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Bishop's Homily for the Twenty-Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time

September 13, 2020

[Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, Honolulu (Confirmation and First Communion)]

I doubt if there is a single person in this church who has never been offended by someone else.  Sometimes the offense may be trivial, but sometimes it can be very deeply hurtful, something that may even change a person’s life.  We have all been beaten up in some way by others, a few physically, but all of us emotionally by a cruel word or joke, by bullying, or by gossip against us.  We all have good reason to be upset with certain people who hurt us, because, while sometimes people unintentionally or unknowingly hurt others, too often the hurt is very intentional and deliberate.  It is natural for us to want to strike back, to make the person who caused us suffering to suffer in turn.  And when we act on this natural inclination, we end up compounding the hurt and splattering our own hurt and anger on the person who offended us, and very often on other innocent bystanders.

It is supernatural, however, to forgive.  Supernatural means above and beyond our natural tendencies; something that moves us to deliberately decide that our hurt feelings are not going to have the last word, but rather the Word of God will have the final say.  This is one of the most difficult things to do, yet if we forgive others the real offences they have committed against us, we refuse the multiply the anger, and we thus bring more healing and peace to the world.

Peter thought he understood the mercy of God when he asked if we should forgive someone who has offended us seven times.  That is a lot of times to forgive someone, and in the Scriptures, seven is actually a symbolic number that implies perfection.  But Jesus points out that seven times is not supernatural enough, and teaches us to forgive seventy-seven times.  It is something we cannot do on our own, because we have a tendency to nourish our anger and to hug it tight.  We sometimes glory in being the victims.  Yet Jesus is very clear that this will only lead to our own destruction, because if we are not willing to forgive the offenses of another, we ourselves will be the ones who suffer the most, as in the case of the unjust steward in the gospel.

To forgive is not at all to ignore the hurt or to pretend that nothing ever happened.  That would simply not be the truth, and only the truth can set us free.  But there is a supernatural truth that teaches us that no matter how much we have been offended, we can forgive and move on happily, because we open ourselves to the grace of God.

It is never easy to live this supernatural kind of forgiveness when our natural tendencies for revenge are so strong.  And that is why the Lord gives us helps to live supernaturally by means of the sacraments.

In Confirmation, we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit, so that God’s amazing and awesome power can work in us.  Only the Holy Spirit can take us out of our own tunnel vision and help us see that even those who hurt us are our brothers and sisters, beloved by God.  This is a kind of vision we could never have on our own, but with the power of the Holy Spirit, we can see even as God sees.

In the Eucharist, we remember the death and resurrection of Jesus.  His death was the most cruel, unjust and heartless things any human being has ever suffered.  Yet, united with the Father and the Holy Spirit, Jesus was able to forgive those who crucified him.  In the resurrection, he showed clearly that hatred and the attempt to cancel an opponent are not the last word, but life, love, and peace are the final word if we live supernaturally.  And in the Eucharist, Jesus not only calls us to remember this liberating supernatural love of his, but enters into us physically, so that his power and his strength can enable us to do the same, to overcome the powers of darkness and death with the powers of light and life.

Today we thank God for giving these supernatural gifts to our sisters and brothers in the sacrament of Confirmation and in their first Holy Communion.  And we join with them in asking the Lord to renew this supernatural gift of merciful love in all of us so that we can be witnesses to the world that only God’s mercy and unbelievable love can heal our wounds.