"Breaking Open the Word" :
James Cavanagh is the director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-Area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. His weekly column, "Breaking Open the Word," is syndicated by the Denver Catholic Register, official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Denver. Click here to visit the Office of Evangelization & Catechesis for the Archdiocese of Denver.
September 11, 2011: 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
• Sirach 27:30 – 28:7
Synopsis: Sirach is a book of practical Jewish wisdom and ethical teachings based on the Law and the Prophets. It was written in the early part of the second century B.C. (around 190 B.C.) at a time when Greek ideas and customs dominated the ancient near East. Part of its purpose was to instill a strong sense of Jewish identity and to preserve beliefs and practices that were in danger of being smothered by the pervasive Greek culture.
The first reading emphasizes the importance of suppressing anger and vengeance. Instead, one must be kind and quick to forgive. Forgiveness wasn’t a just a social nicety; it was a matter of communal survival. For without the ability to forgive a community—be it family, church or nation—will tear itself apart.
The second reading is set within a context concerning relations between Jewish and Gentile members of the Church. The Jews insisted on a strict observance of the Law (mainly concerning dietary regulations) while the Gentiles wanted a more relaxed interpretation. Paul seeks to reconcile the two groups by stressing the more important principles of mutual respect and toleration.
As Christians we do not exist in isolation because we are all part of the one body of Christ. Be patient with others. As Plato said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
Matthew 18 deals with life in the Church. This week’s Gospel deals with the question of forgiveness as Jesus responds to Peter’s question, “How often should I forgive my brother?” Jesus answers with a parable about a servant whose enormous debt was forgiven, and yet was unwilling to forgive a tiny debt owed to him. The lesson is clear: there is no limit to the number of times we must forgive, because God has forgiven us so much more.
Key verse: “Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.” (Sirach 28:2)
Catechism of the Catholic Church: “Love, like the body of Christ, is indivisible; we cannot love the God we cannot see if we do not love the brother or sister we do see. In refusing to forgive our brothers and sisters, our hearts are closed and their hardness makes them impervious to the Father’s merciful love; but in confessing our sins, our hearts are opened to his grace” (No.2840).
Pope Benedict XVI: “The core of the spiritual crisis of our time derives from the loss of the sense of the grace of forgiveness. We stand in need of forgiveness, which is the fulcrum of every true reform: the renewal of the person in his inmost depths thus becomes the centre of the renewal of the community” (Speech, Sept. 25, 2010).
Life application: A house divided cannot stand. Many empires have tried to destroy the Jews, but have failed. The Jews have held together because of their faith in God, true moral standards and religious devotion. The same applies to us as Catholics. The integrity of the Church depends on our willingness to forgive, and to seek forgiveness when we’ve done something wrong. The message of forgiveness is one the world needs now more than ever.
James Cavanagh is director of Evangelization and Catechesis for Metro-area Parishes of the Denver Archdiocese. Cavanagh’s column is distributed by the Denver Catholic Register.
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