Third Sunday after the Martyrdom of St. John the Precursor.
Forgiveness without limits to give life.
When I forgive a miracle happens: evil becomes good, because I am asked to love more and I accept the challenge. Thus, evil has become the cause of greater love. In forgiveness each one does with the other what Christ continually does with him, and that he teaches by affirming the need for forgiveness without limits.
In fact, this Sunday’s Gospel tells of the time when Peter asked Christ how many times he should forgive his neighbor. The Messiah, the bearer of the Gospel of Mercy, answered that he ought to forgive “not seven times, but seventy times seven” (Mt 18, 21s), namely, always. In fact, the number “seventy” times “seven” is a symbolic number which, more than a determinate quantity, means an infinite, immeasurable, and exagerated amount.
Saying that we must forgive “seventy times seven”, Jesus teaches that Christian forgiveness is unlimited and only a limitless forgiveness resembles God’s mercy. Divine forgiveness is the reason and the measure of fraternal forgiveness. Because God the Father has already made us the subjects of an immeasurable mercy, we must forgive without measure. Fraternal forgiveness is the consequence of God’s paternal forgiveness to be invoked on those who offend us. We must pray “Our Father who art in heaven … forgive us trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us ” for those who are guilty towards us (= “to our debtors”) and make ours the prayer of Christ on the Cross when, turning to the Father, he begged “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do “(Lk 23:34).
“Forgive” is the word spoken by Christ to whom evil was done in an unjust and unmanageable way. The dying Messiah forgives and opens the space of infinite love to the men that are offending and killing him. He pronounces this word of the heart that reveals an infinitely good God: the God of forgiveness and of mercy.
How can we, poor and limited beings, put this unlimited love into practice?
First, begging God’s mercy because we cannot give what we do not have. The Master of whom Christ speaks in today’s parable is moved by the servant’s plea and condones all his debts revealing a love not just patient but boundless in mercy. The mistake to avoid, after receiving this forgiveness, is to not recognize that in it there is his love for us and that this love grows in us if we share it.
Secondly, realizing that the reception of God’s forgiveness is concretized when we forgive others and that, forgiving those who have offended us, we love the neighbor as ourselves and achieve not only his but also our good and our happiness.
Third, realizing that forgiveness is not just an act we are called to do infinite times, but it is a way of being that must involve our daily life throughout our entire life. It is a “religious” dimension in the full sense of the term because it expresses our communion with God, whose love transforms: “Forgiving is not ignoring but transforming: that is, God must enter this world and oppose to the ocean of injustice a greater ocean of good and love.” (Benedict XVI, July 24, 2005)
A high, but human example of this forgiveness comes from Our Lady, often invoked as the Mother of Mercy. At the feet of his crucified Son, Mary forgave us accepting as her children the men for whom Christ had been crucified and died. With this yes (fiat) she became forever, without limit, our Mother, Mother of Forgiveness, in the same way as, a few decades before, she had become fully available to God and the mother of Jesus, the human Face of Divine Mercy. Mary has become and remains forever the Mother of Mercy, “model and example of forgiveness”.
2) Forgiveness and gratuity
Today’s parable gives us another lesson about forgiveness which does not “only” have to be forever but also free, and must not separate our relationship with God from the one with our neighbor. In fact, the servant of the parable is condemned because he keeps his master’s forgiveness for himself and does not allow it to become joy and forgiveness also for others. This servant’s mistake is to separate his relationship with God from his relationship with his neighbor. It is a unique relationship. In the same way as between God and man there is a relationship of gratuity and welcoming love, so it must be between a man and his brothers.
I think that the parable wants to emphasize that God’s love is not primarily circular and mutual, but expansive and self-giving. It is in the line of gratuity, not of close reciprocity. God doesn’t not let himself to be limited to a close reciprocity. Those who believe in God and speak of God, must widen the space of forgiveness that realizes true justice.
The important thing is to understand and to live the fact that “God’s justice is his mercy” (Misericordiae Vultus, 20). Pope Francis writes “Mercy is not opposed to justice but rather expresses God’s way of reaching out to the sinner, offering him a new chance to look at himself, convert, and believe.”(Id 21). We must be an outgoing Church looking at the others with the eyes of Jesus: eyes of love and not of exclusion, certain that God is entirely and only Love. Because of being Love, he is openness, welcome, and dialogue that, in the relationship with us sinners, becomes compassion, grace, and forgiveness: mercy.
The consecrated Virgins are specifically called to be witnesses of this Lord’s mercy in which we are all saved.
The existence of these women keeps the experience of God’s forgiveness alive because they live aware of being saved and to be great only when they acknowledge to be little, renewed and wrapped in God’s holiness when they recognize their own sin.
Therefore, consecrated life remains a privileged school of “compunction of the heart” and of the humble recognition of one’s own misery, but it is also a school of trust in God’s mercy and in his love that never abandons. In fact, the closer we are to God, the more we are useful to others.
With the total gift of self, the consecrated virgins experience grace, mercy and the forgiveness of God not only for themselves, but also for their brothers and sisters because their vocation is to bring, in their hearts and in prayers, the anguish and the expectations of all, especially of those who are far from God.
Virginity is the fruit of a long-standing friendship with Jesus matured in constant listening of his Word, in the dialogue of prayer, and in the Eucharistic encounter. That is why for the consecrated virgins to be believable witnesses of faith, they must be persons who live for Christ, with Christ and in Christ transforming their lives according to the highest demands of gratuity.
Gratuity is one of the fulcrums of the gospel. Everything is Grace. “Nobody” can claim anything, but everything flows because everything is donated. As Paul would say “What do you ever possess that you did not received? But if you have received it, why are you boasting as you did not receive it? “(1 Cor 4: 7), gratuity is not doing things without motive, but to do them with the maximum of reasons. It is “faith working through love”. (Gal 5: 6)