Sunday Sermon for September 17, 2017, the Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Readings: Sir 27:30-28:7; Rom 14:7-9; Mt 18:21-35
In the second reading today St. Paul states that none of us lives for our own self and none of us dies for our own self. Each of us has to ask the question: “Does this sound true for me?” It has always been difficult for us to live in a selfless manner because sin causes us to be selfish. Even more for us today, because we live in such a selfish society, the norm is now to be self-focused.
I often marvel when preparing for funerals how many families present the deceased as a generous person who was always giving and seeking to serve others. When this happens time after time, one begins to realize that this generosity and self-giving must have been common when these people were being raised. Back then, people had bigger families and many did not have a lot of money, so people grew up learning to share what they had and to help others in their need.
Today, many people grow up in smaller families with a fair amount of wealth. Young people often have many material possessions. Christmas today has become all about how many gifts one receives. Older people would frequently tell me about how Christmas meant getting an apple or an orange, which was a big thing in the wintertime. With all the technology we have at our fingertips self-absorption is a constant temptation. In fact, psychologists and psychiatrists are talking about a trend they have never seen before: rampant narcissism.
So, it is difficult today not to live for oneself. But St. Paul goes on to say that we live for the Lord and we die for the Lord. The only way this can happen is to have the Lord at the center of our lives. Once again, we need to ask the question: “Does this sound like me?” It is not just about believing in Jesus, it is about living for Jesus. More than that, St. Paul does not say that we die in the Lord, he says we die for the Lord. Dying in the Lord would imply being in the state of Grace; dying for the Lord means that even our death is offered to Him and united with His death.
If we realize we are not living our lives for the Lord and we want to change, the first thing we need to do is begin practicing charity toward others. I mentioned earlier the number of older people who were so generous and giving to others. While this is very good in itself, we want to make sure that our motive is also the best. In other words, we should be doing good for others because of our love for God and because we want what is truly best for the other person. When someone knows we are being charitable because of our love for God, this good example might inspire them to a deeper conversion.
The first reading and the Gospel today give us a starting point for practicing charity: forgiving others. It is possible to do good for others with a selfish motive; for example, to be liked, to gain attention, to have others think well of us, to impress someone, etc. In such cases, the act of charity only mimics charity; it is merely an external act done for our own benefit.
Forgiving another, on the other hand, has to come from the heart and is not a selfish act. Both our Lord and Sirach make it clear there is a matter of justice in forgiving others because if God has forgiven us, how could we turn around and refuse to forgive someone else? But real forgiveness is more than justice; it is charity. For instance, one could forgive a loan but still be angry with the individual because the loan was not repaid. But to forgive from the heart means letting go of the injustice and being at peace. After all, if we forgive with a sense of charity and, really seeking the good of another, how could we hold on to anger or a grudge?
When I say we need to let the injustice go, this does not mean we think that what the person did was okay. If someone wrongs us, it is not okay, but we still need to forgive. Remember, we can forgive even if the other person is not sorry for what they did. We cannot reconcile with them if they are not sorry, but we can still forgive.
In a selfish society, forgiveness does not make sense. Only when our focus is on God does forgiveness make sense. So, if we want to live for the Lord and die for the Lord, we can begin by forgiving others as the Lord has forgiven us.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.