TESTING MIND AND HEART
by Lucinda M. Vardey
The readings for this Sunday turn what our cultures consider normal or usual to the obscure ways of God, always a mystery to our human reasoning.
We are told by Isaiah to seek God while God may be found: from the psalm that God’s presence is near, in fact as close to us as a heartbeat. Yet, God’s thoughts are not ours. Paul declares dying to be a necessary gain in order to live life true to the Gospel.
The Gospel teaches us that it is no good using our human logic to decipher God’s ways. The hardest work we will ever attempt in our spiritual life includes giving up trying to work God out, dying to our separate agendas and plans, so that we may experience the amazing power that is unleashed through practicing what Jesus preached.
At a recent Mass in a small town in Umbria, Italy, the priest called the Gospel the “Wisdom of Love.” Love speaks more clearly in mystery. It is through our hearts that we can more naturally place Jesus at the centre of our lives, making familiar our place at the last so he can be first in everything.
In her excellent book Radical Gratitude Mary Jo Leddy wrote that finding happiness by truly believing that Jesus meant what he said, required a turning away from the economies of consumption, gain, competition and rewards, towards one of gratitude and gift. Gratitude develops the grace of hope and trust in the everlasting goodness of God, acceptance of the wisdom of God in each situation, and receptivity to being surprised by God’s generosity.
Philippians 1.20-24, 27
by Lisa Fernandes
“To err is human, to forgive divine” as Alexander Pope wrote. Today’s readings capture this difficult path we all have to travel. We want to be forgiven our human transgressions, as difficult as it is for us to forgive others. As in the first reading: “Forgive your neighbour the wrong that is done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray.” (Sirach 28.2)
Today’s Gospel reading tells us more about forgiveness. The parable is about a slave whose debt is forgiven by his king but who does not “pay it forward” and show forgiveness to a fellow slave who is indebted to him but instead tortures him, and thus warns us: “So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” (Matthew 18.35)
The difficulty of forgiveness is shown when Peter asks Jesus if seven times is enough to forgive his brother or sister and: “Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18.22)
Seven is a significant number in the Bible usually related to completeness and perfection (God rested on the seventh day after creating the heavens and earth, and seven pairs of clean animals went on the ark etc…) so this is not a literal counting but a lesson about the limitlessness of forgiveness. In the Old Testament, the number seven was more associated with revenge: “Then the LORD said to him, ‘Not so! Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance.’ ”(Genesis 4.15) while the New Testament has a contrasting emphasis on forgiveness.
God forgives us unconditionally; how can we aspire to do the same with others? We can start small. If someone cuts you off on the road, instead of road rage forgive them and give them the benefit of the doubt. Or if someone doesn’t hold the door for you, give them a pass. Every week in Mass when we say the Lord’s Prayer, we ask God to: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” There are role models both religious and secular, such as Nelson Mandela who forgave and reconciled with those who had kept him captive.
As C.S. Lewis put it, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you”.
by Elizabeth Chesley-Jewell
Anyone that knows me well knows that I am not comfortable with confrontation and conflict. But I know that I am not alone; the self-help section of Indigo assures me of this. In our Gospel today it appears that Jesus Christ himself was quite aware that managing conflict requires a “How To” lesson and a pep talk. Jesus provides His disciples with directives on conflict resolution, and how in general, conflict between two individuals comes to affect the entire community.
If a resolution does not occur between two people in private, then witnesses must be made present to aid in the resolution process. If the wrongdoer still refuses to listen, then the ordeal must be taken to the heads of the Church. Finally, if it is clear that the individual will not acknowledge their misconduct, they are to treated “as a gentile and a tax collector”.
However, we listen to the words of Jesus reiterated in Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans, “Love your neighbour as yourself.” To resolve any conflict, we must be able to call on that very simple commandment. It does not mean we want to become friends with this person or that we have any desire to associate with them once the conflict has reached its end. It does mean, however, that we recognize the basic human desire to be listened to and understood, and that we are willing to, in turn, provide that to the one who has harmed us. It takes immense courage and strength; it is not always easy, but it is worth it.
At the end of the Gospel, Jesus offers one last piece of advice that brings us back to the Letter to the Romans. He says, “Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” I find these words most encouraging. Yes, sometimes we struggle to resolve conflict. But, if two people enter a conflict and still recognize the goodness within one another, and desire a resolution, then God is present. God will provide the courage to do the hard work all relationships require.
God our Father, who knows our deepest desires: give strength and courage to those experiencing conflict throughout the world to approach their neighbour with love, understanding and a willingness to reconcile.