“..Resentment & anger, these are foul things..” ..Some years ago leading retreat for teachers from Catholic High School..it emerged that thorn in their flesh was group of protesting parents, who found fault after fault with the School & particularly with the teachers; exhausting hateful & disheartening.. I listened as much of wound opened & the poison came out, & in end, I asked them to be patient to keep together in support of one another, & assured them that their moment would come for them to put into practice one of most underused & underestimated beatitudes of our Catholicism..their moment would come for..revenge.. 5 sec delay, then they burst into laughter of relief & release..& still with a smile, they remind me..
“..Resentment & anger, these are foul things..” ..picking at the scab.. ; Lord have mercy“ “…He who exacts vengeance will experience the vengeance of the Lord.. ; Christ have mercy “..Forgive your neighbor the hurt he does you..” ; Lord have mercy May Almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins & bring us to everlasting life. Amen
How often must I forgive?” You know well enough the answer, & you know well enough by now my zero tolerance towards St Matthew & his gospel, written by a Jew for Jews..insider dealing, full of stick & carrot religious practice still taught & swallowed by generations of us; taught indoctrinated by religious sisters who put the fear of God into us; bless them, a fear, a terror of a God of zero tolerance they’d be raised to believe in & obey in childhood in Ireland then in their convents in England; you meet them 50yrs later in their convent care homes & they’ve been transformed redeemed..they’ve read & been introduced to Luke’s gospel of compassion & self-forgiveness, an intimate relationship heart to heart, an incarnation after 65yrs of barrenness in religious life..if you asked Luke’s Jesus same question “how often must I forgive?” instead of Matthew’s maths test & magic number 77..not 73 or 79 but 77..Luke’s Jesus would probably say & with a beamer of a smile to die for..”as many times as necessary, & enjoy every one of them; the two of you & me together again” feel the difference even from behind your face mask, shielding us from a smile of reconciliation & divine self-acceptance..”come as you are, that’s how I love you.” Words of a cheesy hymn “no need to fear, love sets no limits; no need to fear, love never ends; don’t run away, shamed & disheartened, rest in my love, trust me again.”Such a contrast to a gospel of revenge “were you not bound to have pity?” can pity be ladled out on demand & under instruction?..judged/bound handed over to the torturers & it gets worse “this is how my heavenly Father will deal with you, unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” chilling frightening theology..to be dealt with..like a tax return..This gospel always brings to mind & heart story of Rev Julie Nicholson..C of E vicar in Bristol who lost one of her daughters, Jenny, in 7 July 2005 bombings in London..if I could share desert island with one other person for 6 months of a lockdown it would be with her. Shared with you before her visit to London for the memorial service in Trafalgar Square, & of her going en route into St Pauls Cathedral & bizarrely to her at time, asking to see duty Vicar..frail elderly spent clergyman..she told some of it to him..he placed one hand into hers, the other into hand of Jennys fiance & said “I haven’t got many years left now but I promise you every day from now on, I will offer a prayer for both of you & for Jenny each day”..of the taxi driver, who’d grumpily refused to let her in at end of his shift, & spark in his eye was caught by hers & he said “get in” trying to get her across London to Paddington Stn in rush hour, listening to her tragic story, & when he got her there, told her to stay in & drove her all way to her sisters in Reading “how much do I owe you?” she asked gratefully gracefully..he replied “nothing, I just want you to know there are still good people who care for others in need like you”..after Jenny’s funeral & some time off she returned to her Parish in Bristol..each morning she celebrated Mass & each morning it began as we do, asking for forgiveness, her & her flocks ground zero before launching into baking bread & making the Body of Christ fully present in word & sacrament..& each morning she faltered at words of reconciliation..until one morning she gave up..stood down as Parish priest because she felt hypocritical, asking & praying for forgiveness when she couldn’t forgive Mohammed Sidique Khan..a terrorist from Leeds; born there 1974, a student at Leeds Becket University round corner from my sisters..an hour from here..she said at the time “I can’t forgive Sidique”..& then added, which is the saving grace for me in my struggle to forgive the unforgivable in my life “I can’t forgive Sidique..for the time being” wonderfully real compassionate & honest theology. Not “never” but, with the healing of time & the ingress of divine grace, then perhaps one day.. what courage to take off the mask of hypocrisy, to “come out” as world likes to term it in certain relationships we [ we ] label awkward, & to wait patiently expectantly for the sacred moment when forgiveness will emerge..”Lord remember me when you come into your kingdom”..as good thief, you & me struggle on our cross alongside Christ on His Cross on which He finally was able to speak your truth” Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”..today you will be with me in paradise” Julie Sidique Jenny & Our Lord..Julie has said in recent years as her struggle continues “forgiveness is too easy language, it is too complex, & it’s not about forgiveness. I struggle with a lot of the Bible but I really like Job, me too, which seems to get to the heart of suffering & raging. I also love the temptation of Eve; I find her curiosity & quest for knowledge terribly liberating. I really dislike the passage about being a good wife.” Bless her..I can’t forgive my Sidique in my community..until I take a pause moment & a deep intake of breath..the breath of the Holy Spirit, which empowers inspires me to say & to believe “for the time being”..”the life & death of each of us has its influence on others”..a terrorist Yorkshireman from my own home city, Jenny & Julie, the good thief, Jesus Christ, & you & I..”the life & death of each of us has its influence on others”..remember like Julie, the pause moment & the deep intake of breath..”give me time & I will pay you” & what a gift it will be for the Good Lord when she, in His good time & hers, walks back onto the sanctuary & celebrates Mass again..or will it be for the first time?..& if it was to be here at this altar, would you come?..would you be tempted like Eve to come with curiosity & find yourself..find yourself..& be liberated?..or is self-isolation safer justifiable & excusable?..shielding behind a face mask from the virus or from facing the truth?.. [24thSunYrA Mt 18;21-35]