Think of Our Sins Before the Sins of Others

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sirach 27:30-28:7

Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight. The vengeful will suffer the LORD's vengeance, for he remembers their sins in detail. Forgive your neighbor's injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven. Could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the LORD? Could anyone refuse mercy to another like himself, can he seek pardon for his own sins? If one who is but flesh cherishes wrath, who will forgive his sins? Remember your last days, set enmity aside; remember death and decay, and cease from sin! Think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor; remember the Most High's covenant, and overlook faults.

Romans 14:7-9

Brothers and sisters: None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself. For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's. For this is why Christ died and came to life, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

Matthew 18:21-35

Peter approached Jesus and asked him, "Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive? As many as seven times?" Jesus answered, "I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times. That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount. Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property, in payment of the debt. At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.' Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan. When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, 'Pay back what you owe.' Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.' But he refused. Instead, he had the fellow servant put in prison until he paid back the debt. Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master and reported the whole affair. His master summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?' Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart."

You may remember these two simple ideas from a year and a half ago about forgiveness: A seminary professor once told us about a woman whose husband committed adultery. She went for counselling, shared her story and pain, but the healing only started when the doctor lovingly asked her, “Are you going to stay angry forever?”

Second, a priest once shared that every time we refuse to forgive, we’re the ones who hurt ourselves. Whatever harm people did to us is in the past, but every time we refuse to forgive, we hurt ourselves again (http://thejustmeasure.ca/2019/02/24/how-to-forgive-our-enemies/).

The First Reading from the Book of Sirach says, “Anger and wrath, these… are abominations, yet a sinner holds on to them” (27:30). That’s how many of us are: We think a lot about what others have done to us and sometimes our hurt and anger consume us. But the reading continues: “Does anyone harbor anger against another, and expect healing from the Lord?” (28:3). That’s what God the Father wants for us today: healing.

We’re going to focus on an attitude that will facilitate forgiveness and therefore healing, and it’s remembering our own sins. This is part of what the Gospel presents: Jesus gives a parable about a man who owes a king an exorbitant amount and which he could never possibly pay. The king forgives him, but then this man won’t forgive his fellow slave a lesser amount. The lesson to which Jesus draws our attention is that God forgives us our sins and so we must forgive others.

I’m a sensitive person and have a natural temperament that makes it hard for me to forgive; I remember almost all the pain that people cause me. But every time I remember my greatest sins, this gives me the proper perspective to view people’s sins against me!

I’ve divided my life into three phases of sins: I think about the stupid, sinful things I did as a teenager after my conversion because that’s when I started to know better what was clearly right and wrong; then I think about the sinful things I did when I was in the seminary; worst of all, I think about my sins during my priesthood. I wrote these sins down as a spiritual exercise, and it was extremely embarrassing.

Now, when I think of other people’s sins against me, I think of my sins and my perspective changes significantly. When I’m hurt, I always ask myself, “How could they do that? Why do they keep on doing that? They know better.” Now I realize that they’re weak, just as I am; they keep on doing the same sins, just as I did; they do it even though they know better, just as I knew better.

It’s true that some sins are objectively more damaging than others. For example, our spouse cheated on us, but we’ve never cheated on them. However, our perspective needs to be complete: We need to know how wrong their sins are, but also need to be aware of our own sinfulness, in order to forgive and be as fair as possible. Keep in mind these four truths:

1) We may not have done horrible sins like others, but we’ve still had a similar attitude towards sin as they did. Remember Christopher West’s insight two weeks ago (http://thejustmeasure.ca/2020/08/30/five-ways-god-expands-our-horizons/)? He overheard a date rape and realized that, while he had never done anything that bad, he had still used women sexually. Our sins may not have been as bad, but by remembering them, we realize that we have had the same attitude of violating our conscience and disregarding the good of other people.

2) Haven’t we all committed sins where we absolutely knew better? If we knew better, why did we still do them? These two questions will help us understand why people have done evil towards us.

3) Someone once asked St. Francis of Assisi how he could call himself the greatest sinner. He answered, “If God had bestowed on the greatest sinner the favours he has done me, he would have been more grateful than I am; and if he had left me to myself, I should have committed greater wickedness than all other sinners” (https://www.bartleby.com/210/10/041.html). Think about all the graces you’ve been given and how many you’ve wasted. The only reason you haven’t done greater sins is because of God’s grace.

4) The point of Jesus’ parable today is that none of us can pay back God the Father for our sins, yet He still forgives us. And we’re able to release our neighbour of their debt to us. None of us deserves God’s mercy and yet He offers it. Shouldn’t we also offer mercy to others?

When we pray the Our Father, we say, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” “Our petition for forgiveness will not be heard unless we have first met a strict requirement” (CCC 2838). Jesus draws out the lesson today that if we don’t forgive other people what they’ve done to us, God the Father will not forgive us. It’s a matter of justice.

If we’re suffering from hurt, anger, or wrath at what people have done to us, I’d like to ask you to try this exercise when you’re ready: Write down on paper or on your phone your worst sins in life, especially the ones where you knew better, which are the most embarrassing, which you’ve cried about and wouldn’t tell anyone except in Confession.

Remember, forgiveness does not mean reconciliation. Forgiveness is when we release people from their sins against us. Reconciliation is when our relationship is restored. Once we forgive, then we can pray for our relationships to be restored. All of us have loved ones who have hurt us, but, deep down, we still love them and wish that they’d love us. If we ask God for an opportunity to rebuild that relationship, He’ll give it to us. But it starts with forgiveness.

Nor does forgiving mean being a doormat to future abuse, or that we overlook justice. In the video we’re going to share, notice how the people who committed heinous sins are forgiven but still have to be punished for their crimes.

But this four-minute video is primarily about Divine Mercy, which means God’s mercy. It’s about a woman from Rwanda named Immaculée Ilibagiza. She talks about anger in our hearts, and how she found freedom when she followed Jesus’ command to have mercy on others, as He had mercy on her (https://players.brightcove.net/802593642001/BF7mrlFFAd_default/index.html?videoId=6148447259001 watch from 21:53 to 26:17).

Source: The JustMeasure: Think of Our Sins Before the Sins of Others (http://thejustmeasure.ca/2020/09/13/think-of-our-sins-before-the-sins-of-others/)

Posted: September 13, 2020

Fr. Jusin Huang

 
Fr. Justin grew up in Richmond, BC, the third of three brothers. Though not raised Catholic, he started going to Mass when he was 13. After a powerful experience of God’s love through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, he felt called to the Holy Priesthood at the age of 16.


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