Bottom line: For today I ask you to leave behind contempt and embrace forgiveness. Take home Peter's powerful words: "Everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name"
Happy Easter! Nine weeks ago, with Easter in view, I began a homily series on forgiveness. We heard Jesus' words, "Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven."
Jesus teaches us to pray, "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." That ain't easy. C.S. Lewis observes, "Everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea until he has something to forgive." He adds, "To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you."
Jesus greatest parable is about a young man who does something inexcusable and then returns to his father, hoping not for forgiveness but just for a meal and job. The father, however, forgives and restores his prodigal son. My son "was dead", he says, "and has come back to life."
On this Easter Sunday we acknowledge that someone literally was dead and has come back to life - Jesus himself. He did it to bring forgiveness. As Peter proclaims today, "Everyone who believes in him (Jesus) will receive forgiveness of sins through his name." Jesus brings something new into the world. Here's how it works: Our offenses, yours and mine, create a debt. I used the example of a man who assaulted me when I was a young priest. If we were to reconcile, he would have to acknowledge his debt which involves more than just money. Similarly my offenses have also created debts. We have become debtors to each other and to God. We each owe a debt we cannot repay, no matter how hard we work. But Jesus, on the cross, has paid the debt for us. If we believe in him we receive forgiveness of sins by calling on his name.
Without forgiveness life is brutal and bleak. Fredrich Nietzsche thought that the driving force of history is "ressentiment". It means more than resentment. It involves feeling some grievance over and over. We see ressentiment behind the wars in Ukraine and other countries like Syria and Ethiopia.
In our own country ressentiment exploded into a bloody civil war. Fortunately, we had a president, Abraham Lincoln, who helped us to understand that the terrible sufferings of the war were in some way deserved because of the horrific sin of slavery. Lincoln called us not to revenge, but to reconciliation. And similar to Jesus, gave his life for us. Of course, only Jesus can save us in a radical way. The Civil War ended 157 years ago, but today we see a new form of ressentiment boiling in our society.
Arthur Brooks, an American social scientist and Harvard professor, writes about a marriage counselor who says he can usually tell in the first interview which couples have hope and which do not. The ones arguing, even shouting at each other, he said, have some hope. Others, unfortunately, simply sink into contempt. Contempt is when you feel the other person is beneath consideration, worthless, deserving scorn. Contempt, unless corrected, is fatal. Arthur Brooks has written a super helpful book: Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt.
Contempt takes over when start I thinking that I am completely in the right and the other guy is completely in the wrong. St. Paul as a young man considered himself righteous and looked down on others as degenerate. But that changed when he met Christ. About his righteous deeds he says, "I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having any righteousness of my own based on the law but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God."
Last Sunday we saw the big difference between Peter and Judas. Both had sinned miserably, both had betrayed Jesus. Judas, unlike Peter, could not face his sin. Instead he fell into despair. He went out and hung himself. That was a huge miscalculation. As we shall see next Sunday, no one is beyond the divine mercy. Not even a person who commits suicide.
Peter opens himself to the Divine Mercy. He faces his sin and repents. Because Peter denied Jesus three times, Jesus will give him the opportunity to make a triple profession of love. We'll see that in two weeks when we wrap up this series.
For today I ask you to leave behind contempt and embrace forgiveness. Take home Peter's powerful words:: "Everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name."
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From Archives (Easter Sunday Homilies):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
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Other Priests' Homilies, Well Worth Listening:
Fr. Frank Schuster
Fr. Brad Hagelin
Fr. Jim Northrop
Fr. Michael White
Fr Kurt Nagel (and deacons of St. Monica)
Bishop Robert Barron
Bulletin (St. Mary of Valley Parish)
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