Tuesday March 20, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Third Week in Lent
Reading (Daniel 3:25, 34 - 43) Gospel (St. Matthew 18:21 - 35)
Saint Peter asked the question about how often we have to forgive and I suspect it is a question all of us deal with now and again. We probably know somebody in our lives who keeps doing something that irritates us to no end. Consequently, we have to deal with this area of forgiving. So how often do we need to do this? The Lord tells us that our forgiveness of somebody else must be based upon Godís forgiveness of us. He goes on to explain that there was a person who could not pay a debt and pleads with his master. The master, seeing that he has no way of paying the debt, writes it off. That is us. There is absolutely no way that we could ever repay for our sins. If all that we had committed in our entire lives was one little, tiny venial sin, if we spent the rest of our lives from now until the end of our life, we would never be able to work it off. That is to work off entirely the effects of that sin in its offense against God. We cannot make up for our own sins. With the grace and help of God we can do certain things, but only with His help. In fact, with His help we can work them off completely. But by ourself we cannot because our sins have an infinite effect. When we sin against God, we offend the Lord. It is a supernatural thing. All that we can do is to try and take it away is on a natural level. Without His grace we canít do anything to remove the effects of our sin. It is all dependent upon God. We are the ones who have no ability to pay our debt. So God, in His mercy, when we plead with Him, wipes it out. He totally removes it.
It is like Azariah praying in the fire, recognizing the sins of the Israelites, and there was absolutely nothing that they could do. They did not even have a temple at this point. They are in Babylon, so they are in exile. They had no temple to offer sacrifice to the Lord. Azariah prays and says, "We come to You with a humble spirit and a contrite heart. Let us be received as if it were lambs and bullock or thousands of fat lambs. We follow you unreservedly with our whole heart." That was enough to turn the heart of God to bring forgiveness to the people. That is what God wants. He wants a contrite spirit. He wants us to be humble. He wants us to come to Him and follow Him unreservedly with our whole heart. When that is occurring, all of our sins are going to be removed. We can come to God and ask for forgiveness and be totally confident of it.
But then He says that we must treat others as we would like to be treated. If we come to God and seek forgiveness, we need to be willing to forgive others. How can we hold others in contempt when we ourselves have been forgiven? When we look at what we have done in our lives, I suspect that we all will be able to find something we have done that is probably worse, even on a natural level, than what others are doing to us in the present. So if we refuse to forgive them for the little things they are doing to us, how is it that we assume and expect God is going to forgive us for some of the major things that we have done to Him? When we plead with Him, he writes it off. Now He expects that we will do the same. The Lord makes very clear that when the servant refused to forgive the fellow servant, the master threw him into prison until he paid back all that he owed. He says, "My heavenly Father will treat you in exactly the same way." While we know that our sins are forgiven in the confessional, we then have an obligation to forgive. If we do not, that is a sin that we are committing against another. Even though our sins were forgiven, we are now incurring a new sin. We will be held responsible for that. We need to recognize the necessity to forgive as we have been forgiven. When we recognize how huge our debt is, our total inability to repay it, and Godís mercy in writing it off and forgiving it, how much more merciful we must be to those who owe to us a mere fraction.
Note: Father Altier does not prepare his homilies in advance, but relies solely upon the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.