12 September 2020

Forgive like your (eternal) life depends on it!

 Audio File


24th Sunday OT

Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP


Lest we want to be handed “over to the torturers until [we] should pay back [our] whole debt,” we must acquire the good habit of forgiving others. But before we can acquire the virtue of forgiving others, we need to understand what it is to forgive. From Jesus we learn that forgiving another his sin against me is something like “settling accounts” with someone who owes me a debt. There are two ways for this debt to be settled: first, I am repaid, “made whole” and no longer lacking what I loaned; second, I forgive the debt; I waive the obligation for repayment and count the loan a gift. The Master in Jesus' parable decides to settle his accounts, to bring his books into balance. He calls in all the loans he's made. One servant can't repay him, so the Master orders him and his whole family sold to repay what he owes. The servant pleas for mercy, and the Master – moved by compassion – forgives the servant's debt. So what happened here? The money he owes doesn't magically reappear on the Master's books. The Master is still out the amount of the loan. Financially, the Master has not been “made whole.” But spiritually, he has quite possibly gained a kingdom. To forgive is to treat another's sin against you as a gift to the sinner.

Of course, this sounds like an absurd practice! You're telling me that when someone sins against me I'm supposed to take that debt and return it to the sinner as a gift from me?! Yup. That's what Jesus is saying. But be patient. This absurd practice looks less absurd when you consider the alternatives. What else could I do here? I could incur my own debt by sinning against the sinner. Eye for an eye. Tit for tat. You sin against me, so I sin against you. Now we have two sinners instead of one. How is that a good thing. . .especially for me? I've allowed you to lead me into sin. I could hold your sin against me in the depths of my heart and nurture a grudge in silence, allowing your sin to fester and rot, poisoning my whole being. While you go about your merry way, I live with the carcass of your sin fouling me, body and soul. Well, that's obviously not an attractive option. Or, I could take your sin against me and turn it into a gift, handing it back to you in mercy, thus freeing us both from the prison of spiritual death. In other words, I could for-give you. I could fore-go, surrender my need, my desire for repayment or punishment. “I say to you, [forgive] not seven times but seventy-seven times.”

Do you find this to be a difficult command to follow? Why is it so hard for you to turn a debt owed to you into a gift for your debtor? Maybe you believe that forgiving the sinner is the same as approving of a sin. If I forgive him for cheating on me, I'm saying it's OK to cheat on me. Wrong. Only debts and sins can be forgiven. By forgiving him, you are clearly saying that his cheating is a sin. Maybe you believe that forgiving the sinner increases the chances of her sinning again. Forgiveness makes sin easy to repeat. Wrong again. Each act of forgiveness is a sacred gift, a gift that builds virtue and destroys vice in the forgiver and the forgiven. Maybe you just like to nurture the hurt of being sinned against. You believe that nurturing the offense rather than forgiving it gives you some sort of power over the one who sinned against you. Wrong. Again. All this does is guarantee that when it comes time to measure you your heart will be too small to measure, too shrunken and shriveled to register. That's no way to ask the Father to admit you into the Wedding Feast of Heaven.

But we can't pretend that this command is easy to follow. Jesus knows this too. That's why he adds some incentive to mix: “. . .unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart, [you will be] handed. . .over to the torturers until [you] should pay back the whole debt.” If that's not enough incentive for you, consider this: we will pray the Our Father during this Mass. There we pray together “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Think about what you are asking the Father to do here. You are praying, “Father, please forgive my sins against you in the same way that I forgive the sins of others.” How do you forgive others? Do you forgive others? It's vital that you know the answers b/c you're asking the Father to treat you in the exact same way! The measure you use to measure others will be used to measure you. May I suggest that you choose to measure others with compassion, gifting them with abundant mercy and love, foregoing whatever repayment or punishment you might desire, and reestablishing them as your brother and sister in Christ? You never know when the Father may show up to measure you!




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10 September 2020

What's your measure?

23rd Week OT (R)

Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

St Dominic Priory, NOLA

In an interview posted on Youtube, Eleonore Stump tells a story about her son calling to tell her that he wanted her to meet the woman he was going to marry. ES responded, “Tell me about her. What does she do? What is she like? What are her goals?” He answered her questions and ES says, “I can't wait to meet her.” We can easily imagine ES seeing the young woman's picture. Talking to her on the phone. And learning everything she can about her future daughter-in-law from her son. ES points out – in the interview – that she knew a lot about the woman before they met. But she didn't love her future DIL until they actually met. ES's point is that “knowing about a person” and “meeting a person” are two radically different sorts of knowing. Apply this distinction to God, as Paul does: “If anyone supposes he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if one loves God, one is known by him.” As philosophers, theologians, and preachers, we know a lot about God. We have Scripture, the Tradition, reason, created things – all ways of knowing about God. But none of these will – on its own – bring us to love God. Or to be known by God. To love God and be known by Him, we have to meet Him. As JPII, BXVI, and Francis have said over and over again – our faith is rooted in a personal encounter with God through Christ. A person-to-person meeting that allows us to know God not just know about God. How can such a meeting come about? Jesus tells us that radical dispossession is one way – not just giving up things but giving up Self in the service of others. I don't have to tell you all how difficult this is. The air we breathe is saturated with entitlement, the need for recognition; the promises of power and control; and the constant narcissism of striving for Me, My, and Mine. But the litany of apparent absurdities we read this morning from Luke are designed to diminish the Self in the service of loving God and being known by Him. Love your enemies. Offer the other cheek when struck. Give twice what is necessary. Lend w/o expecting repayment. Stop judging. Give gifts. Forgive. The measure we use to measure others will be used to measure us. So, what's my measure? My Self and My Needs? Or, my God-given desire to love God and to be known by Him?



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06 September 2020

Me vs. Me; You vs. You

23rd Sunday OT

Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

St. Bubba's, Turkey Neck, LA*

A spirit of rage and hatred has possessed the land and her people. Portland, Seattle, Milwaukee, Kenosha, D.C. We see it almost every day – screaming, fighting, burning, violence against the innocent; destruction of property; the nearly mindless worship of wrath and vengeance in the streets. Reason and the rule of law seem a distant thing, something that held true long ago and far away. But no more. Those charged with keeping order and protecting the innocent stand by and watch, solemnly chanting the litany of progress and praying that they will be last in line for the guillotine. Even some in the Church have become drunk on the spirit of chaos, deposing the Lord in their hearts for the fleeting but exciting dictatorship of self-righteous finger-pointing, aligning themselves with the words and deeds of those who hate us. When these disordered passions finally burn out, when the consequences of these sins smack us hard in the face, the Church's hangover is going to be staggering. The nation's hangover may very well be fatal. Christ is victorious. . .in the end. But – right now – the battle must be hard fought in the hearts and minds of those who love him. “Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.”

When we talk about battles we talk about friends and enemies, allies and opponents. Who's with us? Who's against us? There are those who hate us b/c we belong to Christ. They may call themselves our enemies. They may work against the Gospel. They may persecute us or try to recruit us. But we have no enemies in this world. Christ died once for all. This makes every man, woman, and child who lives or will ever live the object of our charity. We have no enemies b/c there is no one we will not try to save. Does this mean that we are obligated to show our bellies to those who hate us? No. That we can't defend ourselves if attacked? No. Does it mean we must welcome them and their unrepentant spirits of rebellion and destruction into the Church as guests? No. Nothing in the Gospel requires us to play the fool in the face of overwhelming even violent opposition. What the Gospel requires is that we do not see those who hate us as our enemies. We show them Christ. Christ in us. Christ in them. And we love b/c love is the fulfillment of the Law. The battle we are fighting isn't Us vs. Them. It's Me vs. Me. It's You vs. You.

Make no mistake. The Devil wants us to think that They are attacking Us, and We have to defend Ourselves in kind. They punch. We punch back twice as hard. And in punching back twice as hard We grow just that much closer to becoming Them. If the Devil can keep us focused on political events, politicians, court battles, elections, and convince us that our lives depend on getting the right people in office to defend us, then he can convince us that our salvation is to be found in the princes of this world. He can get us to ignore the spiritual battles that rage in the hearts and minds of every Christian and lay our faith and hope at the feet of a political party or a candidate or a platform. He can con us into thinking that we can only do Good by voting well. This time the right governor, Senator, President will bring us glory and vanquish evil. It's a lie. Yes, we must participate in civil society and promote the Common Good. But the battle that matters in the Long Run is the battle you and I are waging against ourselves. Who is my King? Who rules my heart and mind? Who died for me on the Cross? Who am I vowed to make manifest in my body, in my flesh and blood? Who do I love more than my political ideology, my sexual preference, my race, my sex, my class? Who sits at the center of my being. . .?

If you cannot answer those question with a resounding “Christ!” then the battle – for you – is lost already. You might ask yourself: how did I lose? Was I too much with the world and not enough with Christ? Maybe I identified Christ too closely with some secular ideology or politician. Maybe I worked hard on “doing justice” and not enough on “being just.” Perhaps I thought those who opposed my political preferences were my spiritual enemies, and I fought them until I became them. I didn't love sacrificially. I didn't love mercifully. I didn't love at all. I opposed, confronted, and rebuked. But I didn't pray, fast, or sacrifice. I argued, rebutted, and campaigned. But I didn't bear witness, proclaim the Gospel, or forgive. I didn't see – in time – that we are spiritually sick, spiritually wounded. . .and I just made us sicker; I poured my salt on our wound. I fought, but did I love? The victory belongs to Christ and to those who love him. Your real enemy is you tempted to abandon Christ and embrace the world.

*This is my imaginary parish where I preach when a deacon is preaching at the real parish



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