Today’s readings reflect a Lenten posture we should hold throughout the whole year.
In the first reading from the book of Daniel, Azariah (Abednego) stands in the fiery furnace and cries out for God’s mercy:
“For your name’s sake, O Lord, do not deliver us up forever,
or make void your covenant.
Do not take away your mercy from us,
for the sake of Abraham, your beloved,
Isaac your servant, and Israel your holy one,
To whom you promised to multiply their offspring
like the stars of heaven,
or the sand on the shore of the sea.
For we are reduced, O Lord, beyond any other nation,
brought low everywhere in the world this day
because of our sins.
We have in our day no prince, prophet, or leader,
no burnt offering, sacrifice, oblation, or incense,
no place to offer first fruits, to find favor with you.
But with contrite heart and humble spirit
let us be received;
As though it were burnt offerings of rams and bullocks,
or thousands of fat lambs,
So let our sacrifice be in your presence today
as we follow you unreservedly;
for those who trust in you cannot be put to shame.
And now we follow you with our whole heart,
we fear you and we pray to you.
Do not let us be put to shame,
but deal with us in your kindness and great mercy.
Deliver us by your wonders,
and bring glory to your name, O Lord.” (Dn 3:34-43)
In Psalm 25 David also cries out, “Remember Your mercies, O Lord,” and reminds the Lord, “Remember that your compassion, O LORD, and your kindness are from of old.”
In both cases, Azaraiah and David remind God of who He is and the promises God made to their forefathers. Like God forgot!
So you have to ask yourself, “Why did they both do this?” I think it holds a twofold purpose. First, it is to beg God to stay His hand and rescue them, and second, it is to remind themselves of God’s faithfulness. They recognize God’s sovereignty over all things, and they choose to trust in His goodness.
In the gospel reading from Matthew, Jesus reminds us of our need to act as God does when he tells us we must forgive, “Seventy-seven times.” (Mt: 18:21). He then proceeds to tell the parable of the King who settled accounts with his servants. When the wicked servant begged the King for patience in letting him settle his debt, the King allowed him to go and forgave the loan. The servant, however, did not go and do likewise with those who owed money to him. When the King heard of this,
His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant!
I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to.
Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant,
as I had pity on you?’
Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers
until he should pay back the whole debt.
So will my heavenly Father do to you,
unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.” (Mt 18:32-35)
And so it is with each of us, we know God’s mercy; we trust in His mercy. Only mercy saves us. His mercy obliges us to extend that mercy to others, especially in terms of forgiveness.
We experience this mercy most palpably in confession because the grace of God is poured into our hearts through it, and we are strengthened to love as God does. For me, the most powerful expression of this love is the prayer of absolution the priest prays over the penitent: “God, the Father of Mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
The forgiveness we receive from God brings us peace. The forgiveness we extend to others brings us peace, too. I once heard it said that unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. In reality we’re the ones dying because when we refuse to forgive, we are most unlike God. That hardness of heart separates us from God.
So if you find yourself in a situation where you are struggling to forgive someone, make it an act of the will – if necessary 77 times – to forgive that person. Go to confession to receive the grace you need to forgive. And, finally, pray for healing of the hurt caused by the other person. Trust in God’s mercy for you and for the situation. Whatever you do, do not stay where you are. Lent is a great opportunity to leave the comfort zone of unforgiveness and step into the light and peace of Christ. There’s no need to drink the poison.
We adore you, O Christ, and we bless You because by Your Holy Cross You have redeemed the world. Anne