‘Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’ Sunday Reflections, 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Prayer before a Meal, Adriaen Jansz van Ostade [Web Gallery of Art]

For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them (Matthew 18:20).

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Gospel Matthew 18:15-20 (New Revised  Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition) 

Jesus said to his disciples:

‘If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’

Today’s gospel looks at forgiveness, mainly from the point of view of helping someone to acknowledge a wrongdoing and thereby asking for and receiving forgiveness. I often think about a Christian Brother who taught me in Dublin and one incident involving him that I witnessed and another I heard about years later. I’ll simply copy from a previous post, with one or two slight changes.

During my primary school years I came to know an exceptional person, Brother Mícheál. S. Ó Flaitile, known as ‘Pancho’ from the sidekick of the Cisco Kid, a syndicated comic-strip [above] that we used to read in The Irish Press, an Irish daily newspaper that no longer exists. Our ‘Pancho’, like the Cisco Kid’s friend, was on the pudgy side, though minus the hair and moustache. He organized an Irish-speaking club during my primary school years and arranged for me to be secretary. I don’t think I was too happy at the time to get that job but I realized later that he had spotted my ability to write. Other teachers had encouraged me in this too.
My class was blessed to have had Brother Ó Flaitile in our last two years in secondary school, 1959 to 1961, when we were preparing for our all-important Leaving Certificate examination. He taught us Irish and Latin. He probably should have been teaching at university level. What I remember most of all about him was his character. Everyone described him as ‘fear uasal’, the Irish for ‘a noble man’ – as distinct from ‘a nobleman’. A stare from him made you feel humbled, but not humiliated. He had the kind of authority that Jesus had, that we read about in the gospels.

I remember one event in our last year. ‘Pancho’ used to take the A and B sections for religion class together during the last period before lunch every day. One day he scolded a student in the B section for something or other that was trivial and the student himself and the rest of us took it in our stride and forgot about it. We were nearly 70 boys aged between 16 and 18. ‘Pancho’ was probably around 60 then. The next day Brother Ó Flaitile apologized to the boy in question and to the rest of us because he had discovered that the student hadn’t done what he had accused him of. Whatever it was, it had been very insignificant. But ‘Pancho’s apology was for me a formative moment. I mentioned it to him many years later when he was in his 80s. He told me he didn’t remember the incident, but he smiled. He died in the late 1980s.

The Merciful Christ (detail), Montañés [Web Gallery of Art]

Some years ago a classmate told me about an incident between himself and Brother Ó Flaitile in 1959 when we were on a summer school/holiday in an Irish-speaking part of County Galway. If my friend had told me the story at the time I would not have believed him. He got angry with ‘Pancho’ over something or other and used a four-letter word that nobody would ever express to an adult, least of all to a religious brother and teacher whom we revered. The lad stormed back to the house where he was staying and almost immediately felt remorse. He went back to ‘Pancho’ and apologized. The Brother accepted this totally and unconditionally and never referred to the incident again.

After my father, I don’t think that anyone else influenced me more for good when I was young than ‘Pancho’.

Looking back on the first incident I figure that the student in question must have gone to ‘Pancho’ afterwards and explained to him what had really happened. Brother Ó Flaitile was the kind of authority figure whom you felt free to approach in such a situation. If that is what happened, and I believe it was, then the opening words of today’s gospel were what we all experienced in class the following day: If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 

Brother Ó Flaitile’s asking for forgiveness that day was all the more powerful because he was more than three times our age, an authority figure, a religious brother and a truly revered person. What he did showed why he was revered, as did the ‘four-letter word incident’ with my classmate.

For me ‘Pancho’ exemplified the Christian leadership that Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche and, with Marie-Hélène Mathieu, co-founder of Faith and Light, talks about in the video below. He knew and called each of us by name and loved each of us, especially when we were ‘the enemy’, wrongdoing or perceived to be such, and led us by example, most powerfully of all when he asked our forgiveness for having judged one of us wrongly.


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Schola Bellarmina, Brussels, Belgium

Antiphona ad introitum  Entrance Antiphon  Ps 118[119]:137, 124

 

Iustus es, Domine et rectum iudicium tuum;

You are just, O Lord, and your judgement is right;

fac cum servo tuo secundum misericordiam tuam.

treat your servant in accord with your merciful love.

Ps 118[119]:1. Beati immaculati in via: qui ambulant in lege Domini. 

Happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord.

 

Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto, sicut erat in principio et nunc et semper et in saecula saeculorum, Amen! 

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end, Amen!

 

Iustus es, Domine et rectum iudicium tuum;

You are just, O Lord, and your judgement is right;

fac cum servo tuo secundum misericordiam tuam.

treat your servant in accord with your merciful love.

[The text in bold is what is in the Ordinary Form of the Mass. The fuller text is used in the Ordinary Form when it is sung.]

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