TEXT: 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, September 17, 2023

September 17, 2023 Father De Celles Homily

The 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 17, 2023

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

One of the most difficult sins to overcome is the sin of being unforgiving.

And yet forgiving is essential to the Christian life.

As today’s Gospel reminds us when Peter asks Jesus,

         “Lord, if my brother sins against me,
                  how often must I forgive?”

Jesus tells him, “Seventy-seven times.”

In the Scriptures, the number seven symbolizes perfection,

         so that the number seventy-seven

         stands for an infinite number—“always” or “every time”.

Jesus’ instruction here is one of the hardest for most of us to understand.

To think that we must forgive every single offense against us

         and anyone who does it.

It seems impossible, but Christ makes it a condition of God forgiving us, saying,

         “His master handed him over to the torturers…

So will my heavenly Father do to you,

                  unless each of you forgives your brother.”

Some offenses seem just too big to forgive:

         things like rape, or child abuse, or adultery.

And it isn’t just these heinous crimes that are hard to forgive

         —sometimes the offenses hardest to forgive are the smallest.

                  How many of us still hold on to the petty slights from years ago?

You still cling to the pain of your father missing your big game,

         or your sister always being the “favorite,”

                  or your spouse forgetting an anniversary.

Sometimes it’s not just one offense but a whole series

         or even a lifetime of offenses.

For example, the wife whose husband has been verbally abusive

         throughout thirty years of marriage.

Or the bigot who lynches no one,

         but makes his point with a lifetime of petty prejudices.

How do we forgive these wounds that weigh so deeply on our hearts?

Well, the first thing we need to do

is make sure we know what we mean by “forgiveness.”

Unfortunately, some people think that “forgiving” means “forgetting”

         and that we have to stop feeling the pain people caused us.

But as the Catechism (2843) reminds us:

         “It is not in our power not to feel or to forget an offense.”

It’s not necessary to pretend that a person hasn’t hurt us

         in order to say we’ve forgiven them.

Sometimes it would even be irresponsible to do so

         —if a stranger hurts your child, you should forgive

                  but you should not forget, so you can protect your child in the future.

The same thing applies with 9/11 and terrorists:

         We must forgive, but we should never forget.

Not even God forgets the sins He forgives

         —if He did, how could He give us the grace to avoid them in the future?

Like the king in the story, at first He forgives the debt,

         but later he remembers and reinstates that debt.

Then what is necessary for forgiveness?

Only this is necessary: love.

Regardless of whether the offense against us is terrible or petty,

         the reason most of us can’t forgive is because

         instead of loving the one who hurts us,

                  we cling to the anger and the hate they provoked.

But as the Prophet Sirach reminds us in today’s first reading,

         “Wrath and anger are hateful things,yet the sinner hugs them tight.”
And he admonishes us: “Set enmity aside…and hate not your neighbor.”

Again, we have to make sure we know what “anger” means in this case.

The Catechism reminds us that “anger” means “a desire for revenge.”

But it also reminds us that that’s not always a bad thing.

When we desire vengeance in order to do evil to someone—that’s sin.

But when we desire vengeance to impose restitution

         or to “to correct vices and maintain justice,”

         that’s a righteous and noble thing.

Anger is a passion—an emotion.

Like all passions it can be warped to move us to do evil things,

         or it can be harnessed to motivate us to great things.

So, for example, after 9/11 anger motivated many young Americans

         to sign up to defend their country in the armed forces–

                  to become heroes.

But that anger can also be easily twisted into unjust anger

         desiring evil for all Muslims—even innocent, loyal American Muslims.

Just anger is consistent with love

         —but unjust anger, the “anger” Sirach is talking about,  

                  is infected with hate.

And it’s this unjust or hateful anger that we cling to when we can’t forgive.

How do we let it go?

The thing is God looks at us and sees the very same offenses against him

         that others have committed against us.

He sees our big and exceptional crimes.

He sees our petty slights.

And he sees a lifetime of sins, large and small, in everyone of us.

But He forgives us because He loves us.

And He calls us to love in the same way.

But how do you love someone who’s hurt you?

Today’s parable tells us how.

Now, the parable presents sinners as owing something to God.

What do we owe him?

Actually, since he gave us everything we have free of charge,

         we owe him everything.

But if you think about it,

         everything God gives us is simply an expression of His gift of love.

And so all we owe Him is that same thing: love.

Now Jesus makes it clear that when Scripture talks about “love”,

         it’s not talking about a warm and fuzzy feeling.

Love is not the same as “liking” someone or enjoying their company.

Love is a profound desire for the good of the other person.

But how do we know how to love God?

He tells us over and over again:

         “If you love me,” Jesus says, “you will keep my commandments.”

If you love me, you won’t take my name in vain,

         and you’ll recognize that I’m the only true god.

If you love me, you won’t abuse the people I love and that I give to you to love,

         like your parents, or your spouse.

         You won’t hurt, steal, lie to or abuse, much less kill, your neighbor

                  —because I love them and so should you.

So every time we break the commandments, in large ways or small,

         every time we sin, we are failing to love God.

We are failing to pay back to him the love that we owe Him.

Now, the parable also tells us,

         “The servant fell down, did [the king] homage, and said,
                  ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’”
And the king is so moved

         that he realizes he already has more than enough money

                  and literally forgives the debt, wiping it off the books.

God is like that rich king, so that when we go to Him

         and beg Him to give us another chance,

                  promising to try our best to love Him,

                           to start making payments on the debt,

         He loves us so much that,

                           like the king who has more money than he could ever spend,

                  God simply forgives the great debt of love we owe Him from the past, and looks forward to receiving the love we promise from now on.


Still, how does this help us to forgive our “debtors”

         —to love those who don’t show us the love they owe us?

Jesus tells us in Scripture,

         “With men it is impossible, but not with God;

                  for all things are possible with God”.

The thing is, God’s love is so generous

         that He not only forgives our debt to Him,

         but He also gives us even more of His love

         –enough for us to share with others

         —and enough so we won’t need to worry about

                  what they owed us from the past.

He fills us with His love, and with His love, we can forgive others.

What is necessary is love—the love of Christ.

Today, as we enter into the mystery of the Holy Mass,

         let’s imitate the servant by falling down in worship before our king,

         begging forgiveness of our debt,

         and promising to give Him all the love He is due from this day forward.

And let us ask the Lord to give us the grace today

         to love those who have hurt us–

         to forgive those who have trespassed against us.

Let’s not be distracted or discouraged by false notions of forgiveness,

         by memories that will not fade, or anger that is just.

But rather, let us open our hearts to the power of the love of Christ,

         as He comes to us in the Most Blessed Sacrament of His love,

         the Eucharist.

And let us leave here today with that love, the power to forgive our brother

         “not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”