Homily: September 11

Sept 11 2011 sermon  Fr. Donald Bramble, OP

Forgiveness, as Jesus understands it, is not naturally attractive, but we all need it!    We want it, but we don’t want it!  We need it but we fight it.  In fact, the Church could be defined as the community-of-reconciliation.  Yet, the implications of such a definition are tough for us!


1)    Sometimes easier to receive than to give forgiveness.

2)    Hanging on to hatred and resentment poisons the holder

3)    The liturgy holds a mirror up to us and we must look in it! “I confess too Almighty God….

4)    The Gospels hold a mirror up to us, and we must look in it! “…forgive us our sins AS we forgive those who sin against us…”

5)    St. Matthew in today’s Gospel confronts his church with something they don’t do well. “Should you not have pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?”

6)    Sometimes we’re shocked when we realize someone hates us or deeply distrusts us.

7)    Sometimes we are falsely shocked!  We may deserve the hatred or distrust because of past issues we’ve failed to take into account!  Our insight is a very limited insight at times.  Sometimes we are fatally clue-less.  This makes forgiveness sometimes almost impossible. We don’t know that we need it!


Dag Hammarskol, the late United Nations secretary general once wrote:

Forgiveness breaks the chain of causality because he who ‘forgives’ you—out of love—takes upon himself the consequences of what you have done.  Forgiveness, therefore, always entails a sacrifice.

John Foley SJ, a professor at St. Louis University responds by saying:

There is a price you must pay for your own liberation. Since it is through another’s sacrifice, you in turn must be willing to liberate in the same way, in spite of the consequences to yourself.  You absorb the consequences, if doing so truly flows out of love.

Forgiveness is a radical restructuring of our relationships.  It is not simple or easy or unconscious.  It is not typical in most of the world’s cultures.  No one, including Christ, said it would come naturally to us!  It is the conscious refusal to get even, so it is patently distasteful to most of our notions of fairness and justice.  Forgiveness transcends common notions of fairness.  It comes from one who has experienced the radical forgiveness of another.  It is not attractive on its face.  It is disturbing!  It is a grace and a gift that is undeserved, yet absolutely vital.  Despite our protests, none of us is naturally talented at forgiving!

I mentioned last week the preconditions for communication, and stated that sacrifice is essential.  So also, in this case, NO PAIN NO GAIN.  Forgiveness requires a certain amount of pain for the forgiver and the forgiven.  That’s why the Cross, an instrument of torture, is the ultimate sign of at-one-ment, forgiveness.  It is the bridge that overcomes the distance between the forgiver and the forgiven.

Larry Gillick, SJ  of Creighton University says:

The closer we get to others, the closer we get to our own deepest truths.

But, I would add, we also get closer to our own deepest lies and despairs!  Our refusal to forgive others from the heart says a great deal about how we deceive ourselves!  We really want two standards, one that gets us off the hook, and the other that leaves everybody else on the hook squirming!  Forgiveness has to be more than that duplicity!

Raymond Brown, the Scripture scholar was once asked how he would define the cross in modern terms.   He did not hesitate for a moment:  He said:  ANYTHING BUT THAT!

Whatever we see as radically impossible has something of the cross in it!  Anything but that…. 
Whatever frightens us, or perhaps repells us, and makes us withdraw has something of the cross in it.   Anything but that…. 
Whatever seems a burden has something of the cross in it.  So forgiveness will necessarily have something of the cross in it. And that is true whether we are forgiving another, forgiving our self, or receiving forgiveness from another.    Anything but that….

Forgiveness is profoundly humbling and breaks us open.  It’s effects ripple across time and space.  When we begin to forgive in one area, it pops up in surprising other places! …rather like those carnival games where the ground hog emerges where we didn’t strike….  We begin to have to apply forgiveness sometimes where we would rather not!   It has unforeseen consequences.

On this September 11 weekend, our scripture readings confront us with an uncomfortable perspective:  How does forgiveness fit in to our observance of the tenth anniversary of 9-11?

How does forgiveness illuminate what we as a catholic people, as a modern nation have done in reaction to the devastation?

The question of forgiveness remains in front of us, but has not been answered by politics, national policy, or our societal rhetoric!  I don’t have an easy clear answer to my questions but I have a growing sense that we can do better.  And we will not heal until we discover that better way, as painful as it may be.

Go to Top