Monthly Archives: September 2011

The Power of Forgiveness

The terrorist attacks that occurred on American soil ten years ago remind us that we live in a world of eclipse; in a world consumed by darkness—the darkness of drought and famine in Africa, of the build-up of nuclear weapons in North Korea, of the continued unrest in the long-standing conflict between Israel and Palestine, and the darkness of war in Afghanistan.  Night after night we see television images of families losing their loved ones, wives and children becoming widows and orphans, bodies being torn apart by bombs and bullets, innocent citizens being tortured and brutalized; children starving to death as their parents watch helplessly, and nationals becoming refugees in their own country.  We need God’s light in our world now more than ever.

War presents us with many spiritual dilemmas and challenges that shake the very foundation of our faith.  Jesus said to love our enemies but our emotions lash out against those who threaten the lives of the soldiers who protect and defend us.  As Christians, we must maintain a delicate balance between rejecting terrorism and unjust war without demonizing those who promote and support these activities precisely because the Bible and the Holy Mother Church proclaim that all people are children of God, are loved by God, and that the dignity of every human being must be respected despite their evil deeds.

Sacred Scripture can be a source of solace and comfort during these sober and troubling times.  God’s Holy Word is a beacon of hope that pierces the dense fog of anxiety and trepidation, and illuminates our path to the solid rock of our faith who is Jesus Christ.  As the psalms tell us: “The Lord is my light and my help; whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life; before whom shall I shrink? […] Though an army encamp against me, my heart would not fear.  Though war break out against me, even then would I trust. […] Hope in him, hold firm and take heart.  Hope in the Lord!” (Psalm 27: 1, 3, 14).  Yet, in the midst of unimaginable anguish and pain, our Lord call us to do the seemingly impossible: he tell us that we must forgive.  Our Lord gives us no other options and makes no exceptions.  It’s no mistake that Jesus’ most powerful and important parables concern forgiveness.  Christ is the Word made flesh who dwelt among us, and he saw first hand how evil and corrupt sinful human nature can be.  Yet, He who can read the hearts of all loves each one of us totally, completely, and unconditionally.  He sees our flaws and weaknesses, and through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, he forgives us; he wipes the slate clean.

We may say to ourselves, “Well, Jesus is God and we’re not, so it’s easier for Him to forgive.”  Yes, Jesus is truly God but He is also fully man; He worked with human hands and loved with a human heart.  He not only taught about forgiveness: He was a living witness to and the embodiment of forgiveness itself.

While Jesus hung on the Cross dying, as those who condemned him to death mocked him, Jesus prayed to his Heavenly Father to “forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).  Even while enduring agonizing torture and in the midst of excruciating suffering, Our Lord pours himself out in complete and perfect love.  Jesus calls us to love as He loves, for it is in the crucified Christ that the true meaning of forgiveness and freedom are revealed.  Jesus personifies the freedom of forgiveness in the total gift of Himself and invites us to share in His gift of life-giving love.  We are called to live in Christ: to follow him, to carry the Cross, to pour ourselves out, to sacrifice ourselves in love, to forgive—for it is in giving ourselves away that we truly find our freedom in God.

Forgiveness was so essential to the purpose and mission of Christ, that when the apostles asked Jesus how to pray, he gave them the Our Father, in which we ask God to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  Christ wanted to make a very a strong and direct link between God’s forgiving us and our forgiving others.  Jesus knows the human heart, and when our hearts are angry and bitter, when we harbor deep resentment–even though it may be justified–there is a part of us that is imprisoned by hate; a hate that can diminish or even block being open to forgiveness from others and receiving forgiveness from God.

God the Father’s “outpouring of divine mercy cannot penetrate our hearts as long as we have failed to forgive those who have trespassed against us.  Love, like the Body of Christ, is indivisible; we cannot love the God we cannot see if we do not love the person we do see.  In refusing to forgive our brothers and sisters, our hearts are closed and this hardness makes us immune to the Father’s merciful love” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2840).  “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” means “help me, Lord, to forgive others so that I may receive the forgiveness that You offer me.”

Once we begin to live our lives in communion with God and his holy will, in a spirit of reconciliation and forgiveness, we as Christians will bear witness to a self-centered, confused, and angry world that love is stronger than sin.  Jesus says that we must forgive from the heart because he knows that in order for us to have eternal life with God, we must participate intimately and personally, from the depths of our heart, in the holiness and the mercy and the love of our God (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2842).

We cannot turn-off our feelings or simply forget the heart-wrenching and horrific images of thousands losing their lives in the 9/11 attacks.  We can never forget—but we can, we must, come to a place of forgiveness.  The heart that offers itself to the Holy Spirit turns injury into compassion and transforms the hurt into a prayer for those who harmed us (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2843).  This is why Jesus gave the Apostles the power to forgive sins in his name.  In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, our hearts are opened to His grace that frees us from resentment and hatred which enslaves us.  We ask God for forgiveness so that, with clean hearts and steadfast spirits, we can be free to engage in the difficult task of forgiving others—difficult, but not impossible, for “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).

©2011 Aurem Cordis and Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers

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Work and the Unity of Life

“If any one will not work, let him not eat.  For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work.  Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work in quietness and to earn their own living.  Brethren, do not be weary in well-doing” (2 Thessalonians 3:10-13).

“Idleness is the enemy of the soul.  Therefore, the brethren should be occupied at certain times in manual labor, and again at fixed hours for sacred reading […] And if the circumstances of the place or their poverty should require that they themselves do the work of gathering the harvest, let them not be discontented; for then are they truly monks when they live by the labor of their hands, as did our Fathers and the Apostles” (Rule of Saint Benedict, Chapter 48).

“In working, man imitates his creator and in God’s plan work is always personal, subjective, done by one who is a person.  Work as objective, its end product, is important and, as such, it is valued in different ways, but whatever work an honest man does, however humble, gives him human dignity which demands respect.  We do not value people by what they do.  We value them and their work by what they are, sons and daughters of God. […] Work is sometimes hard: this is the penalty that sin placed on man, and the Christian will join his sufferings in this to those of his master: Christ.  Industriousness, meanwhile, is a moral habit which makes man good” (Rodger Charles, SJ, “The Social Teaching of John Paul II”, in The Wisdom of John Paul II, 54-55).

Jesus calls us to be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect.  This “perfection in Christ” that we seek in faith must integrate the transcendent (spiritual) and temporal (earthly) dimensions of the human person.  Work, then, involves the whole person: body, mind, and spirit, and is a sharing in the activity of the Creator:

“Human work proceeds directly from persons created in the image of God and called to prolong the work of creation by subduing the earth, both with and for one another.  Hence work is a duty: ‘If any one will not work, let him not eat.’  Work honors the Creator’s gifts and the talents received from him.  It can also be redemptive.  By enduring the hardship of work in union with Jesus, the carpenter of Nazareth and the one crucified on Calvary, man collaborates in a certain fashion with the Son of God in his redemptive work.  He shows himself to be a disciple of Christ by carrying the cross, daily, in the work he is called to accomplish.  Work can be a means of sanctification and a way of animating earthly realities with the Spirit of Christ” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2427; cf. Genesis 2:15).

Consequently, we are to become as competent as possible in our individual disciplines and professions—from housewife to aerospace engineer—bringing the truth of the Gospel and the natural law to bear on the temporal order.  When we live and act in accord with God’s will, we perfect His work and bring it to fruition.  Thus, our work and rest must imitate His:

“The faithful must accomplish their work with professional competence, with human honesty, with a Christian spirit, and especially as a way of their own sanctification.  Moreover, we know that through work offered to God, an individual is associated with the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, whose labor with his hands at Nazareth greatly ennobled the dignity of work” (Gaudium et Spes, no. 67).

The link between Christian spirituality and work is the unity of life.  To respond to our vocation, we must see our daily activities as an occasion to join ourselves to God, fulfill his will, serve other people, and lead them to communion with God in Christ.  “Awareness that man’s work is a participation in God’s activity ought to permeate … even the most ordinary, everyday activities.  For, while providing the substance of life for themselves and their families, [we] … are performing [our] activities in a way which appropriately benefits society.  [We] can justly consider that by [our] labor [we] are unfolding the Creator’s work … and contributing, by [our] personal industry, to the realization in history of the divine plan” (Laborem Exercens, 115; cf. Gaudium et Spes, no. 34).

The prayer and sacramental life of the Christian, while prior to the active life, has to be intimately connected with it:

“Because of the very economy of salvation the faithful should learn how to distinguish carefully between those rights and duties which are theirs as members of the Church, and those which they have as members of human society.  Let them strive to reconcile the two, remembering that in every temporal affair they must be guided by a Christian conscience, since even in secular business there is no human activity which can be withdrawn from God’s dominion.  In our own time, however, it is most urgent that this distinction and also this harmony should shine forth more clearly than ever in the lives of the faithful, so that the mission of the Church may correspond more fully to the special conditions of the world today” (Lumen Gentium, no. 36).

Therefore, professional and family life, and even our rest and recreation—lived in the presence of God—should be the overflow of the interior life:

“Applying their time and strength to their employment with a due sense of responsibility, they should also all enjoy sufficient rest and leisure to cultivate their familial, cultural, social and religious life.  They should also have the opportunity freely to develop the energies and potentialities which perhaps they cannot bring to much fruition in their professional work” (Gaudium et Spes, no. 67).  “The alternation between work and rest, built into human nature, is willed by God himself, as appears in the creation story in the Book of Genesis (cf. 2:2-3; Exodus 20:8-11): rest is something ‘sacred’, because it is man’s way of withdrawing from the sometimes excessively demanding cycle of earthly tasks in order to renew his awareness that everything is the work of God” (Dies Domini, 65).

The spiritual life is completely integrated and indeed completed in family and professional life.  This unity of life inevitably leads to an evangelization—the sharing of the Good News of Jesus Christ— not only of individuals through friendship but also extends to entire societies and cultures.  The world is the field in which the word of God is sown.  Through our efforts as evangelizing saints in the workplace—as sowers of the seed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and as living witnesses to the goodness, beauty, and truth of our Catholic faith—the world will bear succulent, rich fruit.

Yet, we may never know what fruits are produced (at least in this life) because it is God who picks and distributes the fruit of our labors!  We may never know how our witness of faith through our work has touched someone, and we must trust that in and through the Holy Spirit—in the sublime moment of complete giftedness where we truly love God and our neighbor as ourselves—that someone will meet Jesus in us.  It is then that our work becomes a participation in the salvific work of Christ on the cross:

“Christ’s redemptive work, while essentially concerned with the salvation of men, includes also the renewal of the whole temporal order.  Hence the mission of the Church is not only to bring the message and grace of Christ to men but also to penetrate and perfect the temporal order with the spirit of the Gospel” (Apostolicam Actuositatem, no. 5).

Work and the unity of life is a personal call and commitment to sanctify others starting with the family and spreading out in ever widening concentric circles to colleagues, friends, and acquaintances.  This holistic approach to work is only limited by the lack of interior life or apostolic zeal of the individual.  “Such an individual form of apostolate can contribute greatly to a more extensive spreading of the Gospel, indeed, it can reach as many places as there are daily lives of individual members of the lay faithful” (Christifideles Laici, no. 28).  Hence, wherever we find ourselves, there the Church will be exercising her evangelical mission to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the very ends of the earth.

©2011 Aurem Cordis and Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers

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