September 11, 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
The texts in today’s Mass point us forcefully towards the need to develop within ourselves the virtue of forgiveness. The Gospel is wonderful. It is all about an evil servant who, although he is forgiven a great debt by his master, turns on a fellow servant who has failed to repay but a pittance that was owed. As good as that is, I prefer to touch on the first reading from the book of Sirach, which speaks beautifully and poetically to the need to be forgiving persons. Sirach tells us:
“Wrath and anger are hateful things and yet the sinner hugs them tight.”
Isn’t that marvelous? Don’t we all know people, and maybe even occasionally ourselves, who hug tightly to our anger and hate instead of letting it go, and experiencing the joy and freedom that comes with forgiveness. The text goes on,
“The vengeful will suffer the Lord’s vengeance for He remembers their sins in detail. Forgive your neighbors injustice and then when you pray your sins will be forgiven.”
In my opinion, one of the keys to day-to-day happiness is not carrying about anger and bitterness inside our minds and hearts. Today, the voice of Sirach leaps across the centuries and tells us that we need to try to do the same… although today in particular, forgiveness can be very challenging.
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In today’s Gospel, we see Jesus pausing in his journey to Jerusalem. We see our Lord speaking to a large crowd and is stressing the importance of fully planning and utilizing our lives as we head towards eternal life. He does this with a very tough challenge demanding that his followers place their commitment to him above any other interests including family concerns. Regretfully, giving that concept justice requires a little more space than I have here so let me turn to the delightful second reading.
The epistle today is from the smallest book of the New Testament, broken into chapters because it is covered by a mere 25 verses. Small though the Book of Philemon is it places before us an interesting reality. Writing to a friend named Philemon in whose house Paul had stayed during his journeys, he was requesting that Philemon consider freeing a slave that had run away and managed to catch up with Paul. Paul was sending him back so that Philemon could free his slave, whose name was Onesimus. As old as this booklet is, it has generated a tremendous amount of discussion over the centuries. Slavery was part of everyday life in the time of the empire and Paul seems to be tolerating it but, at the same time, asking Philemon to free Onesimus on the basis of their common faith in Jesus Christ and, because of that faith, a new relationship had come into existence.
Happily, we don’t have any slaves to free but all of us have opportunities to lighten the burdens of those with whom we are sharing life.
Everyone around us is as tired as we are. We all experience frustration. Let’s not add to the burdens of our co-workers. Let’s not enslave them to our bad temper.
Try a smile or a laugh instead.
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One of the most destructive forces that frequently appear in individual’s lives is anger. I am nearly eighty years old, and have been observing human behavior throughout all of my life. There are very few situations where anger is part of the solution. Anger blocks our vision. It gives us bad judgement. It can be woefully painful in the lives of those around us, and is something to be avoided by anyone who wants a moderately happy life.
Anger’s danger is vastly increased when mixed with another human weakness- paranoia. Put the two together, and disaster will appear on the horizon. This is the tragic reality of Timothy McVay. Last week we marked the 15th anniversary of his killing nearly 200 innocent people, many of whom were children. McVay was bright, skillful, and in a warped way, idealistic. BUT, his perverse anger- when joined with his serious case of paranoia- exploded into the lives of his innocent victims.
Sometimes people say “I have a bad temper.” More accurately, they should say, “I fail to control my temper and have chosen to put up with it to the detriment of those around me. Acute paranoia is a serious emotional disorder, and usually cannot be assisted without medical help. It flows from narcism. We all have a little of that, but given the difficulties that these two blemishes can generate, we have to take firm control of our own thought processes, emotions, and conduct. Please, seek professional help if you are wrestling with these demons.
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