Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (17 Sept.)

MATTHEW 18:21-25
When I read this Gospel I immediately remembered a beautiful story of forgiveness that a friend of mine, Aidan O Neill from Belfast recounted to me many years ago. I may not now recall the exact wording of the incident but the following is the basic story .One day Aidan was taking his car out of a car park when another car bumped into his car causing considerable damage. The driver of the car sped away but Aidan managed to take the number of the car. A security man came over to him and said that he had witnessed the incident and told Aidan to contact the police. Aidan drove home quickly, and when he arrived he and his wife Noreen viewed the damage done to the car.

Aidan was a person accustomed to praying frequently. He belonged to the Lamb of God Christian Community, a group in Northern Ireland committed to working and praying for peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland during the troubles .On this particular occasion when his vehicle had been damaged by a stranger who fled, Aidan felt an urge to pray. He went into his room alone. After he had prayed he felt that he should not contact the police about what had happened and he found it in his heart to forgive the person who had damaged his car. The next morning he and his wife went out to the car and to their amazement, the damage done to the car had completely disappeared!! Aidan on this occasion as on so many others had taken time for prayer and reflection, the result was that forgiveness flowed from his heart.

Peter asked a very simple question ”How often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?” Jesus answered, ”Not seven, I tell you, but seventy seven times.” It is as if Jesus said to him, ”You must be forgiving all the time, it must be part of your DNA! In the parable that follows we see that the king had a rather fleeting experience of being able to forgive. He was used to controlling people and situations, to oppressing people; these aspects of his life were like chains that bound his inner freedom. He managed to cast aside these chains when he felt compassion for his servant and freed him of his debt; but when he learned of his servant’s subsequent negative behaviour he resumed his cruel and repressive way of acting, and lost the freedom he had attained. I asked myself why the servant could not imitate his master’s forgiveness. More than likely he had been dealt with so harshly all his life that he could not imbibe this attitude. He had benefited from his master’s forgiveness but he could not be impacted by it interiorally.

By advocating that we forgive seventy times seventy, Jesus invites us to enter into his way of wisdom and to have a permanent capacity to reflect, pray and forgive from the heart.  Aidan O Neill’s attitude of forgiveness undid the harm done to his vehicle; it seems to me that forgiveness has a ripple effect. It softens the environment and renews the flow of energy in the whole of creation. It has a deep impact on those who forgive, freeing them to become the persons that God dreamed them to be. A deep commitment to reconciliation and forgiveness affects positively the whole of society -individuals, families, communities, those involved in warfare.

The idea of unconditional, permanent forgiveness that Jesus was trying to impart to Peter seems almost impossible for us to live out, impossible until it becomes part of what we are. The thrush must sing. The fountain must gush forth. It remains for us to aspire to this way of being and living, and to trust fully in Christ who loves and forgives us unconditionally.

Sr. Kathleen Egan OP

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