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.
With God’s help, forgiveness is always possible….even for great and prolonged hurt….
so true , God dosnt want layers and layers of complication between him and us
I really wish this centrality of purpose regarding our Church was the public and private perception of it. As of today, unfortunately, it’s not.
Good job Fr John on refocusing us via this piece on what it’s all about.
Forgiveness is up there with the mystery of suffering and a stumbling block for many. So thank you for your clarification of the words and meaning of the ‘Our Father’. God bless for your Food for Faith emails.
Thank you Father, a few simple words and thoughts with great depth in them. A light on the journey to Jesus.
Are there degrees of forgiveness? Or is it not forgiveness when you can’t feel tenderness towards the one who wronged you?
Think of forgiveness as the desire for God to remove any hurt, anger or resentment towards the other, and giving God permission to do this. Remember that both the desire and the ability to forgive are divine gifts. Perhaps a feeling of tenderness may come in the future, but all that Jesus needs us to do now is to express a seed of desire for forgiveness. Even this expression brings a relief. Jesus will do the rest.
Forgiveness surely is the most important act of love. When we forgive another, we also forgive ourselves for making a negative judgement about the other. Jesus said very little about sexual morality but he did say a lot about judgemental attitudes. That seemed a much greater concern. I find Jesus truly helps me to step into the freedom that comes with forgiving.
Forgiveness is the hardest act of love
My instant response upon reading Christine’s above words was “What has love to do with forgiveness, surely it is possible to forgive a slight without having to love the one who hurt us?” Then, just as instantly, came Jesus’ words “Love thy enermies…” The word ‘enemy’ can be rather hard for some of us to take seriously in our protected isolation. It no longer has the immediate affect on our senses that it once had when our Country was at war. The peace we find in our beloved Aotearoa N.Z.has dulled our perception of who and what enemies are… they are not around, so we can just ignore these invisible ‘enemies’ and there is certainly no need to forgive them. As for old enermies, they are our neighbours now and we get on fine with them…no worries. Then, having put that obstruction out of the way, Christ’s words come to mind once more when He was asked “Who is my neighbour [the one I am supposed to love as much as I love myself] …” Bother! Sometimes it’s hard being a follower of Christ. Just when we have become comfortable with our own version of Christianity, Christs’ words come down through the ages to make us sit up and re-think our attitudes and Faith. Complacency is our enemy, pride is our enemy. It is well to have these discussions to read over and ponder, especially as we prepare for Easter, so we can get back on track and remember to ask God’s forgiveness for ourselves and our enemies. Thank you for providing the opportunity Fr John.
Amazing isn’t it?
We are forgiven beyond belief and yet we keep that forgiveness tucked away, hidden from our fellow human beings. Rejoice, rejoice and be glad.
Thanks Fr John.
Forgiving oneself is the hardest, I find, yet that is also the grace we pray for in the Lord’s prayer,when we pray ‘forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.’ Even the desire to forgive, others or oneself, is a gift of love from our loving God. Thank you Fr John for your words of insight and encouragement.
Thank you for your words of wisdom.
Thanks fr John.all so very true