Sunday Sermon for September 13, 2020, 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 St. Paul says: “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.” Since we live in the most selfish society history has known, we each need to ask: “Is that true for me?” Do I live for the Lord or do I live for myself? St. Paul is quite clear that if we are Christian, we must live for the Lord. It would seem that to live for oneself is opposed to being a true Christian.
Being human and, therefore, being experts at the art of self-justification and rationalization, perhaps we need to look deeper at this question. First, we can ask if we truly believe everything our Lord says in the Scriptures and through the Church? Second, we need to ask what our prayer life looks like, because there is no way to live a Christian life without a fervent prayer life. Assuming we have passed the test thus far, we can now break things down one more level.
In the readings today we see two points that will tell us if we are living our lives for the Lord or for our own self. In the first reading Sirach speaks of wrath and anger; he tells us the sinner hugs them tight. We are all sinners, but if we are growing in holiness and, therefore, in our likeness to Christ, we should find ourselves to be generally at peace. If we are getting angry about small matters, if we are flying off the handle and getting in peoples’ faces, if we are using foul and abusive language, then we are not living fully the Christian life.
Anger usually comes from something happening (or failing to happen) according to the way I want or expect things to go. When something does not go my way, I get angry. Of course, when this happens, we are very quick to point out that it is the other person or the circumstances that are the cause of our anger. Actually, this is not correct. Someone may have done something, or something may have happened differently than what I anticipated, but they are not the cause of my anger; they are only the wick that ignited the powder keg. However, the powder keg is within my own self and that is what exploded.
We need to look deeply in prayer to discern the root cause(s) of our anger. Then we need to pray for the fortitude to face whatever is there. In many cases there may be injustices or horrible things that happened to us early in our lives. Maybe our lives or careers haven’t turned out the way we wanted. Perhaps we have been hurt badly by someone we trusted and that wound is still raw.
Once we identify the cause(s) of our anger, then we need to do something about resolving the problem. This does not mean getting even with the person(s) who is connected with the anger. In fact, Sirach, again, addresses this in the first reading and tells us: “The vengeful will suffer the Lord’s vengeance.” Whatever the cause and however deep the wound, we need to be willing to work through it in prayer. We may need to work through several layers, but it will ultimately come down to forgiveness.
This is the second point in the readings today and a great way to tell us if we are living our lives for the Lord or for ourselves. Sirach asks: “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?” Jesus makes this same point in the Gospel, but He makes it even more strongly. Jesus tells the parable about the man who is forgiven his entire debt by his master, and then refuses to forgive the much smaller debt of a fellow servant. When the master hears of this, he has the man handed over to the torturers until his entire debt was repaid. Jesus then adds: “So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.”
To forgive is not an option for us, but we must be careful to understand that to forgive is not to say it was okay to do whatever was done. God forgives us, but He never says it was okay for us to sin. If we come to God seeking forgiveness for our offenses against Him, how can we fail to forgive what someone has done to us? To live for the Lord means to be meek like the Lord and to forgive like the Lord, from the heart!
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.