Happy St. Patrick's Day!
Our readings today show two stories of evil perpetrated. The question on many of our minds is how is there evil and suffering in the world, when we believe in an all-good, all-powerful, and all-loving God. It's really the most tangible and the only legitimate argument against the existence of God, and it has been around forever. St. Thomas Aquinas' answer follows St. Augustine before him, and he states, " As Augustine says (Enchir. xi): Since God is the highest good, He would not allow any evil to exist in His works, unless His omnipotence and goodness were such as to bring good even out of evil. This is part of the infinite goodness of God, that He should allow evil to exist, and out of it produce good."* We experience evil and suffering in the world, but we also experience in our lives how God brings about good from it; not just good but a greater good.
Look at our saint today, the evil and suffering that St. Patrick endured for love of God became the transformation of an island of pagan druids. This island became a powerful hub of Christian evangelization for centuries to come. Joseph in our first reading endured suffering and evil at the hands of his brothers and God brought about through him the salvation of his brothers and the whole empire from famine. Our Gospel is a parable that tells the story of Jesus. The greatest evil committed and the greatest suffering endured was Jesus, the God-Man, dying on the Cross. God, from this greatest of evils brings forth the salvation of the world, the opening of Heaven, and the reconciliation of sinful man with the God of Love.
As St. Paul writes, "We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose." Will we keep our eyes on Heaven and trust in the God who is love, to bring about in our daily suffering and struggle the good of our salvation, the grace of our sanctification, and the salvation of others?
*Thomas Aquinas. (I q.2 a.3 ad 1). Summa theologica. (Fathers of the English Dominican Province, Trans.). London: Burns Oates & Washbourne.
In today's Gospel, Jesus raises the bar. The Ten Commandments are not the height to which we aspire. They are the bare minimum to which we may not pass. Jesus calls us to something more. Actually in order to enter heaven we are called to surpass the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees. We are called to go to the internal root that causes us to sin. The Torah says, "whoever kills will be liable to judgement." Jesus says, "whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment."
Jesus asks us to look at our hearts. What is in there that leads us to want to break the Commandments? Is there resentment, or irrational anger, or greed, or lust in my heart? All vices lead us to sin and are strengthened when we do. In order to root them out, we need to practice the opposite virtues. Practicing virtue requires God's help, which we call grace. We must avail ourselves to the sacraments as often as possible. If we truly want to walk the path of holiness - we need Jesus in the Eucharist often, we need to go to confession to allow Jesus to root out the vices with which we struggle, and we need the grace of prayer that deepens our relationship with God.
All grace flows from the Passion, Death on the Cross, and Resurrection of Jesus (the Paschal Mystery). Preparing again to make the Paschal Mystery a deeper part of my life is the point of Lent. What can we do today to let Jesus root out the vices in our hearts through the Sacraments and Prayer? Beginning today - Daily Mass? A few weekly Masses? Weekly Confession? Daily Prayer? Weekly Fasting?
"Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who have trespassed against us;"
When Jesus speaks of the forgiveness of God, it is always conditional on our forgiveness of others. Later on in Matthew's Gospel (18:21) Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive someone, seven times? Jesus responds with I do not say seven times, but seventy times seven. In other words, we must forgive every time it is required. This seems humanly impossible, because I believe it is, naturally speaking. Forgiveness of others requires supernatural help, grace.
Forgiveness is not reconciliation. Forgiveness is letting go of the wrong done to us by another with or without their asking for it. Reconciliation requires both persons to take steps to forgive and reestablish the relationship.
Sometimes we are wronged by others without them even realizing or recognizing the hurt and pain they have caused. It is in these moments when we are angry and annoyed and hurt that forgiveness is the only answer. Forgiveness is not an event that happens, but a process that we go through with God. We have to surrender the person and the situation to Our Lord through prayer. That means we have to pray for that person and pray for God to help us forgive them as well.
Here is a way to practice forgiveness with God. When the situation/person arises in your mind and heart and all the feelings of pain, hurt, and anger show up with it; you say, "God I pray for so-and-so bless them abundantly and help them to know your love and mercy in their lives. God help me to forgive them for this offense. I choose to forgive them, help me to experience this forgiveness. Help me to let go of the hurt that blocks me from experiencing more deeply your love and mercy for me. Me, who has been forgiven so often and for so much by You."
It's not easy, but absolutely necessary and required by God. Try it and see if the tentacles of un-forgiveness don't begin to unravel from around your heart. Going on this journey of forgiveness with God will lead to an amazing freedom - a freedom that leads to joy and peace!
Daily Lenten reflections by Father Browning.