September 17, 2017
Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sirach 27:30 – 28:7 Ps. 103:1-4, 9-12 Romans 14:7-9 Matthew 18:21-35
A Dominican Sister reflects on this Sunday in the Season of Creation.
Imagine yourself giving a big hug – and then imagine that what is being hugged by you is “wrath and anger.” It’s not a pleasant image anymore, and yet I imagine most of us can recall at least one moment in our lives when we have embraced anger, resentment, or bitterness – when we have tightly held ourselves and another bound.
As Sirach reminds us, sinners hold these emotions tight. We are all sinners and we are all in need of transformation. That’s part of our life journey and it’s a key message of today’s readings – we need a conversion of heart in order to be free.
For the ancients, the heart was more than the emotional center – it included the base of thought, understanding, conscience and will. It represented the entire person. So, when the Gospel asks us to forgive from our heart it’s a really big thing!
This conversion is not only about one on one relationships – it is intimately connected to our relationship with our cultural, political and earth reality.
We are in the season of creation liturgically. It’s the third week and we are in the wilderness! It’s wilderness Sunday. Biblically, the wilderness is a place of purification, a place to encounter God.
As I was reflecting on these readings in the light of wilderness Sunday an image came to me: Just as the servant falls at the feet of the king to ask forgiveness for his debts, so we need to fall down in homage to the earth and beg forgiveness of God and of her for all that we have done to harm her.
It is not just a matter of asking for forgiveness, however. If we are truly repentant, there will be conversion. That was the problem with the servant in the Gospel. He experienced phenomenal mercy. Many commentators say his debt was so massive it would have taken 167,000 years of work to repay. It was not possible! The master forgave him the loan completely. Now if the servant had really experienced that mercy in his heart, he would have passed that mercy on to others, instead of being so stingy and cruel.
If we are truly converted about how we care for our earth, our wilderness, we will change. For example, we would probably eat a lot less meat, knowing that most of the world’s people’s never have meat weekly, let alone daily. We also realize that the production of meat is so hard on our planet and uses a tremendous amount of water.
We might not be so tempted to have the latest gadgets, like the most recent version of our smart phones. We would make due with what we have for as long as the items last.
It is not about feeling guilty. I have to admit that as I was preparing this reflection I found myself feeling guilty noticing all the little ways I am harming our environment. But guilt is not helpful, and it can paralyze us. It is about being so converted in our heart and so aware of our kinship and common journey with all creation that we want and we look for ways to be a good neighbor to our sister earth. Our destiny is intertwined.
I always remember the line: If you want to make an apple pie from scratch you’d have to start by inventing the universe. We are incapable of creating a universe – it has been offered to us as our home by an abundant creator. In humble gratitude, we honor it.
We are also social creatures. We were made to interact with other, and, as a humans, we have not always done that well. Culturally, politically, racially, and theologically, we can be in camps that are closed to conversion, hugging our beliefs so tightly that there is no room for mutual transformation.
Just this past week, a politician actually modelled another way. His name is Jagmeet Singh. He is a Canadian politician. He is also a Sikh. At a recent gathering of his supporters an aggressive heckler came in and began verbally attacking him and got right up in his face and those of his assistants. She was shouting anti-Muslim slogans and dominating the event. He stayed calm and grounded. He reminded those present that we meet hate with love and courage. They all kept saying, “Love and courage.” He said, “Let’s show people how we would treat someone with love.” Then he said to the woman, as she was screaming at him, “We welcome you; we love you; we support you. How you are doing this may not be the best way, but we love you, we support your rights, we welcome you.”
Eventually the woman left. He then said to his followers, “You know, as a brown-skinned, turbaned, bearded man, I have faced these things before. It’s not an obstacle. We can face them – how? – with love and courage!” We can continue to find new ways if we let our hearts be converted by the generosity God offers us and calls us to, and if we join with others to call each other to find ways to respond with love and courage.
And, finally, back to the personal. Really, so much of what we do is a reflection of what we have or have not attended to internally. We all have our struggles, demons, and sins. Recognizing this is not about feeling bad about ourselves at all – really, it’s a freeing and humbling acknowledgement that we are always in need of conversion and that we are not the creator. We are always in need of God’s mercy which is there for us any time we ask.
If we are not merciful toward ourselves, it’s hard to be merciful toward others. It’s like hugging wrath and anger, or sorrow and regret, or bitterness and resentment. It is not selfish to do what we need to do to be healthy and whole people. I am sure we can look at some of our public figures and know that the world would be a much better place if they did their inner work.
As people of faith, we know the call is to life long conversation of heart. We walk this journey, along with all our human brothers and sisters, and along with all of our flora and fauna siblings.
These are not easy times. There is a perpetual air of tension, insecurity and fear. We are not sure what will happen in so many areas – our country, our planet. We are in a wilderness time and the temptation can be to squabble among ourselves, murmur about the unsavory manna, or become stuck in the past.
But this is our moment. This is our time of purification – purification so that we can be about the mission of the reign of God, spreading love with courage. We don’t need to hold our arms tight. We can open them up and release what needs to be released so that we are better able to truly embrace others and our earth. May today’s wilderness be a place of healing, conversion, and grace leading us all to greater love and courage.
Sister Lorraine Réaume, OP