Sunday Sermon for September 17, 2024, 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…we live for the Lord.”  Is this true?  How many of us can actually say that?  Considering that we live in the most selfish society in the history of the world, how many of us are so unaffected by the situation around us that we can honestly say we are living for the Lord and not for the self?

I think we would all like to live for the Lord and, hopefully, that is what we are trying to do.  Certainly, our Lord is of great importance in our lives, but that is still not the same as living for the Lord.  If there is any question or confusion in our own minds about how completely I am living my life for the Lord, or how much I am living it for myself, we can use what we read in the other two readings as a test.

In the first reading, Sirach tells us that wrath and anger are hateful things that the sinner hugs tight.  Anger is a very common issue in our society and, without doubt, there are many things happening in our world that can easily contribute to our being angry.  In itself, the initial anger may not be sinful if it is a reaction to an injustice, but nursing the anger or trying to justify the anger by claiming that is it is righteous anger is where the sin comes into play.

Perhaps we do not want the anger, but the offense is such that it is very difficult to let go of the anger.  Maybe we are in a situation where the problem causing the anger is ongoing.  It is much easier to let go of hurt from the past caused by a person with whom you no longer have any contact than it is to let go of something that continues and is caused by a person with whom we interact on a regular basis.

In the Gospel, our Lord tells St. Peter that we must forgive seventy-seven times.  This does not mean that if we keep a tally we can stop forgiving after we reach seventy-seven.  No, it implies that our forgiveness must be without limit.  This is really difficult, especially if the offense is large and the person is still in our life.  However, we notice two things in the Gospel story: first, the offending person is clearly still in the life of the offended person and, second, there is no qualification made for the size of the offense, that is, we are not given permission to refuse forgiveness if the offense is large enough.

Sirach goes on to instruct us to forgive our neighbor’s offense so that our own sins may be forgiven.  After all, as the wise man points out, we cannot nourish anger against another and expect the Lord to forgive us, nor can we refuse pardon to another (who is like us) and seek pardon for our own offenses from God Who is infinitely beyond us.  Remember, this was written before Jesus came into the world.  That means forgiveness is not just something we need to do because we are Christian; it is something we need to do because we are human.

In order to help us with the task of forgiving there are a number of things we can do.  Perhaps the most important is to pray for the person.  Since prayer is the greatest work of charity, praying for the individual by name will help us break through the anger and help us to forgive.  Of course, we can also pray for ourselves for the grace to forgive, for the grace to cooperate, for the virtue of meekness (the opposite of anger), and for the virtue of charity.

We can also remember, as we see in the Gospel reading, that we have sought forgiveness from God and have received His forgiveness.  When we sin against God, the sin has infinite effects because the sin is against an infinite Person.  Beyond that, some of our sins against the Lord are far larger than the offenses that have been committed against us.  So, if we have been forgiven by the Lord against Whom we have sinned greatly, how can we fail to forgive someone else who has sinned against us in a much smaller way?  This is also what we pray for in the Our Father when we pray to be forgiven only to the degree that we forgive.

Sirach also gives us another perspective: think about death.  In the context of death, nothing has much importance except charity.  Live for the Lord, not for the self.  Don’t lose God’s forgiveness and eternal life because of a refusal to forgive others in this life.

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