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Forgiveness first

Let us pray for the indwelling of the Spirit in us, that we “may reach the goal of perfect Christian love”

Reflection for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle C)

As servants of the Church, we may in worldly expressions of spiritual self-righteousness, take extreme pride in deeming ourselves as protectors of a “holy and immaculate portal” through which all peoples are invited to enter, but through which those invited are subjected to our close scrutiny.

Our point of reference in validating one’s “holiness,” may range from our own fuzzy interpretations of the general standards set by the Church concerning Christian fidelity and duty, to our own fuzzier personal moral standards buttressing our unchangeable ethical world views.

Whatever baselines we may have though, we already unjustly earned with such naive self-righteousness, the title of “modern Inquisitors” for whom there are simply two spiritual castes – those who are deserving of redemption, and those who are not.

Church servants often evoke the imagery of insensitive people claiming for themselves the duty to enact and preserve what may purported to be ‘God’s will for humanity’ irrevocably set in stone: We have become a people conditioned beyond mutual responsibility and at times, beyond Christian love.

It is a soulful relief – and a brutal admonition for us – to remember however, that we essentially have a God who listens and understands. Our Lord keenly notes, “How great is the cry for justice against Sodom and Gomorrah! And how grievous is their sin!”

But in spite of such disobedience, our Lord can bend towards the “greater cry for mercy for Sodom and Gomorrah.” “Will you really let the just perish with the wicked?” Abraham asked, and to which the Spirit conceded, “For the sake of ten good people, I will not destroy Sodom.”

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We are indeed blessed with the Spirit who can and will overwhelm our sense of sensible justice, in favor of infinite mercy. The Apostle Paul proclaims, we “were dead … and in sin” yet in this same Spirit, we “were buried with Christ; and … also rose with him, for having believed in the power of God …” He gave us “life with Christ. He forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of our debts, those regulations which accused us. He did away with all that, and nailed it to the cross.”

So, we are simply called to live a life of love, freely and responsibly living it, giving the same life and love to God and neighbor while ensuring that they understand and develop the same freedom and responsibility for others.

The desirable outcome of a genuine ethical outlook and discipline must be the certainty of development of the human person, in the context where such development is taking place. Any thoughts or actions therefore, that do not give life, that do not offer love, that cannot teach one to conduct oneself freely with full knowledge of its consequences, is not ethical – and we may all be guilty of having done so much of these against others for what we thought was a “brave defense” of the Gospel.

Authentic Church service thus breathes life into the Good News that once and for all time, brings salvation to the poor and the forsaken. It should never snuff that same life out of anyone. Unlike other teachers in his time, Jesus attracted so many people to himself, giving life wherever he went because he even cared more for those who were “dirty” and “unholy,” for those who didn’t want to belong, and those who couldn’t belong. He was perhaps the only one who could be approached by those who thought of themselves as “undeserving.”

It will be a tremendous spiritual burden upon us, if many others will turn away from the Gospel and dismiss it as being “too preachy,” simply because we have stubbornly insisted on being too self-assured. Only because of our proud foolishness, in spite of the eternalness of the Word that Jesus promised, can the Gospel slowly die into oblivion; only because of our arrogance can the kingdom of God gradually become an unfulfillable reality.

All of us are challenged to keep his story alive, that the Christ may continue to attract those like ourselves, who seem to have no worth. All of us are therefore challenged to become like the Spirit, capable of unlimited forgiveness founded on an unconditional love. Thinking and acting “in the name of the Spirit” does not impose on anyone the sole obligation to achieve self-perfection – and to deserve even if it can exist only in one’s self-righteous imagination, a rightful place in heaven.

Moreover, thinking and acting “in the name of the Spirit” does not and should not give to anyone the excuse to find the slightest fault in others – as if the glories of paradise can belong only to oneself. Rather, thinking and acting “in the name of the Spirit” must commit us to the duty to seek the inner goodness in others and to strive for the welfare of all.

Thus, the Christ urges us, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For the one who asks receives, and the one who searches finds, and to him who knocks the door will be opened …. If you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.”

Let us pray for the indwelling of the Spirit in us, that we “may reach the goal of perfect Christian love.”

Brother Jess Matias is a professed brother of the Secular Franciscan Order. He serves as minister of the St. Pio of Pietrelcina Fraternity at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Mandaluyong City, coordinator of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups of the Capuchins in the Philippines and prison counselor and catechist for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.

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