve been able to maintain these hard feelings for all these years. We refuse to even consider letting go of our cherished grudge. We don’t want to offer forgiveness, at least as it pertains to letting go of THIS grudge that we’ve been nurturing for such a long time. We may believe that it’s our RIGHT to retaliate by being angry with the one who has transgressed against us.
Today’s first reading makes it perfectly clear that there is no place for revenge or grudge-holding in the life of a Christian. Rather, we are called to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. We are expected to be holy as God is holy. Plain and simple, if we wish evil upon our brother or sister, we commit sin. And if we persist in sin, as we do when we hold a grudge, we eventually die in that sin. For the wages of sin is death. God doesn’t just say that it would be nice if we loved our neighbor, no he COMMANDS us to love our neighbor, regardless of whether or not they love us in return.
This is a tough teaching, isn’t it? But, think about this. If you harbor hatred or bad feelings toward someone who has wronged you, it hurts you much more than it hurts them. In fact, they may not even know how you feel about them.
Someone once said, “Resentment is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die.” By holding a grudge you poison yourself, not the one who has wronged you.
Like poison, a grudge eats us up from inside and makes us bitter. Over time this bitterness grows within us and prevents God’s grace from healing us of our sin. The poison of our grudges hardens our hearts and cuts us off from God’s grace. Put simply, a hardened heart can not receive the grace God so desires to share with us.
Only God’s love and grace has power to heal us and save us from self-destruction. If we choose not to follow God’s command to love our neighbor, persisting in selfish grudge-holding, we only hurt ourselves by stubbornly resisting to conform to the will of God.
So what are we to do? How do we become holy like God is holy? The answer is to practice FORGIVENESS…all the time! We’re not naturally very good at forgiveness, so we must PRACTICE it.
The good news is that all we have to do is take the first step, acknowledging our sin and asking God to help us take the next step. And he will! When we confess our sins of anger and resentment we open the floodgates of God’s mercy that he is waiting for us to ask for.
St. John Paul II said the following about forgiveness. Listen carefully:
“To forgive and to be reconciled means to purify one’s memory of hatred, rancor, the desire for revenge; it means acknowledging as a brother even those who have wronged us; it means not being overcome by evil but overcoming evil with good.”
St. John Paul II also spoke of withholding forgiveness as being like keeping ourselves locked in prison. He said “Forgiveness is the restoration of freedom to oneself. It is the key held in our own hand to our prison cell.”
Think about this! When we hold a grudge and refuse to forgive those who have hurt us, we keep ourselves locked in a personal prison cell. We are prisoners of our own UNFORGIVENESS. It locks us into a deep unhappiness. By not forgiving we are imprisoned by anger, resentment, and bitterness. The person most punished in all of this is OURSELVES!
When we think of what it means to offer someone our forgiveness, we may mistakenly presume that the only beneficiary of this forgiveness is the one we are forgiving. We typically see forgiveness as an act of generosity, letting the offender off of the hook so he or she could be free to live their life in peace. There is certainly truth in that notion of forgiveness, but it’s actually much more than that. The real power of forgiveness is what Fr. Al Lauer, founder of Presentation Ministries once said: “Forgiveness is the restoration of freedom to oneself.”
Did you get that? I’ll say it again. “Forgiveness is the restoration of freedom to ONESELF.”
Here’s the bottom line in regards to forgiveness: it is the key we hold in our own hand to unlock our prison cell of hatred and grudge-holding. Only by forgiving those who hurt us are we released from this prison of our own making.
We are commanded by Jesus in today’s gospel to be perfect, just as our heavenly Father is perfect. Dear friends, we have no choice but to forgive those who trespass against us…it is ESSENTIAL if we are to be true Christian people.
I have a challenge for you today. Consider using the upcoming season of Lent to reflect on the necessity and value of forgiveness. Make an effort to prayerfully consider who you may need to forgive and ask God for the grace to do it. When you do, you will be set free from a prison cell you may not even know you are in.
I encourage you to consider reading an amazing book on forgiveness called “Forgiveness is Key, A Personal Journey and Practical Guide for Experiencing Mercy and Freedom” by Angel Renyay (Angèle Regnier).
In this book the author shares her personal journey of forgiveness as she teaches the reader how to begin their own journey. If you’re looking for an easy and powerful read during Lent, this is a wonderful and very helpful book. I’ll put a link to it on my website, deaconscott.com, and on the Holy Ghost Facebook page.
We will soon enter into the Liturgy of the Eucharist and we’ll pray the Lord’s Prayer together, as we do at every Mass. Allow the words “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” to really sink in. Remember that our trespasses are forgiven only in the measure that we are willing to forgive others.
My dear friends, let us choose to unlock the door of our prison cell, constructed from grudge-holding and resentment, so we can step out into the freedom of God’s joy and love.
Forgiveness is the KEY to opening that door…it’s YOUR choice as to whether or not you use it.
God bless you.