Over the two thousand years of Christian history the life-giving teachings of Jesus have too often been misrepresented and misunderstood. Some zealous Christians have routinely shifted the emphasis from what Jesus explicitly taught, to other teachings that may have more to do with the fears and agendas of preachers and teachers.
Sadly Catholics have time and again been leaders in promoting this confusion to the extent that we are often defined as the religion that is obsessed with rules and regulations especially regarding sexual morality.
We see this in many of our peers who think that if they say yes to Christ within the church they will be saying no to everything in life that is fun and fulfilling.
It is time for us to directly address this tragic misunderstanding.
Many Catholics seem to think it is ok to refuse to forgive, and to habitually speak ill of others, but they consider any hint of sexual sin to be a barrier to communion. The non-forgiving Catholic gossip is likely to without hesitation come forward to receive communion, yet the one who has masturbated might feel as though they should remain in the pew filled with shame and guilt.
This is why familiarity with the teaching of Jesus is so important.
We need to know what Jesus explicitly taught and we must keep these teachings central.
We also need to know the wisdom of Christians across the Christian centuries since these teachings and doctrines are important for those who seek to live in relationship with Jesus. But the teachings and doctrines make sense only to the one who is desiring to live in life-giving relationship with Jesus. Without this relationship with Jesus the doctrine of the church will be a burden and can become a weapon.
It is relationship with Jesus Christ that is central.
On Christmas Day 2005 Pope Benedict reminded us of this in his first encyclical letter God is Love. In the opening paragraph he wrote: “We have come to believe in God’s love: in these words the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his life. “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction”. Deus Caritas Est
Today’s Gospel Reading Mt 6:7-15
When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray he gave them the prayer we know as the Our Father or the Lord’s prayer. In giving his disciples (including us) this prayer Jesus was letting us know what was central in the prayer and action of those who sought to live in his company.
Let’s take a moment to consider two often overlooked highlights of the prayer.
The prayer begins with the word which breaks through every experience of isolation and loneliness. “OUR”. We are never alone. Those who seek to live in relationship with Jesus are united not only to Jesus but to all those who in the family of the one divine father become brothers and sisters. Even when I pray the Our Father when alone and feeling lonely, the reality is that I am not alone. We pray OUR Father…
Left to myself I am incapable of forgiveness. However when I desire to forgive another, something significant shifts in me and I become open to the divine gift of forgiveness. When I experience the forgiveness and love of God, I can’t help but desire to pay this forward. Our sins, whether gossip or hate or sexual sin is not a problem for God when we humbly seek God’s forgiveness. We are forgiven. In this experience of divine love I am enabled and motivated to pass this on to those who have hurt me most.
Take a moment now…
…to think of someone you are struggling to forgive. Chances are that your lack of forgiveness is not affecting them at all since they might have been dead for years. But a lack of forgiveness of others does take a daily toll on us.
Now take a moment to remember that you are loved by God who has forgiven you. Savouring this fact will enable you to receive this forgiveness more deeply, and strengthen in you the seed of desire to pass this forgiveness on to others. Pray that this desire grows in you. In doing this you will give Jesus a great opportunity to work a miracle of healing in you and you will find greater peace and joy in life.
And, at some moment now or during the day pray one Our Father for any Food For Faith reader who might have read this but is struggling to forgive.