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24th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year A 2020

1. Recently, during the pandemic, I was doing what a lot of us


a. Clean.

b. Reorganize.

c. And throw things out that we had kept for God knows

what reason.

2. And I came across an old manila envelope.

3. I was immediately transported back to my first years as a


a. At St Francis de Chantal, in the Bronx.

4. We tend to think that the sexual abuse crisis

a. which continues to tear at the church

b. began in 2002. But it did not.

5. For back in the middle 1990's there were several cases

a. that drew national attention and a fire storm of


6. But then it stopped;

a. largely because of one case.

7. A young man accused his seminary rector and some

members of the faculty

a. of molesting him years before

i. while he was studying to be a priest.

8. All the accused had long since gone on to other positions;

a. but one had become a bishop;

b. then an archbishop

c. and then finally a Cardinal.

i. The man was Joseph Cardinal Bernardin.

9. The media descended on Bernardin with incredible fury.

a. Until, one day, the young man who was dying of AIDS,

i. withdrew his accusation.

b. The media quickly withdrew,

c. disappointed and probably a little embarrassed,

i. And thus, they largely missed the most

important part of the story.

1. Bernardin forgave his accuser.

10. I preached on this story one Saturday evening at St.


a. Ans as people were leaving a small, wiry man walked

up to me.

i. Waving his finger in my face, he hissed

ii. “Bernadin was guilty! GUILTY!”

iii. He turned and walked away.

b. In the weeks and months to come I started getting

thick manila envelopes, in the mail. That envelope I

found was one of them – maybe the first– I don’t


i. They were full of clippings from conservative

Catholic newspapers

1. all harshly critical of Bernadin,

2. accusing him of being everything

a. from a poor administrator to a heretic.

c. Clearly, they were all from this man.

i. And clearly, although Bernadin had forgiven his


1. this man was not able to forgive Bernadin.

11. Behavior like that seems crazy to us.

12. But then we realize that he is not the only one who is

unable to forgive.

a. For often we are as well.

i. Whether it is a grudge we harbor or a hurt we


ii. Whether it is directed against something as

personal as a former spouse

iii. or lover, or as impersonal as a business or a


b. If we look inside ourselves,

c. we can all identify times when we were or are, unable

to forgive.

13. And when we do this, immediately we know the

reason why:

a. For when we are wronged, THAT IS WHAT WE SEE.

We see our hurt our pain.

i. We want justice . . . maybe even revenge.

b. But when we forgive, THEN THAT IS ALL ANYONE ELSE


i. It seems like they are ignoring our hurt and pain.

ii. And more importantly we are ignoring what

is right and just.

14. It is like that servant in the parable told by Jesus in

today’s Gospel.

a. When he meets a fellow servant who owed him


i. he nearly strangles him to get it.

1. Now, did first servant have a right to his

money? Of course.

2. Did the second servant have a right to delay

payment? Of course not.

ii. The first servant had every right to demand

payment; for He had been wronged.

iii. To forgive would only be to ignore what

was right and just.

b. Except for the fact that that was not all that Jesus


i. For the first servant himself had been forgiven a

similar debt.

1. And if it was right and just for the master to

forgive him

2. why wasn’t it right for the servant to forgive

his fellow servant?

c. Because the servant didn’t see, wouldn’t see, what

Jesus saw, and what we all too often miss.

15. For this story is not about slaves and masters;

16. it is not about repayment of debts.

17. It is not even really about the servant’s inability to


a. it is about our inability to forgive.

18. Maybe it’s a husband or wife, a friend or a partner;

maybe it’s a boss or a president or even a cardinal. We

can’t forgive, we say.

a. Because we are afraid that forgiving means ignoring

what is right,

i. or more importantly, what was done wrong.

b. And, we want what is right we want justice . . . maybe

even revenge.

c. For us- justice and forgiveness are often opposites.

i. But not for God . . . which is of course, Jesus’


19. For God sees what we don’t and often times won’t


a. That forgiveness doesn’t mean we ignore what is

wrong and what is right

i. In fact, forgiveness is based on what is wrong

and right

ii. For there would be no need of forgiveness if

there was no such thing as wrong and right.

b. Rather forgiveness means that there is something

more important than punishing the wrong and being


i. And that is that all of us are wrong sometimes.

1. All of us not only have to forgive,

2. but also need forgiveness time and time


ii. Without forgiveness, how could we ever

relate to anyone?

iii. We couldn’t. Not with each other . . . nor

with God.

1. And that too, is Jesus’ point.

20. For when Jesus tells this parable it is part of a larger

section of Matthew’s Gospel; that section dealing with the


a. Now when we think of the Church these days,

i. we think of bishops and Cardinals, of sins and


1. we think of many unthinkable things.

b. But you know something? So did Matthew’s


i. For they knew that one Friday

ii. a group of 12 friends did the unthinkable;

1. And abandoned their friend Jesus to die

alone on the cross.

iii. They also knew that that group would never

have survived that Friday were it not for the

following Sunday,

iv. when their risen friend Jesus came to them

1. and in coming to them . . . forgave them.

c. You see, that is just point; if righting the wrong were

all that mattered;

i. then Jesus should have come to judge.

d. But there was something more important;

i. the disciples had to be forgiven;

1. so they could forgive one another,

2. and go out and forgive others.

ii. Forgiveness healed their relationships

iii. and enabled them to become a community

borne out of forgiveness;

iv. that community which to this day still prays

as Jesus taught them to pray “forgive us our

trespasses, our sins, AS we forgive those who

trespass against us.”

v. That community they and we call the

Church. And it happened all because of


21. I threw that old envelope filled with articles out.

22. IT was part of another time in my life and truth be

told I had forgotten about it.

23. But now I think of that little old wiry man who

wagged his finger at me.

a. I wonder, what wrongs he had suffered in his life that

made him so angry.

b. I also wonder if he was ever able to see beyond those

wrongs and forgive.

i. Probably not. And that would have been


c. Just as it would have been completely

understandable for Cardinal Bernadin, after being

cleared of the charges, to have countersued.

i. After all his character had been maligned, his

reputation destroyed.

24. But of course he didn’t; he forgave. . . and as a result

a relationship grew between the cardinal and this sick

young man;

a. a relationship which eventually brought

b. if not physical healing then something far more


i. For not only had he been estranged from the


ii. but also from his family, who had largely

rejected him because he had AIDS.

iii. But the Cardinal spoke with the young

man’s family,

1. and they forgave their son, and he them.

iv. He went to confession,

1. and God forgave him and truth be told, he

forgave God.

v. This young man, who only a couple of years


1. had been estranged from the family who

had given him birth

2. a man who had been his teacher and


3. And the God he had once hoped to serve

vi. Died reconciled to them ALL . . . and it all

happened because Cardinal Bernardin was able

to see beyond the wrongs he had suffered and

do what was right. And then forgave . . . Just as

Jesus taught him to do. Just as Jesus teaches us

to do.

25. Of course Jesus never said forgiveness was easy.

a. He said it was essential.

i. Essential if we ever want to get beyond the

poisonous cycle of judgement and revenge.

ii. Essential if we want to move beyond the

scandals which have ripped our church apart.

iii. Essential if we want to see our way through

the mess we have made of our Church our country and our world.

1. For forgiveness isn’t just a part of our life


2. Forgiveness makes our life together,

3. as individuals, a city, a nation a church and

a world.

4. For forgiveness isn’t just part of the Church;

a. Forgiveness makes the Church.

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