23rd Sun [A] 2002

Fr. Charles Irvin

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

In spite of all of their fame and notoriety, many of our media stars and top corporate and governmental figures all yearn for home. At home they are simply “dad”, or “honey”… the guy who takes out the garbage and helps with the dishes. No one asks for their autograph; no interviewer seeks their views on any and all topics. At home, his or her value is measured by simply listening to the others in the family, caring for them, simply being mom or dad.

Families are where we’re no longer alone, living just for ourselves. Family is where we learn to listen and love, where we get a good picture of our real selves, and where we learn how to fight fairly. We are hurt and healed, nurtured, given sound advice… and there at home we learn about forgiveness. Our accomplishments are acknowledged…and our failures are accepted. We do not lose our place in our family because of our failures.

We don’t shape our characters and our personalities all alone, all by our selves. Paradoxically we find our individuality by living among others. We don’t find courage and strength all by our lonesome selves. We don’t know how to love unless we learn it from being loved by others and by loving them in return.

One of the most powerful realities in our life is the family. Is it any wonder, then, that many businesses, sports teams, and other organizations speak about being a family? “We have a family here”, they say.

God’s fundamental nature is to be a family of Persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Christ Jesus uses the family model to mold his Church. He founds his Church in family dynamics, calling his followers “brothers”, teaching us to call God “Abba”, Father, making us his heirs, and giving us his mother, too.

Families live in love. But family members also fight. It’s inevitable. Any time you get two or more living together you’ll eventually have a disagreement, a fight. And when we do, Jesus calls us to remember that we are nonetheless brothers and sisters. We still belong.

So why should we be surprised when we find conflicts within the Church? Read the epistles of the New Testament and ask yourself how many times those letters of Paul, Peter, John, and so forth, deal with conflicts and disagreements…fights within those early Church communities.

Families are not places where we decide who is to be thrown out, who is to be excommunicated, who is to be no longer considered “family”. Perhaps that’s why the Catholic Church these days no longer talks very much, or very forcefully, about excommunicating folks. Healthy families are places where, when there is conflict, we all decide that we need to talk some more.

Oh, to be sure, some families are places where we find the silent treatment, where we give each other the deep freeze, where we can shun, be cold, and use silence as a weapon. Unfortunately and sadly, passive aggression is also learned in families.

The main ministry of Jesus was that of reconciliation. He came to teach us the tactics of conflict resolution, reconciliation, and forgiveness. He came to show us the power of openness, speaking the truth to one another, dealing with issues openly, directly, and in God’s good graces.

All right, all that having been said, who should take the initiative in making things right, the one who has done the hurting or the one who is hurt? Who needs to take the first step? I would say both do.

First of all, note that it was God, the one whom we sinned against, the one who was hurt by our sins and rejection of his love, who first came to us. He sent his only Son to us to tell us that he loves us. His main mission was to forgive us of our sins and take us back home to our Father. Do we do that? Or do we sit and pout, rehearsing all of our resentments, mulling over how so-and-so has hurt us, waiting in stony and angry silence for the one who has hurt us to crawl to us, groveling and begging us for forgiveness? Nothing much usually happens. Many times the one who has hurt us doesn’t even know that they’ve done so while we toss and turn in sleepless nights replaying all of our hurt and resentments.

If you would be like God, then you need to tell the other that he or she has hurt you. We need to let the other know that they’ve done damage, that they’ve wronged us. In this age when so many have shut down what we call conscience we need to awaken their consciences and let them know just what they’ve done.

Observe, too, that the one who has done the wrong, the one who has done the hurting, also needs to take the initiative. On another occasion when Jesus was teaching us about forgiveness he said: “So, then, if you are bringing your offering to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave y our offering there before the altar, go and be reconciled with your brother first, and then come back and present your offering.”

All relationships are two-way streets, the traffic doesn’t run just one way. All relationships take effort on the part of both parties involved. That is never more true then when dealing with sin, hurt, forgiveness and reconciliation. Both the one doing the hurt and the one who has been hurt must make the effort to make things right.

Here again, as with so many other things in our spiritual lives, humility is something that’s not just “nice”, it’s essential. Religion isn’t about being nice, or about nice things that really don’t matter. Religion is about things that are essential to living lives of happiness, lives of meaning and purpose, lives that God wants us to live as he himself lives life.

Do you want to live in the way, the truth and the life of Christ Jesus, God’s only Son whom he sent to save us from our self-delusions? Well, then, deal with forgiveness and reconciliation they way he did. If you’ve been hurt, don’t just brood over it. Bring it out into the open, into honesty. Conversely, if you’ve hurt someone else, be open and honest about it. Go to them and tell them you’re sorry for what you’ve done to them. That’s what home and family are all about, and home is where we learn to truly live life successfully, learn about true love, and find some happiness and peace here on earth as it is in heaven.

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.”