HOMILY WEEK 19 03 – Year II
Faith, Forgiveness, Healing, Glory and the Kingdom of God:
Optional Memorial of St. Jane Frances de Chantal
(Ezk 9:1-7; 10:18-22; Ps 113; Mt 18:15-20)
Five words and their inter-relationship that capture the essence of the readings today are faith, forgiveness, healing, glory and the kingdom of God.
Faith in Jesus, learning to forgive, and coming to him for healing of our defects of character, all combine to empower us to experience the glory of God and build up the kingdom of heaven here on earth.
The gospel begins with perhaps the least appreciated and understood passage in the New Testament. In it, Jesus is teaching us how to forgive those who have hurt us in any way. Where psychologists offer us three options when danger is on the horizon – fight, flee or freeze, Jesus offers us a fourth option – forgive. He does so by teaching us how to forgive. When someone hurts us, rather than fight, flee or freeze, we are to go to that person alone, and “point out their fault.” If Matthew were writing today, I am sure he would have written, “share how you feel about their behavior” and then let it go. That in all its simplicity is how to forgive another hurtful person.
In some of the books I have written, namely Walk A New Path and Still Green and Growing, I share some steps involved in this process of forgiving. We can ask permission of that person to share something personal, remind them of their hurtful behavior, share how that behavior impacted our lives and how we felt and perhaps still feel about that behavior, let them know we are trying to forgive them, and can even thank them for helping us grow personally and spiritually. I like to call this “communicating with love” and I believe this is the core of forgiveness that alone breaks the cycle of violence in this world.
What is important is to let go of any expectation around a possible response from that person, because to communicate with expectation is already manipulation. What we are doing is taking in all that hurtful energy, and instead of reacting in kind, holding or pondering it, sharing it with others if need be, praying that God will transform our anger into forgiveness, then emptying ourselves of those painful emotions by giving them back to the abuser with love, thus opening up a space for God’s forgiveness to flow through us to that person. And we are set free from anger, resentment and bitterness.
This deliberate action towards forgiveness, Jesus goes on to say, actually builds up the kingdom of God here on earth, for whatever we loose on earth is loosed in heaven, and vice versa. We have been given the amazing power to either build up or hold back the kingdom of God here and now! What an incentive to listen to this teaching of Jesus and apply it in our lives!
Then Jesus links this teaching with the importance of praying in his name, and that he is among us when we do so. To pray in the name of Jesus is to pray for what he wants to give us, or according to his will, so we can rest assured that the Father will give us what we ask. This is the same as his teaching in the Our Father, when we pray that his will be done on earth as it is in heaven. God’s will, certainly, is that we are able to forgive those who choose to make themselves our enemies. Step 11 of the A.A. program is precisely along that same line, as we are encouraged to pray only for the knowledge of God’s will for us, and the power to carry it out. This is truly faith in action.
The teaching on healing is actually contained in the first reading from Ezekiel, with all its focus on violence, killing and destruction. That has to be understood in the light of the corpus theory, which states that any part of scripture can only be correctly understood in the light of the whole body of scripture. As Jesus is the Lamb who holds the keys to the scrolls in the Book of Revelation, all this violence in the Old Testament is meant to be interpreted in the fact that Jesus revealed to us a God who is totally non-violent. Jesus went to his death by crucifixion like a lamb led to slaughter, without any trace of resentment or bitterness, only with forgiveness in his heart and on his lips.
So, all this mention of violence in the Old Testament, including this passage from Ezekiel, is meant to be understood as Semitic hyperbole, holy exaggeration, meant to teach us an important lesson – that any sin in us must be destroyed, killed, eliminated or we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. That is because no sin, no darkness, no unfinished business, can enter the kingdom – only pure love exists there.
The ones who get this most easily are recovering alcoholics in the 12 Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous. Jason participated in an Easter rite liturgy where a strong liquor was used. Just a taste of that alcohol had a very negative impact on him, shook his serenity and almost shattered his sobriety, as he knew he ran the risk of drinking again that could lead to his death. He could not have even a trace of alcohol in his system, or he might die. It is as radical as that. So God, in this reading, is telling us to destroy, crucify, get rid of any sin or sinfulness in our lives, or we risk forfeiting the experience of living in the joy and peace of the kingdom here and now.
That means we have a choice – we can cling to our pet sins for some momentary pleasure followed by feelings of guilt, remorse and sadness, or we can have faith, trust in the power of the Holy Spirit, pray for healing of our sinfulness, and experience a joy and serenity that will last. That is the core of Step 7 of A.A – humbly asking God to remove all our defects of character, and fill us with the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
In the time of Ezekiel, the temple cult had become so corrupt that the glory or shekinah of God rose up and left the temple, heading East. Significantly, that glory of God did not return to the second temple, which bothered the religious leaders and led to the rise of the Pharisees, who believed if they kept the law perfectly, that glory of God would return. Actually, Pentecost marked the return of that glory, not to the physical temple, but to that small band of disciples gathered in the upper room, in the form of fire and the sound of a rushing wind.
That glory of God is the Holy Spirit, especially the spirit of forgiveness, that builds up the kingdom of God here on earth whenever we live out this teaching of Jesus to forgive anyone who has hurt us in any way.
St Jane de Chantel whom we honor today, lost her husband, and after she got over her depression, we are told that she sought out the spiritual dimension of her loss, which led her to put herself under the spiritual guidance of St. Frances de Sales and found the Congregation of the Visitation for women that was less austere than the other congregations at that time. She died after having established 85 monasteries
The Eucharist is always a mini-Pentecost experience, as the glory of God or the Holy Spirit grants us forgiveness, pours healing into our hearts, and transforms humble gifts of bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus that we receive in communion. May our celebration strengthen our faith, grant us forgiveness and healing, fill us with the glory of God and help us build up the kingdom of God here and now.