11 August 2010

No place for self-appointed martyrs

Memorial of St. Clare
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, Univ of Dallas


Resetting a broken bone hurts. Cleaning a bloody wound hurts. Talking about past traumas hurts. Whether we are in need of physical cure or spiritual healing, treating injuries and uprighting wrongs are never a duties we take on with much gusto. Seeing the end, the healed soul and the cured wound, helps with the immediate pain, but the memory of the ordeal lingers and leaves us wary of the next time we might need the surgeon's knife or the Church's medicine. But despite this wariness, despite our deep reluctance to seek out healing and cure, we are unambiguously charged with “taking care” of our hurts—both physical and spiritual. Jesus tells his disciples that whatever they bind on earth is bound in heaven and whatever they loose on earth is loosed in heaven. When a brother or sister sins against you, you are free to bind their offense to you or let it loose. If you let it loose, it is gone. If you choose to bind it, just remember: “Lord, forgive me my sins as I forgive those who have sinned against me.” As you forgive, so you are forgiven.

It is not likely that many of us here are weighed down with truly grievous sins, really weighty offenses that have killed our love for God. God's enemies rarely show up for Mass! It is more likely the case that if any of us are in a state of sin, we are there b/c we are mired in a shallow yet complex morass of wounds caused by holding grudges, nursing hurts, seeking after petty revenge, or by practicing habitual deceit. Each cut leading to another, deeper wound; each wound bleeding out our strength and resolve to seek healing. Perhaps convinced of the righteousness of our refusal to forgive, we cling to being offended, replaying again and again the moment we were injured. I am the victim! I deserve justice! And rather than free ourselves and our assailant from the soul-killing swamp of sin, we nurture our wounds, scratch them open, and let them bleed for all to see, so that all might know how we were violated. What we bind on earth is bound in heaven and bound to drag us down.

However, what we loose on earth is loosed in heaven. Freeing those who have sinned against us is immediately repaid in our own freedom. No longer tied to our offenders by sin—theirs and ours—we are liberated, and no longer left to languish in a self-pitying mess. We can choose to loose, choose to relieve, choose to unlock. Or we can choose to remain wrapped in grudging self-righteousness and the resulting despair. If we will continue to walk with Christ, carrying our cross, and growing in holiness, the only choice for us is to live lives of forgiveness, daily living the mercy that we ourselves have been shown again and again. In fact, the most deliberate way that we can give God thanks for His mercy is to share out that mercy to others. 

Jesus says that he is with us when we gather in his name. How much more powerfully will we experience his loving presence if, when we gather in his name, we gather to loose the ties of sin that bind us, to bind ourselves in obedience to his commandment to love one another? Let's own up to a hard truth: the refusal to forgive, an unwillingness to show mercy is an act of mortal pride and deadly to the soul. We risk forsaking our heart's charity, the love we have for God. No gamble is worth those stakes. The Good News is that the choice is ours to make. Bind and be bound. Loose and be set free.

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