23rd Sun [A] 2008

Fr. Charles Irvin

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

Harboring wounds and nursing resentments are spiritual cancers that plague us all and eat up our energies. Clinging to them is like closing a wound while leaving all of the infection inside. And the longer our resentments fester within us the more energy is sapped away from our movement ahead to better lives and happier relationships. All of us have had to deal with them; we know how they can eat away at our hearts and souls.

We can’t get along with everyone all of the time. Furthermore, if we hold to certain principles and stand up for certain things we’re going to offend some people. And they will make it their business not to get along with us.

Today’s Gospel reading reveals that some of those early Christian communities had to deal with members who were tearing people apart. We don’t know exactly what those hurtful actions were but we do know that hurtful things were being done.

Jesus had to deal with this part of life. He was opposed, even hated. Anyone who lives the values and principles of Jesus Christ will likely not get along with some people. There will be inevitable conflict. Perhaps there should be conflict in our lives. As a priest I get worried if I am found to be too acceptable. After all, God’s prophets were not liked all that much. In fact most of them were put to death because their message was so unpopular.

Now it is to be expected that we’ll not get along with our enemies. But the fact of the matter is that many times we find ourselves in conflict with those who are close to us and whom we want to love us. Husbands and wives can love each other dearly and still have to deal with conflict. Families face it, and the best of friends can find themselves living in serious conflict and disagreement with each other. And Jesus warned his disciples– and us along with them — to expect that to be the case. So He gave them the power to free folks from being bound up by the wounds we cause each other. That is what today’s Gospel account is all about, the most important part being the commission He gave to us:

Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

Jesus is speaking as a realist in today’s gospel reading. He asked everyone to love as He loved, knowing that disputes would arise, feelings would be hurt, and resentments would eat away at them like cancers. And He offers them, and us with them, principles to deal with conflict and resentments.

     1 – The offended party should take the initiative.

            Note that even though we offended God by sinning against His love He took the initiative. The biblical history of our salvation is one in which we find that God is always taking the initiative to bring about reconciliation, forgiveness, and healing. Jesus points out God’s ways: “If your brother should commit some wrong against you, go and point out his fault.”

All too often what do we do? Well, we gossip behind the backs of those who sin; we go to friends and whine and complain. We throw up walls of protection. We put the offending party into the silence of a deep free. We slink into the cave of our souls and there nurse and build up our resentments and hurt feelings. We claim victimhood and prepare our public announcements of our victimhood at the hands of those who have hurt us.

     2 – When the two of you can’t work it out.

          When that happens it’s time to take the matter to a trusted third party. Failure to do so only heaps new layers of resentment, hurt, and victimhood. When you talk the matter out with a trusted third party the very act of voicing your feelings can have a tremendously therapeutic effect. It can also begin the process of objectifying the matter, bringing it up out of the swamp of subjectivity. Hurt feelings and age-old resentments distort our vision and make it impossible to see things as they really were, or are now. And then pride does its evil work in our hearts and souls.

But it takes humility to heal things, the sort of humility God has in taking the initiative to come to us and invite us to work with Him in overcoming our estrangement from Him. Our pride often sabotages the healing process at this point. Countless numbers of spouses have been in my office – alone — with the other spouse absent because they claim they can solve the problem (if they indeed admit that there is a problem), and solve the problem themselves. “A priest,” they ask? What do we need a priest for? A priest can’t help us. What does a priest know about marriage? The fact is that priests know a lot about marriage… about what it takes to have high quality relationships with others.

     3 – Finally there’s the matter of attitude.

            In the great majority of instances parties end up wanting to excommunicate the other, to throw them out of the inner circle. “It’s my way or the highway!” is their attitude. Many times good Christians will quote the Gospel passage we just read thinking that Jesus was advising excommunication in intractable cases. Such an interpretation points out instances in which people simply use Sacred Scripture without having first studied Sacred Scripture and taken it into their hearts. Yes, Jesus used the phrase “treat him has you would a Gentile or a tax collector.” The question we need to answer is: “How did Jesus treat Gentiles and tax collectors?” And how to we approach those with whom we live in conflict? The answer touches on the core of what it means to live as a Christian, what it means to live as Jesus lived.

The preeminent ministry of Jesus Christ, the mission given Him by God the Father, was the ministry of reconciliation. To be a Christian is to live in that ministry of reconciliation, forgiveness and healing. Forgiveness and healing doesn’t say that there was no sin, that what was done was okay. It doesn’t excuse hurt or sin. What it does do is heal us.

Certainly, given the times in which we live, the ways of healing and reconciliation are desperately needed, both in our own personal lives, in our national life, and globally as well. If you want to know what God’s will is for you, it all begins with the power that Jesus is giving us. The ministry of reconciliation is clearly and centrally God’s will for you and for me. It’s Christ’s mission and it is yours in His, O Christian.

 Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed 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.”