23rd Sun [A] 1999

Fr. Charles Irvin

Ezekiel 33:7-9; Romans 13:8-10; Matthew 18:15-20

Have we ever lived in a place of total bliss? Lived in a family where everyone totally loved one another and never said a discouraging or disparaging word to one another? Priests dream of living in a parish that is truly such a family – which is why I politicked with the bishop to be sent here!

Well, I dare to say that I didn’t live in such a family. Nor have I served in such a parish (until, of course, I was sent here as your pastor). And with the divorce rate being what it is, and the rate of abuse of children being what it is, I suspect that most families experience “troubles”. Storm clouds are found over all human relationships, even in our Church. Just ask the pope – he will let you know that there’s work to be done to heal human relationships and heal human hearts that have been hurt both in and outside the Church.

You’ve sung in a church choir and then heard remarks about how you’re “just showing off”. You’ve volunteered for parish ministries or activities and then heard it said, “you’re trying to run everything.” You’ve invited people to parties you’ve thrown and some of your closest friends didn’t show up without bothering to let you know why. You have felt slighted, ignored, or otherwise taken for granted. And while no Christian should ever hurt another, you know that Christians hurt each other a lot.

The chief ministry of Jesus was the Ministry of Reconciliation – He worked at getting us back in a happy and loving relationship with His Father in heaven. Reconciliation is hard work, and we do that work by FIRST restoring our relationships with each other. And so we know that the prescription for healing that Jesus offers us is a hard pill to swallow.

Why? Because his medicine requires that we act. We have to get beyond simply sitting our little pity-pots wallowing in self-serving feelings of being sorry for ourselves. You see, the difference between healthy families and unhealthy families is not whether or not they fight. They all do. All parishes have factions and petty jealousies at work within them. No. The difference between healthy and unhealthy families and parishes is found not only how they fight, but more importantly in how they reconcile their differences.

The hardest pill to swallow in regaining health is found in the truth that the victim must act! Many of our hurts have been inflicted on us unknowingly by our fellow family members, by our fellow Christians. While we are tossing around in our sleepless nights trying to figure out how to get even with them, they are blissfully sleeping, totally unaware of your hurt and pain.

Which is why Jesus teaches us: If you are hurt, go to the one who has hurt you. Do not wait for them to come to you. They may be unsure of how to come to you. They may be paralyzed in fear over what they think you’ll say to them. They may be carrying a terrible burden of guilt and shame.

You see Jesus isn’t so much interested in who’s at fault, or who’s right and who’s wrong, or who’s supposed to apologize first. Jesus isn’t so much interested in finger pointing as He is in getting the relationship healed. And when Jesus tells us that if everything fails we’re supposed to treat those people as if they were a sinner or a Gentile, we need to recall just how He treated sinners and Gentiles. He went to them and invited them into His heart. He didn’t obliterate them, “nuke” them, or erase their memories from the books. No! He gently let them know what they had done and what He would like them to do in the future.

I wish the graffiti on our highway overpasses were replaced with: “Come home – all is forgiven!” I hope our Church will do with same as we celebrate the Great Jubilee Year of 2000.

And the real healing?

Well, the real healing will be found not in the ones forgiven, but rather in the ones doing the forgiving. Why? Because when you do the forgiving, you rise to new life in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who being risen from the dead is victim no more.

Tired of being a victim? Try a little forgiveness and see if it isn’t the Wonder Drug for your aching and broken heart.

About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”