The thought of being called “wicked” is rather foreign to most people. The idea that someone would even think of attaching that word to us is an affront to many of our own self-conceptions as being rather good people. Yet in the Gospel today our Lord’s parable has the heavenly Father calling us wicked unless “each of you forgives your brother from your heart.” What does that mean? Spending time in prayer begins to reveal for many that “from the heart” is a deep down sincere place. How does one get to a place like that with those who have hurt us very deeply? For man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.
St. Paul, from our second reading, found his great strength to forgive others by allowing God to reveal to him the depth of his own forgiven sin. Lack of forgiveness can be a spiritual sign that we have never really internalized what God has personally done for us. Paul, we recall, was complicit in the murder of St. Stephen, had ripped apart families and no doubt had his own list of sins that haunted his memory. Yet he allowed God to fully forgive him these sins through the blood of Christ. Paul would later have the strength to forgive others again and again. He was a liberated man and knew that in Christ he was going to live forever.
Any Christian can lay claim to the freedom in which St. Paul lived. It begins with a recognition of how much God has forgiven us, continues with an acceptance of how much we daily need God’s grace to live and penetrates all of life as we can recognize that others need it just as much. Every person is incomplete this side of heaven and as St. John writes “what we shall later be has not yet been revealed, but we do know that we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 Jn 3:2). This includes those who have deeply harmed us and who can with God’s grace slowly become the saints he has called them to be.
So perhaps forgiveness from the heart has a root in supernatural hope. A hope that believes that the most hurtful and cruel of persons will one day be transformed into their true selves and will be lovable not only to God, but also to us. Can we love now the person that they will one day become? In some ways this daring to love, even from a distance, enables God’s mysterious grace to flow through us.
All of this presumes that we are tackling sin in our own lives and that we are struggling to change with the help of God’s grace. As Sirach writes, “could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing? Could anyone refuse mercy to another like himself, and then seek pardon for his own sins?” The answer whispers in our minds, no. If I come to God in prayer begging for continual mercy and ongoing patience then I must be ready to give it freely to others. It is only just. It is often in our ongoing struggle to become the unique saints God asks us to be that we grow in understanding patience and love toward others.
Questions to ponder
1. Whom in my life is God asking me to be patient with?
2. Who do I find difficult to envision as a saint?
Fr. Vander Steeg is pastor of St. Mary Parish, Greenville, and St. Edward Parish, Mackville.