13 September 2007 Memorial of St. John Chrysostom
Colossians 3, 12-17 & Luke 6, 27-38
The letter of Paul to the Colossians and the Gospel from Luke all mentioned forgiveness. The Gospel tells us about Jesus’ command to love and to forgive our enemies. And in as much as we forgive, we too will be forgiven. In addition, the first reading admonishes Christians to “put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, bearing one another and forgiving one another if one has a grievance against another.”
A lot of us think that the value of forgiveness is in the relief one feels when being forgiven as in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We think that the importance of forgiveness is in our feeling of liberation from guilt. Forgiveness does not try to ‘undo’ the past since the past can never be undone.
However, forgiveness is aimed at healing the wounds of the past. Hannah Arendt in her book, The Human Condition, identifies two factors that she finds essential to preserve life from chaos: promises which deals with the future, and forgiveness, which deals with the wounds of the past. As we respond to God’s forgiveness, we renew our relationships with people in our community. We patch things up. Thus, our relationships with God and with fellow human beings are transformed. Some of these relationships deepened. Forgiveness therefore makes community. In order for relationships within a community to be smooth, we need to forgive.
Second, forgiveness allows us to face the truth about ourselves and confess our sins and our faith to one another in friendship. Notice what we say at mass: ‘I confess to Almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned through my own faults…” We admit our faults. We own our sins. We ask pardon even for the things we have neglected to do. And the beauty of reconciliation is that when we hold ourselves accountable for them in front of a fellow human being, they, in turn, accepts us in love and friendship. A relationship therefore is formed.
Finally, it tells us why the Sacrament of Reconciliation is important: it links the truth of our lives, both praiseworthy and blameworthy, with God’s forgiving love. And within this link, we are able to exercise this relationship within a community: in as much as we forgive others, so too are we forgiven. Notice that this is the very words from the Our Father: forgive us our sins AS we forgive those who sin against us.
Only when we develop this culture of forgiveness can a community of faith grow into what God intends it to be.