Luke 17: 1-6 I Am Sorry
“I am sorry.” Are these not the hardest words to say? Are they not the hardest words to accept? And yet, we are more than capable of giving them and receiving them. In the mystery of creation, the Lord placed in our hearts the ability to offend and to ask for forgiveness. Only man can offend and only man can forgive. This is truly a divine mystery. If we were simply animals, we would move on, relinquish, or fight back. Our animal instincts would instruct us to be weary and to never let our guard down.
And yet the Lord instructs us, “If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.” In both cases, the Christian is called to a much higher form of evolution. A forgiving man is the highest form of humanity! It is the stuff of champions. It is holiness! And we have been called by the Lord to constantly help our brother. Regardless of how many times he pushes away, falls down or insults us to our very core.
I remember learning this lesson in the novitiate, in Italy. A young brother (that is, seminarian), a mere seventeen year old, would often lose his temper and take it out someone. Today, I can sympathize a great deal with this young man. I can only imagine how it must have felt to be a teenager, in the seminary, away from home and learning a new language. Well, the Novice Master placed him in my care. It was not such a good idea. One evening, after a youth event, I stuck around to talk to a group of parents. This seminarian was eager to get home as quickly as possible and not to lose our ride. In the end, I made us late and we missed our ride which meant we had to walk all the way back home. He was furious with me and swung at me! He nearly hit me. I reported the entire incident to our Novice Master and he calmly told me to continue working with this brother. I told the priest that I could not handle him and that if he tried to hit me I would hit him back! “You cannot do that”, he told me. “You do not have permission to do that.” I asked him, “Then what am I supposed to do?” He calmly told me, “It is obvious…you take the punch. Isn’t that what our Lord did?” He continued, “If you want to be a holy priest, that is, the only type of priest the Lord accepts, then you must live like him. Take the punch.”
We are all called to be holy; which means, we are all called to be like Christ. Isaiah, in his canticle, reveals to the world that "The Lord goes forth like a hero, like a warrior he stirs up his ardor; he shouts out his battle cry, against his enemies he shows his might." (Is 42:13) What is the might of the Lord? What is his battle cry? I will tell you what it is, "I forgive you." This is why our God is above all other gods. Why the Lord can do whatever he wills. He could crush me, annihilate me, obliterate me. Instead, he forgives me. In the sight of the Lord all knees shall bend, all men shall fall from their horses. Women will bow before him and kiss his feet. Why? Because no one has ever shown greater love than He.
“Lord, increase our faith!” The Apostles were not embarrassed to ask for it! They knew they needed it. “Lord, increase my faith!” May I dare say it, but I truly believe that forgiveness is the greatest sign of holiness. How we forgive our neighbors, our relatives, our family members, our friends and enemies is the greatest sign of faith we can give to our neighbors, relatives, family members, friends and enemies. How I ask God for forgiveness and forgive myself is the greatest sign of the living God present in our lives. Let us not lose the incredible opportunity the Lord has given to all of us, to imitate the Lord and to rise to a higher standard of human living – the highest form of evolution – the Saint.
Jesus reminds us, “Sin will inevitably occur.” May the Lord in his kindness allow us to be his hands and feet, his eyes and lips, his face, his faithful followers who search out, reach out and help carry the wounded and weary and bring them back to the fold. May the Lord grant us mercy and compassion, the tools that Christ used to bring us back to him.