Forgiveness is serious business

The following is a homily given by Msgr. James A. Carter, pastor of Christ Our King Church in Mount Pleasant, at Masses at the parish Nov. 15 and 16.

The scene is outside a supermarket in the middle of a torrential downpour. Under a canopy where shopping carts should be unloaded, a man waits in a parked car that occupies most of the space. With his car squarely in the way, he watches with calm detachment as a woman seeks to transfer her small child and groceries from two carts into her automobile. First, she makes a mad dash around his car to put her child in her car. Then, dripping, she unloads the carts item by item, because by this time the rain has destroyed her paper bags. At last, soaked to the skin, she is finished except for one last maneuver, gathering all the empty carts left by other shoppers, she calmly encircles the man’s car with them. No way could he move without going out into the deluge to clear a path. Then she drives away, giving the shocked fellow a grin and a wave. Sweet revenge. We can laugh about such acts of retaliation until they get out of hand. Then they are no longer funny. Somewhere, somehow, we need to learn how to break the cycle of hurt and revenge. We need to learn to forgive.

Forgiveness is serious business. If anyone has ever done you a serious wrong, you know how serious forgiveness is. Do you recall the heartbreaking scene in the movie “Forrest Gump”? One of the central characters, Jenny, returns to her old home after her father has died. The old farm house is dilapidated and abandoned. As she reflects on the sexual abuse she endured as a child, she is overcome by rage and begins throwing rocks at the house. The photography is powerful as it shows her rapidly reaching for rocks, then violently throwing them at the house. Jenny finally falls to the ground in exhaustion, and the scene closes with Forrest Gump philosophically saying, “Sometimes there just aren’t enough rocks.” There never are enough rocks if someone has abused you, lied about you, cheated you, let you down (God included, we sometimes believe). If someone you love has betrayed you, deserted you, destroyed you; if deep in your heart, there is a hidden place where there is so much resentment toward another human being that secretly you wish them dead, there are not enough rocks.

In the book entitled None of These Diseases (S.I. McMillen), the author detailed the effects that unresolved anger and hatred have on us. He writes: “The moment I start hating a man, I become his slave. I can’t enyoy my work anymore because he even controls my thoughts. My resentments produce too many stress hormones in my body, and I become fatigued after only a few hours of work. The work I formerly enjoyed is now drudgery. Even vacations cease to give my pleasure. The man I hate hounds me wherever I go. I can’t escape his tyrannical grasp on my mind. When the waiter serves me porterhouse steak with french fries, asparagus, crisp salad and strawberry shortcake smothered with ice cream, it might as well be stale bread and water. My teeth chew the food, and I swallow it, but the man I hate will not permit me to enjoy it. The man I hate may be miles from my bedroom; but more cruel than any slave driver, he whips my thoughts into such a frenzy that my inner-spring mattress becomes a rack of torture. The lowliest of the serfs call sleep, but not I. I must really acknowledge that fact that I am a slave to every man on whom I pour the vials of my wrath.”

Forgiveness is serious business. Forgiveness is essential to our mental, emotional, spiritual and physical health. How do we forgive? How do we let go of our hurts and resentments? There is only one way. We acknowledge that we ourselves have been forgiven. Somehow when we acknowledge our own sinfulness and receive God’s grace, we find it easier to forgive those who have wronged us.

The author of Hebrews in today’s second reading tells us that Christ, who is our great high priest, has made an offering in our behalf. It is an offering that makes it possible once and for all, for our sins to be taken from us. All our misdeeds; all the times we hurt someone who loved and trusted us; all the times our lives have been shoddy and disappointing; all the times we have been less than God created us to be; all those sins have been buried in the bottom of the deepest sea by the one sacrifice that Christ made in our behalf. When we realize the weight of our own sins and that Christ has removed those sins from us, then out of gratitude and praise, we are able to forgive others. In the words of the Psalm, as far as the East is from the West has he removed our sins from us.

The daughter and son-in-law of Doug Sparks were killed by a drunk driver, and their little boy was injured so badly that his brain will never function normally. A friend said to him after the accident, “Doug, it’s going to work out for you and your family.” Sparks answered angrily, “Yes, but at what price?” Sparks said, “For several days I wrestled with the price. I was angry. There’s nothing wrong with being angry when something like this happens to you. You need to stay in contact with God and deal with your anger.” In a time of prayer, it seemed to Sparks that God was saying, “Doug, I know how much this is costing you. I know the price you’re paying. But I also know the price I paid.” Doug Sparks continued: “In times of tragedy, we always must look to the cross; the price God paid for a suffering and dying world. Immediately, I felt the impulse of God’s spirit urging me to go to the driver who had caused the tragedy and forgive him.” He visited the hospital where the driver, and illegal alien, lay strapped down with a broken neck and back, and a spirit that was broken even more, sure that God had forsaken him. Sparks shared his insight into Scripture with the infirmed man and told him, “Because Christ loved me and forgave me, I love you and forgive you.” At that moment, Sparks said he experienced the love of Christ for himself and for this man. Ordinary human love could not cause that kind of forgiveness for a man who had killed your loved ones; only the prayers of forgiveness could accomplish that miracle and not demand retaliation, even the death of a murderer. Remember the murderers who killed Jesus and the words he spoke during the ordeal, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” And who are we, but his disciples who walk in his footsteps?

So forgiveness is serious business. Only an experience of the Grace of God can deliver us from the feelings of anger and resentment we may feel toward another.

I don’t know what kind of hurts you may have brought here with you today, but I do know this: nursing grudges, harboring resentments, clinging to the wrongs others have done will only bring us grief. Christ’s death on the Cross has released us from the burden of our sins. Why don’t we let it release us from the burden of our grievances as well? We have been forgiven. Now, please, for your own sake, forgive others.