TWENTY-FOURTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
“Remember why you became a priest.” It was his first Christmas as pope, and Pope Francis gathered the Vatican clergy together for the traditional Christmas message to those who work in the Vatican. He thought there was a need for them to refocus their work and their ministries, to care more about the people they served than about the offices they filled. “Remember why you became a priest,” he said to them then.
In one way or another, it’s a good thing for all of us. Remember. Remember why you married the person to whom you once said, “I do.” Remember why you became a parent, why you chose a profession of service. Remember why a religious sister, a pastor, a person of faith.
Go back to that time. Remember when you believed a better world was possible, even within reach. Remember your dreams, your hopes, the clouds on which you built castles in the sky simply because the world needed them there and would somehow be less without them.
Remembering in such a way is a quick rewind of our life back to the beginning, skipping over all the hurts that eventually marred and scarred us, all the disappointments, all the missed turns and opportunities, skipping back over all of them to a time before, to a time when we believed in what might be.
Remember your life then and the sort of person you wanted to become. Put those pieces back together. Make your life whole once more, to a time before the tarnish settled in, before reality dimmed the light that shown through your spirit, before you settled for what was. Remember your life.
It’s what the fellow in this week’s parable somehow forgot to do. He’d been the beneficiary of great generosity on the part of his king who forgave him a huge debt, one he had no way of repaying, so monumental was it. Yet he forgot that gift, unable to pass it on when he crossed paths with a fellow life-traveler who owed him a mere pittance of the gift he’d himself received. And the forgetting then was his undoing, his downfall. He should have remembered.
That, too, is the advice of the sage Ben Sirach in this week’s first reading. “Remember your last days. … Think of the commandments, hate not your neighbor; remember the Most High’s covenant, and overlook faults.”
When we’ve been hurt, really hurt, we don’t forget the offense in large part because we remember the hurt. It stays with us, like the hollow pain of lost love, like the calloused scar of a wound long past. Forgiveness is not about forgetting, mostly because it seems we can’t. What forgiveness is about is wanting what is good for the person who hurt us so, all of that in spite of the hurt. It’s what we try to want for the other because it is what God wants for us, wants it always in spite of our worst selves.
Forgiveness is not saying “Oh, that’s OK. Don’t worry about it.” Forgiveness is not suggesting what took place doesn’t matter any longer. It is not even about being nice or about overlooking the offense. Rather, it is about looking at it straight on, straight in the eye and deciding to want good for the other even though we remember the pain.
And maybe, if we are unable to do that, unable to care because at that moment the pain is too deep, then maybe the most we can do is to ask God to do what we cannot, to ask God to bring goodness into that person’s life even though we are unable to want that. Perhaps that is the beginning of forgiveness, and so it begins with remembering, not with forgetting.
There is something that happens to us when we forgive in that way. We slowly begin to grow toward wholeness once more, the way we longed to be when we first began this journey of life. Our hearts change. Our moods begin to be lifted from the dregs that sucked us under. Our spirits are freed from the prison of darkness that held us. All of this because we remember why we once chose to be a sister or brother of the Lord Jesus.
When you were young what was the dream that spurred you on?
For you what is the most difficult part of forgiving?