FORGIVENESS AND RECONCILIATION: THE GATEWAY TO TRUE PEACE AND LOVE (DIVINE MERCY PRAYER)
First Reading: Acts 6:8-10; Gospel: Matthew 10:17-22
Today’s celebration is in harmony with the profound meaning of Christmas. Yesterday we joyfully celebrated the birth of our eternal King on earth, and today we celebrate the birth into heaven of His soldier. Christ entered into the world so that His followers may enter heaven. In the sacrifice of the martyrs, the Church sees that as their birth into heaven. The Church, in her wisdom chose this celebration in order to prepare our minds to be in tandem with the fate of Jesus Christ, whose mission would be to thread the path of suffering and death in order to reconcile us with God.
In Stephen’s martyrdom, violence is overcome by love and death by life. Therefore, today we are celebrating the birth of St. Stephen (First Martyr) which springs, as it were, from the birth of Christ. Jesus transforms the death of those who love him into the dawn of life. In Stephen’s death, we have the same confrontation between good and evil, hatred and forgiveness, meekness and violence which could be found in the Cross of Christ.
There is a popular Latin aphorism that says, “Nemo dat Quod Non Habet.” – (No one can give what he or she does not have). It could be material or non-material things. Ipso facto, whatever you possess is what people tap from you. If you are a peace-loving person, it would come to you. If you are a troublemaker, it would come to you too.
Any offense done to any human being is automatically done to God. It is an infliction of pain to the individual(s) which needs to be remedied or cured. Forgiveness is the only way of breaking up the devilish cycle of offense – violence. To forgive does not mean to let evil actions remain as they are. God is not covering up all the evil done, and does not close His eyes and pretend not to see them.
However, God manifests his healing mercy through the Sacrament of Reconciliation when He transforms people and leads them to conversion, and changes or turns them from selfish individuals into truly loving persons. Hence, forgiveness and reconciliation are the conditio sine qua non to experience divine peace and fraternal love.
The teaching about forgiveness goes back to the Lord’s Prayer “and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Matthew.6:12) which highlights the importance of Mutual Forgiveness in the Church. Jesus forgave his executioners from the Cross: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). On the other hand, in the first reading, Stephen also forgave those who stoned him to death before he died “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Act 7:60). This a perfect example of Divine Mercy Prayer.
When we are not in a good relationship with people, we should strive to reconcile with them, and when doing that, we should follow Christ’s teachings. Christ said, if your brother sins against you; 1st: one-on-one; 2nd: with one or two other persons; 3rd: with the Church, and finally treat the person like a gentile/ pagan (Matthew 18:15-17). NB: Treating the person like a pagan means not to associate with him or her physically, but you do that spiritually through prayers (Matthew 18:20).
For Peter, he asked Jesus Christ how many times would one offend him and he would forgive; seven times? But Jesus replied, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22). Peter was prepared to forgive an offender up to 7 times. He was quite generous. That is a lot more than most people are prepared to do. Here in our country or in some of the communities around us, most people are prepared to forgive only two times. The 3rd time you offend them, they will roast you or bracket you. Oftentimes, when you mistakenly offend some people, they put you in their black list/ book. No matter what you do to reconcile with them, you are wasting your time.
Besides, when Jesus said we are to forgive 70 X 7, he didn’t mean we should open a register and be recording people’s offenses so that when they reach 490, then we wouldn’t forgive them again. The number 70 X 7 is merely symbolic, a play on words since Peter had earlier used the number 7. However, what Jesus meant was that we are to forgive our neighbors indefinitely as many times they offend us without any limitation. Some would offend you intentionally without any cause and would not care if they did. Even when you forgive them, they would continue to inflict pain on you. My question is, do we continue to forgive such people?
CHANGE THE BATTLEGROUND
We need to always change our battleground. For instance, snakes are powerless and harmless in the air. The Eagle does not fight the snake on the ground. It picks it up into the sky and changes the battleground, and then it releases the snake into the sky. The snake has no stamina, no power, and no balance in the air. It is useless, weak, and vulnerable unlike on the ground where it is powerful wise, and deadly.
Do not fight the enemy in his or her comfort zone, change the battle grounds like the Eagle and let God take charge through your earnest prayer. You’ll be assured of clean victory. Do not fight your battle on the ground (fighting and quarreling with people unnecessarily), rather take your challenges to God in prayers. Allow God to fight for you. Take your fight into the spiritual realm by praying and when you are in the spiritual realm God takes over your battles (1 Samuel 17:47; Isaiah 54:14-17).
Sometimes, when a wrongdoer refuses to listen to us, the fault could be ours. Perhaps, our manner of approach wasn’t good enough; it was more designed to humiliate or prove the person wrong or judge the person than to gently correct or reconcile. In this case, it would aggravate the situation and would not yield any fruitful results. However, when we correct people, we should do so respectfully, charitably, and gently, without humiliating or hurting their feelings unnecessarily especially in the public. Therefore, in the process of making peace, we should do it fraternally, i.e., with love, in a bid to gain the person back.
On the other hand, we should also allow ourselves to be corrected when we go wrong by admitting our faults, and not making it difficult for people to approach us. Some people’s mouths are like scorpions or bombshells. Most of the time, due to our ‘Ego’ or ‘Attitude’, people find it difficult to approach us for fraternal correction. They may be afraid to hurt our feelings or that we may take offense and become hostile. You can read: Education without character: a case of paralysis of the mind…
Undoubtedly, nobody is above mistakes, so we should not make ourselves unapproachable or incorrigible. We gain very much when we forgive others for their offenses against us. If we refuse to forgive them, we are not hurting anyone else but ourselves, since we would forfeit God’s forgiveness of our own sins (Matthew 6:14-15).
THE POWER OF FORGIVENESS AND RECONCILIATION
There was a story of a woman who was a troublemaker and hardly forgives, though would regret her mistakes afterward. But due to her pride/ ego, she would not make any move for reconciliation. Her husband too was a stone-hearted man. He continued to beat her wife who would not stop using abusive words on him. Unfortunately, they started suffering different calamities; things were not moving well with them. Ironically, these people occupy higher positions in the Church (mere church goers).
In fact, they did not get any children initially for twenty years, because they were under a curse by their parents whom they treated badly. It was out of annoyance that the woman’s mother hit her hand on the ground and told them that, it shall not be well with them in life. But, at a point after several years, out of sympathy, the mother could not bear their sufferings and requested for them to come and see her, but they refused to go due to pride.
After some persuasions by their relatives, two years later, the couple went and reconciled with their mother, who then blessed them before she died. Subsequently, they went for Sacramental Confessions, and thus the curse was lifted and blessings ensued. As am talking to you now, the couple have three children. The power of divine mercy!
According to Pope Francis, let us be renewed by God’s mercy, let us be loved by Jesus, let us enable the power of His love to transform our lives too; and let us become agents of this mercy, channels through which God can water the earth, protect all creation and make justice and peace flourish. God’s mercy can make even the driest land become a garden, and can restore life to dry bones (Ezekiel 37:1-14).
Many people worry unnecessarily over their afflictions, thinking about how to take revenge on their offenders/ enemies, directly or indirectly. Please, do not ponder on such things, because when you concentrate on your enemies or challenges, they weigh you down, and you become downcast, and even vulnerable to demonic attacks.
However, St. Stephen, “a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5), forgave his accusers and persecutors and even prayed to God not to hold their sins against them, but to forgive them. This is certainly a Divine Mercy Prayer. So, can we emulate his attitude? We need to pray seriously for the grace to always act in the same manner, especially saying the Divine Mercy Prayer.
Pray without ceasing:
Finally, we are all different vehicles created by God for Him to travel around and reach various destinations. Prayer is the fuel that drives Christian life. Just as a vehicle can offer maximum mileage only if it maintains an optimum combination of fuel and oil, the mileage (the souls we gain for Christ) will directly depend on the fuel (prayer) and oil (love) within us. If a vehicle does not give us the mileage that is claimed of it, one of the first things we do, is to take it to the service station (the confessional).
My dear brethren, another important factor is the quantum of air (Word of God – John 6:63) in the tires. A punctured tire can take even a good vehicle nowhere. When we look onto Jesus Christ (Hebrews 12:2) and carry all our worries to God (1 Peter 5:7), then He takes over, and peace comes at once. If we allow the Holy Spirit to possess us, we will courageously bear true witness to God without fear.
Therefore, let us always ponder on the WORD, MERCY, and LOVE OF GOD. For the steadfast Love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning, new every morning: great is thy faithfulness, O Lord, great is your faithfulness (Lamentations 3:1-22). Also read the Homily of Divine Mercy Sunday.
May the Holy Spirit give you the grace to be kind, merciful, and compassionate; to reconcile when necessary, and love one another unconditionally, through Jesus Christ, Our Lord, Amen.
Peace of Christ be with you…
Rev. Fr. Ben Okala, C.S.Sp.
Dramatized Audio Bible