TWENTY-FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
SEPTEMBER 17, 2023
When I was in second grade, my prized possession was a metal Star Wars-themed lunch box. After school one day, another student ripped it from my hands. I helplessly watched in horror as my classmate threw it to the ground and violently stomped it into an unrecognizable heap of junk. I came home covered in tears of shame and rage. After a few months, I never thought about it again … until I was almost thirty years old and on a retreat to prepare for ordination to the priesthood.
That childhood memory — and the attendant outrage — came back afresh. My spiritual director helped me in the process of acknowledging that I was angry because that kid owed me my lunch box. Then she helped me, through the grace of Jesus, to forgive the debt. Almost imme-diately I felt a new peace. I was amazed that I hadn’t forgotten what I had lost, even from years before. Aren’t we human beings simply amazing at remembering what people owe us?
We see this week in Jesus’ parable a servant who is forgiven much but then commands another servant: “Pay back what you owe!” He can’t forget or let go of how he was wronged. He remembers — and he becomes a monster because of it. If only he had remembered not only the debts owed to him, but also his greater debt owed to — and forgiven by — his master. It’s natural for us to remember what others owe us. But when we contextualize those offenses in Jesus’ mercy toward us and them, we’re free to be merciful like the Master and less like a monster who never forgets.
– Father John Muir
A FAMILY PERSPECTIVE
Unable to forgive another, means we are holding onto a past wrong and hoping for a better past. That is not going to happen. We must move on with our life by accepting we were unjustly treated and it will not be corrected. We aren’t condoning the injustice. We just don’t let it control our lives any longer. Forgiveness is critical to living a healthy life in the present.
– Bud Ozar
Today’s readings call us to look inward to the state of our hearts, those aspects of ourselves that cannot quite be quantified or measured, but which are the deepest part of us — our thoughts and emotions.
Our first reading, from Sirach, addresses the complicated emotion of anger. “Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight… Could anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the Lord?… If one who is but flesh cherishes wrath, who will forgive his sins?” We have all been wounded by others at some point, some perhaps quite deeply. Our emotions are gifts from God. But we must steward them well, rather than allowing them to overcome us.
How do we do this? Sirach tells us. “Remember your last days, set enmity aside… Think of the commandments… remember the Most High’s covenant, and overlook faults.” We embrace the stewardship mindset — not brooding over hurts, but recalling all the gifts our good God has given us, all the love He continually pours out upon us, and we put our focus and trust in Him.
In other words, we live for God and not ourselves. What freedom this approach to life brings! All we have is a gift from the Lord. He loves us completely and we can rest in this truth. Knowing this, we need not cling to anger over injustices. God is Lord over all. St. Paul puts it this way in our second reading from Romans: “For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.”
In our Gospel passage from Matthew, Jesus gives us a provocative reminder of the true position we have before Him in light of all that He has done for us. He compares the kingdom of heaven to a “king who decided to settle accounts with his servants.” In the parable, a debtor is brought before the king, owing such an overwhelming debt that it could not possibly be repaid. Yet, the king is filled with compassion for the servant, forgives the debt and lets him go free.
Doesn’t that sound like each of us in relation to the King of Kings? The Father has given us life, and then sent His only Son to die for us to free us from our sin “debts” and make eternal life with Him possible for us. Like the servant in the parable, it is impossible to repay this debt. All we can do is thank God by giving Him our whole selves — our outward actions and our inner selves — and by treating our fellow debtors with the same compassion and forgiveness He has shown to us. In fact, Jesus rightfully and justly commands us to “forgive your brother from your heart.”
What joy and freedom of heart we find in the stewardship way of life!
At the end of “Lord of the Rings: Return of the King,” Gollum fights with Frodo for possession of the One Ring. He wins the fight, but in doing so topples over the edge of the mountain ledge, falling into the cavernous fires of Mount Doom. As he falls, we see him smile, and clutch the ring to his chest. He is happy. He has won what he spent his life pursuing.
It is only in the last millisecond before his face slips below the lava that we see his eyes widen in terror as he realizes the truth: the thing he clutches to his heart is the thing that killed him. In choosing the ring, he chooses death.
Sin, and the fallen nature of this world, makes us addicted to something that kills us.
Like any addiction, it is a vicious cycle. The less we forgive, the more hardhearted we become … and the less we seek forgiveness ourselves.
What breaks the cycle? Reconciliation with God — or, Confession, as we call it. In fact, it does more than break the cycle. It turns it backward. Not only does it detoxify our souls of sin, it weakens our addic-tion to sin’s effects — anger, vengeance, unforgiveness. The confession of evil works is the first beginning of good works, said St. Augustine.
Ultimately, I view our whole human life as a struggle on the ledge of a mountaintop. It is certain that we will choose sin — we always do. We will tumble over the side, toward ruin. But let us be Frodo, and not Gollum. Let us cling to the rock of the sacraments and accept the hand that would drag us away from the flames.
“Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight.” Sirach 27:30
CATHEDRAL OF THE BLESSED SACRAMENT
The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament Parish in Altoona, PA is a welcoming and compassionate community of believers striving to grow as God’s people.
As disciples of Jesus Christ, we offer lifelong faith formation for children, youth, and adults; and we live out Christ’s invitation to serve our sisters and brothers.
We gather to worship in prayer and song and invite all to joyfully participate in word and sacrament, especially the Eucharist.
SERVING THE PEOPLE OF GOD IN THE CITY OF ALTOONA, PENNSYLVANIA SINCE 1851.
Monday-Saturday at 12:00 P.M.
Vigil, Saturday at 5:00 P.M.
Sunday Masses at 8:00 A.M., 10:00 A.M. and 5:00 P.M.
Sacrament of Reconciliation
Wednesday at 7:00 P.M.
Saturday at 12:30 P.M.
Sunday Mass at Our Lady of Fatima Church at 11:30 A.M.