Sunday Sermon for September 11, 2011, 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 oneself. Instead, He tells us that while we live, we live for the Lord and when we die, we die for the Lord. This is the proper Christian perspective on life and death. However, I really wonder how many people actually embrace this perspective. Just ask yourself how many people you know who truly live their lives for the Lord and how many live their lives for themselves. Most of us do not even have to look beyond our own self to be able to answer the question.

Those who live their lives for the Lord strive to become like Him in all things. They grow in virtue, they spend time daily in prayer, they practice works of charity, they bring peace and kindness into situations where these are lacking. Some of us may suggest that we strive to do all of these things, so there is one more point we must consider and that is the deeper meaning of our Lord’s life and death. He came as the ransom for our sins and to bring about reconciliation between us and God; in other words, His life and death were about forgiveness of sins. Certainly He did many things and taught many things in His time on earth, but the ultimate purpose was to show the full extent of love by dying so that we could be forgiven and reconciled with God.

This being the case, if we are going to say that we live our lives for Christ, then we have to be willing to forgive. The wise man in the first reading tells us that wrath and anger are hateful things. Obviously, we cannot bring love, peace or kindness into a situation if we are filled with wrath and anger. If we are seeking vengeance, Sirach tells us, we will have to face the Lord’s vengeance. If we want to be recipients of God’s mercy, we need to be ambassadors of that mercy.

Still, we persist in our attempt at justification, what this other person did was so unjust. Of course it was, other wise there would really be no need for forgiveness. We certainly do not need to forgive someone for doing what is right and just; but we also need to be forgiven for the injustices that we have committed. Sirach had thought of this point before we did and addressed it directly when he tells to forgive our neighbor’s injustice then, when we pray, our sins will be forgiven. He goes on to ask how one who refuses mercy could expect forgiveness from God. This brings us right to the heart of the matter.

Even for a person who lives for himself, one would think that being forgiven is important. After all, if I am only about myself, I want the best. When it comes to eternal life, the best is clearly Heaven and we need to be forgiven before we can get into Heaven. The only rub is that we have to forgive others first. Our Lord Himself made this point very strongly to us on several occasions. One of those is recorded in today’s Gospel where we hear about a man whose very large debt was forgiven by his Master, but when he came across a fellow servant who owed him an amount much smaller than what his Master had just written off for him, he refused mercy to the man. When the Master heard of it he called the servant in, and treated Him the way that he had treated his fellow servant.

We also have to recall that this teaching is found right in the middle of the Lord’s Prayer which we pray daily. We actually ask the Lord to forgive us only to the degree that we forgive others. For some us us this should be a terrifying thought. Notice in the Gospel that Jesus did not leave any loopholes or make any exceptions. He simply tells Peter that he has to forgive, not seven times, but seventy, seven times.

This is hard. We need to keep in mind that to forgive is not the same as saying that what the other person did was okay, all right or acceptable. If it was not wrong, you would have nothing to forgive. Remember also that it only requires one to forgive; it requires two to reconcile. So, even if the other person is not sorry or does not ask for forgiveness, we are still required to forgive. Doing this requires a profound act of charity and is a real dying to self. In this way we can say that more than anything else, this is the essence of the Christian life, i.e., living for Christ and dying for Christ.

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