Homily – 5th Sunday of Lent

Friends, in my absence, here is last Sunday’s homily by Pastor Dick Dahl–a fine reflection!

During the years I worked as a counselor I kept a quotation taped to my file cabinet where clients and I could see it every day: “To be angry and hold resentments is like swallowing poison and waiting for the other person to die.” The truth behind this is not immediately apparent, but becomes so over time.

One can be hurt by rudeness from another, a thoughtless remark by someone, being contradicted and embarrassed in public. One can be hurt in a deeper and more devastating way—the betrayal by someone we loved and trusted, the infidelity of a spouse, The Dalai Lama was interviewed during his recent visit to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. He was quoted as saying, “When we develop anger, the object appears very negative, but actually that negativeness, 90 percent is your own mental projection.” He warned that if one holds on to angry feelings, that anger can fester and grow. He advised those listening to him: “So (when) something happens—an angry face, a harsh word—the next day, no problem.”

Some of you may have attended the recent Frozen River Film Festival talk at Saint Mary’s University Page theatre by Frederick Ndaramiye from Zwanda. As a 15-year old boy he was brutally dragged from a bus and told to kill all the passengers. When he refused, the rebels themselves killed the passengers and then, to teach him a lesson, cut off his hands. It took several years for him to recover physically and even longer to come to the realization that the only way for him to go forward in life was to move past hate and anger and embrace forgiveness and action. He actually met the person face to face who gave the order for what was done to him and forgave him.

The words of the Dalai Lama and the example of Frederick Ndaramiye are not preaching to us “Thou should….”  They are enlightening us as to what works in the midst of suffering and what does not. The path of forgiveness is not an easy one to follow, but it is the only way to heal, to go forward.

Even though forgiveness was not the subject of today’s first Reading from Isaiah, nevertheless in it God is described as telling the Israelites, “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see I am doing something new!” That message might be taken by us to let go of hurt and resentments, big and small, so that God may do something new in our lives—freedom of spirit to go forward. And if you can stand a brief political aside, even Bernie Sanders ended his recent talk in Rochester by saying, “Love always trumps hate.”

Frederick Ndaramiye has become an artist. He has begun a community center helping hundreds of children with disabilities to experience its motto, “I am able.” Hatred and resentments are disabilities from which we must be freed so that we can be able to love and serve.

Forgiveness, however, does not condone injustice, especially the violence and harm done to the weak, the powerless, especially to children. Forgiveness especially does not restrain efforts to stop ongoing abuse, wherever and by whomever it takes place.

When Jesus faced the woman caught in adultery and was pressured to condemn her, he apparently found a way to expose her accusers with what they had done until they all left him and her alone. “Neither will I condemn thee, he said, but he added,  “Sin no more.” He says the same to us.

When Jesus taught his followers how to pray, he included “forgive us…as we forgive those who hurt us.” But we must not condemn or criticize those who are unable to forgive. They carry a heavy burden in their hearts, not only that which was done to them, but the pain they are unable to let go of, a pain most of us may not begin to comprehend. We can only pray for their release. We have the unbelievable example of Jesus, tortured, humiliated and nailed to beams of wood, somehow saying for his tormentors, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.”

The most challenging part of forgiveness may be to forgive ourselves, to accept that we are forgiven. I know there is a tendency to rationalize our faults. But in our heart of hearts, we know when we have been wrong, when we have failed to be the people Jesus calls us to be. In this year of mercy, may we be merciful to others and to ourselves. As Paul said in today’s Second Reading, “I have no justice of my own based on observance of the law. The justice I possess is that which comes in faith in Christ. It has its origin in God….I give no thought to what lies behind but push on to what is ahead.”