1. Recently, during the pandemic, I was doing what a lot of us
c. And throw things out that we had kept for God knows
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
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
13. And when we do this, immediately we know the
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
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
1. And if it was right and just for the master to
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
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
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
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
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
24. But of course he didn’t; he forgave. . . and as a result
a relationship grew between the cardinal and this sick
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
1. and they forgave their son, and he them.
iv. He went to confession,
1. and God forgave him and truth be told, he
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
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
4. For forgiveness isn’t just part of the Church;
a. Forgiveness makes the Church.