How do you feel when someone says, “I love you,” and you can tell that the statement is from the person’s heart? Elated and appreciated, I guess. Love is immensely powerful and overwhelming. The best story ever is the love story. Furthermore, St. Paul tells us that it is the foundation of everything (1Cor.13:7).
Lately, I reflected on why we use heart shape ♥ as an image to represent the phenomenon of love, and I made some amazing discoveries that I would love to share. The heart’s anatomical function shows that the human heart is divided into two sides: the left and the right. The left pumps oxygenated blood to the entire body while the right eliminates deoxygenated blood and other wastes like carbon dioxide.
We should remember that the two sides must work in unison for the individual to survive. Heart failure occurs when one side malfunctions like in the pumping of blood, which could cause death. We could take away from this analysis that one side of the heart is not enough; the two sides must be dynamically operational for anyone to live.
The Gospel Reading today (Matt.22:34-40) tells us about the answer our Lord Jesus gives to a man that doubles as a Pharisee and lawyer who wanted to know the greatest commandment in the law. Answering, Jesus said:
You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.
Scripture study helps us understand that our Lord Jesus connected two Old Testament passages to answer the question. Deuteronomy (6:5) takes care of the first part, while Leviticus (19:18) takes care of the second part. However, the amazing and instructive fact is how Jesus made them one and two commandments simultaneously. Furthermore, in the Gospel of John (13:34), Jesus makes love a new commandment when he said to his disciples, “I give you a new commandment that you love one another as I loved you.”
The first part commands that we love the Lord we all our heart, soul, and mind. Among these three, only the heart that gives us the image of love is tangible. Furthermore, our analysis of the human heart shows that two sides look alike and work together. Here see the heart’s left and right side adequately representing love ♥: the first is like the second!
How do you combine the Love of God and Neighbor?
I once asked people in the Church to choose between loving God and their neighbors. You could guess that God got the highest vote. But many in the congregation were surprised when I referred to the First Letter of John (4:20) that says:
If anyone says, I love God, but hates his brother; he is a liar for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.
The idea is that love should start from the seen and move over to the unseen. Your neighbor is a tangible representation of God because he or she is created in the image and likeness of God. That explains why in the First Reading (Exodus 22:21-27), God asked the people to show love and affection to strangers and the less fortunate like orphans and widows. The description of the last judgment by our Lord Jesus shows that we shall be examined by whatsoever we did or failed to do for our neighbors (Matthew 25:34-46).
Moving Forward with the Two Sides of Love
As the heart beats continuously, we need to allow love to beat in everything we do. Love should not be a thought or a word but the selfless action we accomplish for others and to God, by extension, following the two sides of love’s dynamism.
One of the misrepresentations we give love is that we see it as a transaction. Most people are heartbroken today because they loved with the high hope of being loved back. Sorry, true love is sacrificial, not beneficial. St. Paul tells us that love does not seek its interest (1 Cor. 13:5).
On the other hand, some people fail to love because they do not see anything to gain by loving; that is another error. A famous singer’s lyrics say that love does not ask why it does not think twice, but it speaks from the heart. Let our hearts radiate love, especially at this dark moment in our human history.
Only love can win all our battles in our lives. Let us give love a chance now. I love you, and may God who loves you more bless you!
Ownership mentality is perhaps one of the significant cables in the human structure. We all like to identify who owns what and how much. In business administration, ownership refers to the legitimate right of possession. In other words, it indicates that something belongs to a named individual or persons leveraging some proofs. For instance, the title of a car suggests the owner because it bears his or her name.
It is also important to note that ownership comes with responsibility and accountability. For instance, car ownership always comes with the expectation of responsible driving and handling of the car.
The Gospel Reading today (Matthew 22:15-21) gives us a narrative that has ownership as a significant factor. It started as a plot involving a joint team of the Pharisees (an extreme religious sect) and the Herodians (a radical secular group). The unfitting union of the polarized group was designed to entrap Jesus in speech.
Coming to our Lord, they started with a round of flattery about his truthfulness and ardent disregard of individuals’ opinions and ranks. After that, they asked him a close-ended question that requires either a “yes” or a “no” answer, and it reads, “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?”
The plot was to make Jesus choose a “yes” and get the backlash of the Pharisees who would favor the temple tax above the census tax. Or to select a “no” and offend the Herodians who push for Caesar’s taxes due to the gains they make from them. Furthermore, they were not clear about the type of law whether religious or state law.
The answer our Lord Jesus gives, knowing their plan and even calling them hypocrites, could have shocked the joint taskforce. Getting the coin that pays the census tax, he asked, “whose image is this and whose inscription?” They mentioned Caesar, and he said, “then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and God what belongs to God.”
The reply was both unexpected and thought-provoking to them and us reading it after more than two thousand years. For many years now, most people, including Christians, have misread and misapplied those instructive words from our Lord Jesus Christ.
Some people believe that our Lord was asking people to combine God’s worship with some involvement with other gods. But they seem to forget that God said that we should not worship any other god (Ex. 20:2-5) nor even mention their names (Ex. 23:13) because He does not entertain rivals (Ex. 34:14). You will learn a new meaning of this statement at the end of this reflection
Between Caesar and God
Though the narrative tells us that the Pharisees and the Herodians wanted to entrap Jesus in speech, the real contention is about the ownership of our lives, between Caesar and God. We shall examine this more intently.
Historically, Tiberius Caesar (42 B.C – 37 A.D), who was ruling at the time of the ministry of Jesus Christ, was a great terror over the entire Roman empire. Extreme torture, obscenity, immorality, and corruption marked his 23-year rule. At that time, the people earnestly cried out for a messiah in the political sense of liberation. The only difference between the devil and Tiberius at the time was that people could say no to the devil.
Beyond this historical fact, Caesar represents anything or anyone that opposes God directly or indirectly in our lives. Caesar describes whatever takes our attention from God or competes for our time and resources to the detriment of our relationship with God.
Our world breeds with the images and impressions of various kinds of Caesars not on coins, but in multiple aspects of life. In our day and age, we still have many political Caesars worse than Tiberius Caesar in their flagrant irresponsible leadership styles. There are also religious Caesars who, like the Pharisees in the Gospels, excel in pretentious and hypocritical religiosity.
Dealing with the “Caesar Mentality”
We may not waste our time trying to examine the boundaries between what Caesar owns and what God owns because whatever belonged to Caesar is subject to God. The word of God tells us that the earth belongs to God and everything in it, the world, and the people who live in it (Psalm 24:1).
There would be a need for us to discard all the ravaging effects of Caesar’s mentality in our lives moving forward. The Caesar mentality tells us that what matters in life is material ownership, power, and money. The Caesar mentality tells us that God should keep to His side and allow us to live our lives the way we want. The Caesar mentality is about immodesty, immorality, corruption, and oppression. The Caesar mentality is a way that seems right but leads to destruction (Proverbs 14:12)
The best way to deal with the Caesar mentality that holds many people today is to submit to God (James 4:7). While you are still an earthly citizen, be the best you can for the human society but do not allow it’s strung to rob you of your heavenly citizenship (Phil.3:20). The world as you see it is passing away with all attendant Caesars’, but those with God abide forever (1 John 2:17).
Now, this is what our Lord meant; the coin belongs to Caesar, in other words, to the world, but you belong to God, so give to God what belongs to God, and that is you! God bless you and have a wonderful weekend and a beautiful week ahead.
John Thuo, a homeless street beggar from Nairobi, Kenya, was doing his usual rounds of begging for alms from cars on a busy street when he saw a woman on a mask connected to an oxygen concentrator. He could not understand why she had to be clad in the device with cylinders in the car. She explained to the beggar that she could only survive by using the oxygen concentrator as she had collapsed lungs that had not improved after twelve surgeries and a ruptured optical nerve that made her lose her sight. She had a booking for a surgery in India, but she had no means of raising the Seven Million Kenyan Shilling to take care of the expenses.
Instantly, John was moved to tears as he holds the woman’s hands and prays that she gets better. He did not stop at that; he even reached out to his pockets and donated all the money he made to the woman. A passer-by who saw John crying and talking to the sick woman decided to record the event and shared it on social media.
After a few days, people responded massively to support the woman, Gladys Kamande. She even got up to Eight Million Kenyan Shillings and made it to India where she had a successful surgery. That was not all; she got her sight back! What about John Thuo? His compassionate tears for the condition of the woman also changed his life as someone adopted him and took him off the streets. Now he has a home and could go to school. The story tells us about the transforming power of tears!
We are all conversant with tears because we shed them at various times and under certain conditions. It might serve as an information purpose to know a little bit about tears. According to ophthalmology, which studies the medical conditions of the eye, tears are therapeutic liquids produced by the lacrimal gland.
Furthermore, three types of tears correspond to the three reasons the human eyes produce tears. We have the basal tears that are continuously released in tiny quantities to lubricate the cornea and promote good vision. There are also the reflex tears that are triggered when foreign particles irritate the eye like vapors from onions or specs of dust. They also come from actions like yawning or vigorous coughing or vomiting.
Finally, there are emotional tears that arise from crying or weeping due to emotions of pain, sadness, depression, or even extreme happiness and excitement. Our opening story tells us about an instance of emotional tears transiting from despair to utmost joy.
There Is No Life Without Tears
The First Reading (Isaiah 25:6-10a) tells us that the Lord is preparing a banquet of rich food on an unnamed mountain where there would be, among other things, the wiping away of the tears from every face and the removal of the reproach of God’s people.
Significantly, it is not possible to pass through life without tears. Not tears in the literal sense of the liquid from the lacrimal gland but in the profound sense of going through difficult moments like Gladys and John in our opening story.
Incidentally, high and low moments punctuate the landscapes of life. Even your riches and wealth may not stop you from experiencing some painful moments in the corridors of life; even the rich do cry sometimes. The irony of life is that our challenges differ as we differ in various ways. What makes one cry could make another laugh, and the reverse could also be the case.
Amid our various experiences of tearful moments in our lives, we have good news from God today. Apart from the rich banquet the Lord is preparing on the mountain for everyone, the Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 23) tells us that the Lord would shepherd us through the most gruesome moments and lead us to the verdant pastures. In the Letter of St. Paul to Philippians (4:12-14; 19-20), the apostle tells us, among other things, that the Lord will supply all our needs in accord with His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
While we may be going through tearful moments on this journey called life, we still need to think about securing eternal life in heaven where we shall enjoy the endless banquet with the Lord so long as we have the right clothing; that is the wedding garment. Entrance into heaven would be the ultimate wiping away of tears from our eyes. The Book of Revelation (21:4) says that He will wipe out every tear from our eyes, and there shall be no more death, mourning, wailing, or pain for the old order would pass away.
Moving forward, let us repose our trust and confidence in the Lord for everything that concerns us. St. Paul assures us that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Phil. 4:13). Those tears are not forever; the Lord would wipe them away. God bless you!
There are two sets of people who desperately need each other in the world, and they are landlords and tenants. There are many stories about heartless landlords who are more interested in their rents but pay little or dismissive attention to the living conditions of their tenants.
On the other hand, some tenants are insatiable as they complain about everything around the property, and if you allow them, they could even blame the landlord for the weather. There are also a few stories about harmonious landlord-tenant relationships rolling into many years.
In the world today, most Tenants dream of becoming landlords, and we see this happening around the globe as people purposefully work on their landlord dreams. Avail, landlord support and property research company based in Chicago, reports that out of the 44 million rental units in the United States 24 million, (55%) belong to independent landlords (about 8 million people) who were mostly former tenants.
There is one fact that we must have in our minds as we proceed in this reflection, and that is the fact that whether you are a landlord or a tenant, you are still a tenant in this world, and God is our ultimate and unchangeable landlord.
In the Gospel Reading (Matthew 21:33-43), our Lord Jesus continues his address to the chief priests and the elders of the people using another parable. A landowner planted a vineyard, fenced it, dug a winepress, and built a tower on the vineyard and leased it out to tenants. The tenants had only the duty of taking care of the vineyard and bringing forth the fruits.
There is always a time of harvest. When that time came, the landlord sent his servants to get the fruits of the vineyard, but the servants got an aggressive response from the tenants. They had one beaten, killed another and yet another was stoned. The landlord did not stop at the first batch, again he sent more servants, and they repeated what they did to the first set of servants. Lastly, he sent his son, thinking they would accord respect to him, but they ceased him and throwing him out of the vineyard, they killed him.
Reacting to the hostile attitude of the tenants, the landowner exterminated their tenancy and even brought them to a tragic end and handed the vineyard to other tenants who would produce fruits and return the same to the landowner.
We shall be looking at the characteristics of the landowner and the tenants to enrich ourselves with appropriate lessons that would assist our Christian faith in this journey called life.
The Uncommon Landowner
The landowner is uncommon in every bit of the designation. Every landlord collects rent on agreed recurrent time. But this landowner wanted fruits from the vineyard as the rent, which would be after the harvest. Notice that he provided everything without cost. Furthermore, the landowner had planted vineyard already, the tenants had only one task, which is to harvest the fruits.
The landowner leaves us with some exceptional virtues. Apart from his kindness and generosity, the landowner was remarkably patient. Notice that he gave the tenants time to change their minds and redeem themselves after being hostile to the two sets of servants before sending his son.
Finally, we know that the landowner represents God, who is kind and merciful, slow to anger, but rich in love (Psalm 145:8). Furthermore, St. Peter tells us (2 Peter 3:9) that God is patient with us, not wanting anyone to perish but that everyone comes to repentance. But we cannot dismiss the justice of God as God repays us according to our deeds (Romans 2:6).
The Unfaithful Tenants
One would notice that the parable did not mention anything good about the tenants apart from occupying the vineyard space. They represent a group of people that lack even a grain of gratitude; they were proudly ungrateful, unreliable, and aggressive. Their non-compliance to the agreement to return the fruit of the harvest makes them unfaithful and careless tenants.
The tenants represent all of us. God brought us into the world to bear fruits. He gave us all the necessary machinery for productivity; the question we could ask ourselves is: “are we bearing fruits for the Lord?” How far do we go to keep to the promises we make to God?
Moving Forward: The Secret Key to Fruitful Tenancy
It would be gainful for us to inquire what made the tenants act in such a despicable manner towards the kind landowner. Interestingly, the positive side of that deficiency would also be the secret key to fruitfulness.
In the Gospel of John (15:5), our Lord Jesus Christ said: “I am the vine, and you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit because without me you can do nothing”. The key here is relationship. The tenants were unproductive because they lacked the needed functional relationship with the landowner.
Like we pointed out earlier, we are all tenants in this world. It does not matter how long we live here on earth, there would always be an end to our tenancy, and we must show the fruits of our stay on earth. We need to build and maintain a productive relationship with God to bear fruits. Luckily, St. Paul gives us a clue how we can achieve this in the Second Reading (Phil. 4:6-9). He tells us to focus on: whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and anything worthy of praise!
It is all about a personal relationship, and this what God demands from us as a loving Father. It is not enough to be called a Christian without having a profound connection with Jesus Christ. When our Lord said, without me, you can do nothing, he talked about a relationship that creates a bond. In John (15:4), our Lord said: “Remain in me as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine”.
Your tenancy ends when your life ends here on earth. You do not to be scared; you have the chance now to bear fruits leveraging your relationship with God. May God bless you and have a blessed weekend and a glorious week ahead.
HOMILY FOR THE 26TH SUNDAY (YEAR A)
Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.
I am writing this reflection from Mount St. Mary House of Prayer in Watchung, New Jersey, as I undergo a personal spiritual retreat. The serenity of the environment is mind-blowing. Here, you can hear the soothing sound of silence that prods the mind to some gainful and transforming introspections.
Coming for the retreat is an actualized decision. If I had ended at the mere thought of going for a retreat without acting on it, it would have been like one of those unaccomplished plans and decisions made by some people in the cemetery. Yes, if those left to mourn the dead write everything on the headstones, you would see things like, “he planned to quit drinking,” “she was close to stopping her gossiping,” “he was about to stop cheating,” “they were planning to build a house,” and so on.
In life, there seem to be two types of people, those who “talk” and those who “act”: if you like, talkers and doers! Where do you belong? Think well before you answer. The Gospel Reading today (Matt. 21:28-32) presents us with a typical contrast between those who talk and those who act, leveraging their respective mindsets.
In the parable which our Lord addressed to the chief priests and the elders of the people, a man had two sons and coming to the first he asked him to go and work in his vineyard, he refused but later went. The second son, who received the same instruction, said he would go but later he did not. Asking them who accomplished the will of their father, they all voted for the first son. Jesus concluded the discourse by telling them that tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of heaven before them.
This concise parable leaves us with some powerful lessons that relate to how our mindsets could transform our lives and how we can translate our words into actions. We shall be focusing on the two sons to unveil the attendant lessons beginning with the second son.
The “Talker” Son
Let us remember that the parable was a response to the chief priests and the scribes who were the religious figureheads of the time. They were always quick to quote the religious tenets and recommend same to people for compliance, but do they act on them? The attitude of the “talker” son answers the question.
Remember that the second son agreed to go to the vineyard when the father asked, but he did not go, and the pertinent question we could ask is, why? It would be dismissive to say that he forgot the father’s instruction. Even if we run by that, the question still holds, “why did he forget?” It is all about mindset!
There are two possible reasons; he could be procrastinating, or he became entitled. Procrastination is a well-known thief of time as well as a destructive virus. Countless opportunities have been lost in life because someone was postponing action while thinking that there would still be enough time to act. Time waits for nobody, and if you do not use time, it may use you in a deplorable way.
He could also have felt entitled. One feel entitled when one believes that one deserves certain privileges. The son could have thought that it would not matter if he fails to go to the vineyard; after all, they have paid servants there and the first son who would inherit the v. In his mind, he may have thought that his father would understand.
Do we not often get caught up in this attitude of entitlement as Christians when we neglect to do certain things thinking that God will understand; yes, God does, and that is why He gives us time to do the needful things.
The “Action” Son
The first son sounded like a spoilt child when he refused to go to the vineyard when the father asked. The first son relates to tax collectors and prostitutes, so there could be a reason to believe that he was distracted when the instruction came. One of the malicious functions of sin is to distract us from attending to God’s instructions
The highpoint of the parable was when this son changed his mind and went to the vineyard to work. This would quickly remind us of the prodigal son (Luke 15:17) who suddenly came to his mind, left the distant country, and returned to his father.
How did he come to the point of changing his mind? The Second Reading (Phil. 2:1-11) answers the question. St. Paul instructed the Philippians not to do anything out of selfishness or vainglory but out of humility like Jesus Christ, who did not count his equality with God but humbled himself and became obedient even unto death. It takes humility to change one’s mind and submit to God.
Moving Forward: Turn your Words into Action
One important lesson we could learn from the parable is that God is more interested in what we do than what we say, talk is ridiculously cheap, but action demands more than words. In the Gospel of Luke (6:46), our Lord asked a question, “why do you call me Lord, Lord, and do not do what I tell you?” To act, we need to reset our minds because it calls for change. “go and work in my vineyard” also means leave where you are what you are doing to another place and for another activity.
We reflect our mindset, so to change your life, there would be the need to change your mindset. Your mindset sets the miles of our life, and there is nothing as powerful as a positively changed mindset. St. Paul writing to the Romans (12:2) says, “do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind so that you may discern what the will of God is, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Today, you have the challenge of adopting an action mindset in your life. When you say it, mean it by doing. Stop procrastinating when you hear those words that move you. Rise and go into action. Do not allow yourself the misfortune of entitlement. Everything you have is a gift starting from your life. God owes nobody anything; we owe Him all the gratitude through our compliance with an action mindset.
God bless you and have a blessed weekend and a beautiful week ahead. Make sure you set your mind to action; there is no time to do this but now!
HOMILY FOR THE 25TH SUNDAY (YEAR A)
Rev. Fr. Boniface N. Anusiem Ph.D.
Do you believe that God is normal? Somethingis said to be normal when it conforms to a known or predictable standard. For instance, it is normal for the sun to rise in the east and set in the west. But from what we know in the scriptures, there are Three Persons in One God, having no beginning and no end. At one time God created a highway through sea (Exodus 14:21) and made the sun to standstill (Joshua 10:13). God made a virgin to conceive through the power of the Holy Spirit to bear a son who is both God and man. We can go on and on. All these show that God is not normal from our understanding of normalcy and that is why God is God in the first place.
For a long time now in human history, many people have been making the mistake of trying to “normalize” God by trying to force Him into some human patterns. The German Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once declared that Godis dead and remains dead because we, the murderers of all murderers, have killed God. But that is entirelypreposterous, becausethe author of life is immortal.
From another perspective, some people feel that they are so close to God as to know what God is thinking and could even tell God what to do when they pray. You could hear some people commanding God to bless them and slaughter all their human enemies. Imagine what would happen if God would answer such disastrous prayers as soon as they are offered.
If humans were to be God, some people would be required to pay rent to stay alive. Thank God, for with God it is totally different. The First Reading (Isaiah 55:6-9) helps us to understand among other things that God’s thoughts and ways are different from ours in the same way the heavens are high above the earth.
Understanding God’s Unusual Thoughts and Ways
In the Gospel Reading (Matt. 20:1-16a) Jesus uses a kingdom parable to demonstrate how God differs from us in thoughts and actions. The parable tells us about a landowner who had some payable work to offer. Going out at dawn he hires some people to work for an agreed daily wage. At 9.am, he goes out to recruit more people for the same daily wage. He does the same at midday, in the afternoon and in even in the evening, just an hour before the end of the day’s work.
The highpoint of the parable was during the time of payment when the landowner paid all of them the same amount going by his agreement with each of them. Those who came at the earliest hour of the morning complained that those who started an hour before the end of the work time received the same amount like them, But the landowner would not take it as he had an agreement which he kept and he upbraided them for being envious.
The landowner represents God and the workers point to all of uswho emergeat various times in the corridors of existence. God is the owner of everything, and He has designs and destines for all. Nobody can fault God on anything. The Psalmist says (Psalm 115:3) that God is in heaven and does whatever He wills. With God there are some questions that do not have answers, there are things nobody can explain, stop, or change. In other words, God has the final and ultimate wordin everything!
The Early Workers
The primary issue with the early workers in the parable is envy. For them, being first at work should diminish the values of the others who arrived later. It is totally wrong to measure one’s life with the success or failure of others. There should be no competition in destiny. Humility helps us to keep to our positions and accept whatever comes from it as God’s appropriatereward.
In life, you do not gain anything by being envious rather you hurt yourself mentally, emotionally, even physically. According to the psychologist Marcelo Ceberio, envy is the mother of resentment. Envy distracts you from focusing on what you have and worry about other people’s values; that is senseless.
Remember that the envy of Cain led him to murder his brother made him a depressed fugitive and vagabond (Gen 4:12). The Book of Proverbs says that envy rots the bones (Proverbs 14:30).You would be happier in life when make a choice to discard envy. Be happy with the success of others and it shall come to you.
The Late Comers
In a recent discussion, someone said to methat things happen for us not to us This assertion resonates with the those who were hired just an hour to the end of the work timein the Gospel narrative. They wanted to work all day,but nobody hired them and how did they respond to that? They stayed on waiting to be hired even when it was veryreasonable to quit.
The late comers teach us a timeless lesson and that is the ability to wait even when it seems stupid and hopeless to do so. God is not restricted by time and space and He could show up at the eleventh hour. The prophet Habakkuk (2:3) says though it tarries, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.
It could be your eleventh-hour miracle if you do not give up this moment on that job you are seeking, that new level you are seeking. That door could open at that time when you feel it is way too late. Remember that God is never late.
Moving Forward! Let God be God in your Life
It is important for us to learn the simple lesson to allow God to be God in all anything that happens in our lives. St. Paul says let God be true and every man a liar (Romans 3:4) When things are not working as you planned, let God be God in that situation. Desist from envy, embrace patience, trust in God, and let Him do the to rest. God bless you.
REFLECTION FOR THE 24th SUNDAY (YEAR A)
Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.
“Father, I have forgiven, but I will never forget what she did to me; after all, I suffered for her sake; you need to be in my shoes to feel the way it hurts!” This was a response I got from someone I was counseling to let go of a hurting experience. From the reaction, any attentive mind would see that the individual is still hurting, and forgiveness is not just in view.
Life is a typical journey, but we are never alone. We often travel with people who come into our lives by God’s design, like our parents, siblings, and children, and the ones we choose, like our friends, spouses, and partners. We often go through high and low moments with people. Sometimes they make us happy at other times, they make us sad or even hurt us badly. But how we react to hurt is a choice we should make.
Forgiveness is a familiar theme. We hear about it countless times from parents, teachers, preachers, friends, and other people. But what we have not fully explored is how to forgive. There would be a need for us to learn how to forgive instead of recycling the recurrent theme of forgiveness. The truth is that most people want to forgive, but they lack the know-how!
The Gospel Reading (Matt. 18:21-35) presents a dependable key to how we can forgive any hurt. The narrative begins with an interface between Jesus and Simon Peter, who wanted to know how many times he could forgive an offender. He even added, “as much as seven times?” It seemed that Peter was in that place of giving up on forgiving someone who has been consistently hurtful. Replying, our Lord said not seven times but seventy-seven times. He was telling Simon Peter not to count when it comes to forgiveness because God does keep count as the book of Psalm (130:3) says: “if you O Lord should keep record of our sins, who would stand?”
Our Lord Jesus goes further to demonstrate how to forgive with a kingdom parable. In the parable, a servant who was unable to repay his master’s loan was about to be sold along with his wife and children, but he cried out, asking the master to be patient with him as he plans to pay in full. Moved with compassion, the master let him go and forgave him the loan.
Leaving the master’s presence, the servant found a fellow servant who owed him a smaller amount, and he seized and started to choke him while demanding for pay back. He even went further to send him to prison, although the fellow asked him to be patient with him. When the master heard about the servant’s cruel deed, he summoned him and had him tortured until he paid the whole debt.
Lessons from the Forgiving Master
We can find the key to forgive from the master’s reaction when the wicked servant asked him to be patient and give him time to pay in full. The narrative tells us that the master was moved with compassion and let him go.
Compassion is the key! True forgiveness is not possible without compassion. Yes, there is true forgiveness, and it comes from the heart, not from the head. The forgiveness that comes from the head is often political and selfish. It aims at what one would benefit or lose when one forgives.
The true forgiveness from the heart is compassionate because it identifies with the offender and feels the situation. Without compassion, it would be difficult to let go and twice challenging to heal from a hurtful experience.
Start with Yourself: The “Compassion Way”
Compassion helps you start from yourself because you need to feel it before you can come to terms with others. Some people are unable to forgive other people because they have not been able to forgive themselves. You cannot possibly give what you do not have. Forgive yourself, and you will be activated to forgive others,
The First Reading (Sirach 27:30-28:7) helps us understand that forgiveness is basically for the benefit of the “forgiver” and not for the “forgiven.” It asks, “can anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the Lord?” In another place, it says, “forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.”
Our Lord Jesus Christ supports idea while teaching the Lord prayer when he said:
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matt. 6:14-15).
Moving Forward: “Forgive everything or Forfeit all.”
According to a research from John Hopkins medicine, forgiveness contributes a lot to our health and wellbeing. The study direction shows that forgiveness lowers heart attack, high cholesterol, sleeplessness, blood pressure, anxiety, depression, and stress. You can attest to the mental and emotional torture you may be experiencing because of the failure to forgive.
At this point, it is essential to re-examine your forgiveness quotient. Remember that the forgiveness you give is more for your liberation than for others. The Gospel Reading gives a picture of what unforgiveness can do from the unforgiving servant; it could seize and choke you. To forgive is to release someone from prison and to discover that you are the prisoner.
When we forgive, we overcome evil with good, as St. Paul tells the Romans (Rom.12:21). We can achieve this through prayer. Our Lord instructed us to love our enemies and pray for those who hurt us (Matt. 5:44).
There would be no gainful future without forgiveness. This is the time to let go, let God, and heal from those hurts of the past. If you are still pondering the past, know that you cannot change anything that happened in the past. Embrace the present and forge ahead for a glorious future.
Even when you cannot forget the past, try not to remember it with resentment nor to go on recounting it. Let it go!
God bless you as you decide today to forgive!
HOMILY FOR THE 23RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (YEAR A)
Rev. Fr. Bonnie Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.
Love is an indispensable subject matter with global relevance. It is difficult not to talk about love even when it hurts by recalling some personal experiences. A 2017 article in havingtime.com, by the blogger Gigi Solo, quotes some research findings that show that 60% of the people in the world, that is, 4.4 billion people feel unloved. This population surprisingly includes people in active relationships and marriages. We can see from the research that most people love-starved.
There are so many talks and claims about love by many people in the world today, but a few individuals understand and try to practice real love. Love is beyond what one says; it is more about what you do selflessly.
In the Second Reading today (Romans 13:8-10), St. Paul gives us a timeless instruction that could give us a rude awakening: “owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Any attentive mind would see and appreciate the profundity of the words of St. Paul in the passage.
The central point in the instruction is that love is a debt we all must pay; in fact, we become debtors when we fail to love. You could recall that a Pharisee with a legal background once approached Jesus to ask, which is the greatest of all the commandment (Matt. 22:34-40). Answering our Lord summarized the entire law and prophets with the love of God and neighbor.
Furthermore, before the passion and death on the cross, Jesus gave a new commandment to his disciples, which says, “love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this, all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.” (Joh 13:34).
Paying the Love Debt
If love is a debt we must pay as St. Paul rightly puts it, how do we make the payment, and with what? We generally pay most debts with money, but with regards to love, money cannot completely suffice. The question on how we can pay the debt of love can be put in another way, “how do we love?”
The Gospel Reading today (Matt. 18:15-20) gives us an immensely helpful platform to know how we can pay the debt of love. In the narrative, our Lord highlights what we need to do when someone offends us. Jesus presents four successive steps:
We shall examine how we can pay the debt from these steps.
Pay with patience
Patience is a transforming virtue that helps us to endure and wait for the desired outcome. True love cannot be possible without patience. Patience assists us in bearing the hurtful words and actions of others the same way God restrains His anger against us for the sake of His name (Isaiah 48:9).
In life, if you fail to have patience, you may have pains. We pay the debt of love with patience by our endurance in our efforts to reconcile with estranged persons. St. Paul says in his First Letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 13:7) that love is patient and kind. It would take patience to go back and forth to negotiate for reconciliation following the four steps our Lord suggested to us in the Gospel.
Pay with Sacrifice
The best definition of love is the one that relates it to sacrifice; “no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). Love becomes sacrificial when one is ready to go the extra mile for the benefit of another. Love becomes sacrificial when it is selfless because true love does not insist on its way (1 Cor. 13:5). In life, when we fail to make sacrifices, we may not be satisfied
Pay as to a “Gentile or Tax Collector”
On the face value, treating someone as a Gentile or tax collector might be confusing as many people could misunderstand what our Lord meant. The question we need to ask is, “how did Jesus treat the Gentiles and tax collectors in the course of his earthly ministry?
During the dedication of infant Jesus in the temple, the priest, Simeone, said among other things said that Jesus would be a light of revelation to the Gentiles and glory of the people of Israel (Luke 2:32). Furthermore, Jesus had a transforming encounter with all the Gentiles that encountered him in the Gospels. We could name some of them, the Centurion (Matt. 8:5-13), the Syrophoenician woman (Matt. 15:21-28), the woman at the well (John 4: 4-26), the only grateful leper among ten of them (Luke 17:11-19).
Concerning tax collectors, remember that Jesus called one of them to become an apostle, namely, Matthew (9:9-13). Furthermore, he sought out Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector, and brought salvation to his house (Luke 19:1-10). Finally, Jesus told the religious bigots of the time that tax collectors and prostitutes would make heaven before them (Matt. 21:31).
Summarily, Jesus gave the Gentiles and tax collectors special attention at every step in his ministry, and every one of them who had an encounter with Jesus experienced profound revitalization. So treating anyone who proves hard to reconcile as a Gentile or tax collector involves giving the person more love and going the extra mile. Remember that love never dies because God is love (1 John 4:8).
Moving Forward to the Next Pandemic!
I am praying ardently for another pandemic of significant proportions, a special kind of virus. It would not affect the lungs and other respiratory routes. It would not kill anyone, and it would not isolate us from each other. I am talking about a love pandemic!
The love pandemic would affect our hearts, minds, and souls. It would also insulate and bring us together. Our facemask would be divine and would cover us from hatred, bickering, fighting, and hostility. We shall sanitize our hands with forgiveness and reconciliation.
Let this love pandemic begin now, as we start to pay our debts of love to each other. Let us begin today. Check well, and there must be someone out there who would need your conciliation and love. You may be hurting because of an experience in the past. I want to tell you that you can love again. Remember that love goes the extra mile, and it never ends.
Say it, mean it, and do it, “I love you!” God bless you, and have a blissful weekend and a beautiful week ahead!