Sunday Sermon for June 12, 2016, the Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Readings: 2Sam 12:7-10, 13; Gal 2:16, 19-21; Lk 7:36-8:3

In the second reading today St. Paul says we know that we are not justified by works of the Law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.  There is the sad misunderstanding of this point that is so prevalent today: that all one has to do is to believe in Jesus and you are automatically saved.  While there is no salvation apart from belief in Jesus, such simple belief is not enough to be saved.

Jesus is God, so if we are going to believe in Jesus we have to believe also in everything God has revealed through Scripture and through the Church.  It is also necessary to act on that faith.  It is pretty easy to say that God exists, but that can be a very objective statement.  It is getting more and more interesting these days because “science” which has for years been used to claim there is no God is becoming a stronger voice to proclaim the existence of God.

While this is a great thing, we still have to go beyond the “scientific” notion of the existence of God to the personal faith in and filial relationship with God.  This is the lesson St. Paul is trying to help us to understand.  He was an accomplished Pharisee who was blameless when it came to following all of the precepts of the Law.  After his conversion he realized that simply going through the motions was not sufficient to really say he was serving God.  In fact, he would probably be willing to admit that he was really serving himself, all the while claiming to be serving God because everything he was doing was religious.

We all know people like this; perhaps there was a time when we were like this.  Perhaps we thought we were better Catholics than others because we went to Mass more often, volunteered for more things around the parish, or prayed more devotional prayers.  Never mind the fact that we rattled through our prayers with little attention, wanted to be seen by others or have bragging rights because of our volunteering, or whatever the reason may be.

Regardless, while all of these things are good, we have to make sure we are doing the right things for the right reasons.  The best reason is love of God.  As we grow in our love for God, not only will the way we pray begin to change and grow deeper, but we be more humble and we will put our faith into practice in the practical order.

One of the most important areas of this practice of faith is found in the other two readings today: forgiveness.  We have to be willing to forgive others.  This is so important that we pray that we will be forgiven only to the degree that we are willing to forgive.  We do this every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer.

The argument will inevitably arise that the other person is not sorry, so why should I forgive?  The other argument is: “I can be forgiven only when I go to confession, so why should I have to forgive when this person has not apologized for what he did?”  It is certainly easier to forgive when the other person has acknowledged the wrongdoing, but in both readings today we see God forgiving someone without the direct confession of sin or, in the case of David, without even the slightest suggestion of remorse.

This is critical to understand.  God can and does forgive, but we can only be reconciled to Him when we are willing to confess our sins.  David’s sin was forgiven before he admitted that he had done anything wrong.  However, his relationship with God was not restored until he repented of his sin.

So, as children of our Heavenly Father, we have to forgive as He does.  We cannot be reconciled with someone who is not sorry, does not want the relationship to be restored, or does not apologize.  However, we can forgive that person, and we must.  This is one of the essential steps in putting our faith in Jesus into practice.

Sometimes it is because of hurt that we seem unable to forgive, but all too often it is because of pride and selfishness.  We are too stubborn to forgive, we think we are better than that other person so we will not forgive, or we are too selfish to be willing to extend such charity to another person.  Of course, we fully expect that God will forgive us because, after all, we believe in Jesus and go through the motions.  This is precisely the point St. Paul was making.  He saw this tendency in himself and realized that we are not justified by works of the Law, but in the fullness of what faith in Jesus means.

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