‘How often should I forgive?’ Sunday Reflections, 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

St Peter in Penitence, El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

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

Gospel Matthew 18:21-35 (New Revised  Standard Version, Anglicised CatholicEdition) 

Then Peter came and said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

‘For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow-slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, “Pay what you owe.” Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’

The Misa Criolla, by Argentinian composer Ariel Ramírez (1921-2010), is a Mass for tenor, chorus and orchestra, is based on folk genres such as chacareracarnavalito and estilo pampeano, with Andean influences and instruments. It is also one of the first Masses to be composed in a modern language. Ramírez wrote the piece in 1963-1964. In Latin America ‘Kyrie eleison’, is translated as ‘Señor, ten piedad de nosotros’, ‘Lord, have mercy on us’, whereas in Spain it is ‘Señor, ten piedad’, ‘Lord, have mercy’. Here it is sung by Los Frontizeros and the choir of San Isidro Cathedral, Buenos Aires. I do not know to what extent the Misa Criolla has been used in worship, as distinct from concert performances.  

 

Fr Werenfried van Straaten OPraem [Wikipedia]

Today’s gospel brings us in touch with what is perhaps its most difficult demand: to forgive. El Greco’s painting shows us St Peter praying with hope and trust in God’s merciful and forgiving love. The setting by Ariel Ramírez of the Kyrie expresses the same thing. 

Two examples come to mind. One is that of Fr Werenfried van Straaten OPraem (1913-2003), about whom I posted on 6 June 2011. A Dutchman, he appealed to his fellow Dutch citizens who had suffered greatly from the Germans during World War II to help German refugees after the war by supplying food and other necessities. He was also deeply concerned about the spiritual welfare of the refugees. His request, especially to those who had family members killed by German soldiers, pushed some of his listeners to the limit. But they acted according to today’s gospel and found hatred and anger replaced by pity and love.

Another is an extract from a letter of Fr William Doyle SJ, an Irish priest who died in August 1917 while serving as a chaplain in the British Army in World War I. The extract is taken from a post in a wonderful blog called Remembering Fr William Doyle SJ.

Father Doyle writes to his father in Dublin about events of 5 September 1916 during the Battle of the Somme:

In the bottom of one hole lay a British and a German soldier, locked in a deadly embrace, neither had any weapon, but they had fought on to the bitter end. Another couple seemed to have realised that the horrible struggle was none of their making, and that they were both children of the same God; they had died hand-in-hand praying for and forgiving one another. A third face caught my eye, a tall, strikingly handsome young German, not more, I should say, than eighteen. He lay there calm and peaceful, with a smile of happiness on his face, as if he had had a glimpse of Heaven before he died. Ah, if only his poor mother could have seen her boy it would have soothed the pain of her broken heart.

To Father Doyle no German soldier was an enemy. Indeed, one of the remarkable things in the literature that came out of the Great War is that soldiers didn’t seem to have hatred for the official ‘enemy’. It was more often against their own generals and bullying corporals. Photos and videos from the war show prisoners of war, especially wounded ones, being treated with the same kindness and consideration as others.

Father Doyle’s description of the British and German soldiers holding hands in death illustrates poignantly and powerfully what Jesus asks of us. 

Christ Carrying the Cross, El Greco [Web Gallery of Art]

Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34).

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