Parish Reconciliation Liturgy (22 Dec 2009) Is 49. 15-16; Ps ; Mk 5. 23-34
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Abraham Lincoln was once asked how he was going to treat the rebellious southerners when they had finally been defeated and had returned to the Union of the United States. Prepared to hear the President express the beginning of his plan for vengeance, Lincoln answered his questioner, “I will treat them as if they had never been away.”1
Lincoln’s reply is an insight into God’s heart.2 We easily forget that God desires to treat us as if we had never parted ways with God’s heart and covenant. God’s forgiveness surpasses ours because God’s forgiveness literally recreates us as images of God in and for the world.
My mentor in Ignatian spirituality reflected long and deeply on “the experience of being forgiven.” Because he reflected on himself, I heard what I had experienced: “The experience of forgiveness reveals and integrates all our energies for living and loving in all situations as sons and daughters of a loving” God, whom Jesus called his Father. My mentor admitted:
There is often great anxiety at the prospect of facing one’s self. However the ultimate sadness is to live life in darkness—without the enlightenment of knowing the mystery of ourselves mirrored in God’s great hopes & dreams for each one of us. Any humiliation and worry and fear is worth that ultimate discovery!3
Key is “God’s great hopes and dreams for each one of us.” Jesus is God’s unmatched hope and dream.
By becoming enfleshed for us Jesus, the forgiveness of God, is our window to discover our true selves when much conspires to prevent us from enjoying true sight. Just as it disconcerts us to become aware over again within the memories of mind and heart of who we are; just as it disconcerts us to notice we are not like everyone else, so it is with God. To realize we are not God may be expressed experientially this way: we realize we need to be helped.4
God chose to help us personally, in the person of Jesus, our awaited Messiah. Our self-help culture doesn’t help us recognize God helping us personally in our Messiah Jesus. Self-help persistently tells us we can help ourselves, that we can save ourselves. We can be scrupulous about self-care, but we never succeed. We can proofread our own words, but another will catch the one or two misspellings or typographical errors. When we come before God, God reveals to us our need to be helped. God does so lovingly, proofreading the text of our lives to make us more eloquently readable and instructive by what we do, both to ourselves and to others. In faith language, God reveals to us our sinfulness. “There is no other way to come to it.”5
One thing we come to is this: grace, sinfulness, forgiveness are three strands of a single cord. The way Jesus, Son of God born of Mary, was with people continues now. Jesus affirms our goodness, gracing us to see us as he beholds us. Jesus helps us honestly take stock of ourselves and to desire to be recreated. Jesus helps us notice the ways Jesus refashions us: easing sadness; diminishing anxiety; leaving behind humiliation, worry and fear; restoring confidence in Jesus as our guiding light; and shining his light for us into the lives of others.
The mutual relationship of grace, sinfulness and forgiveness may be a new way to consider the mystery of sin and the mercy of God, who never treats us as if we have been away. The mutual relationship of grace, sinfulness and forgiveness allows us to behold more clearly the mystery of our human condition: we are images of God in our bodies. The Incarnation joins us to God in Jesus by their Spirit to make better known and accessible God’s great hopes and dreams for us and for our world.
- From a retreat conference. If the words are not an exact quotation, they reflect fact. Even at the failed Hampton Roads conference to end the War Between the States, Lincoln wanted to restore the Union not to take vengeance.
- Lincoln’s political pragmatism did not squelch his spiritual connection to God. “...I know that the Lord is always on the side of the right. But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord’s side.” Francis B. Carpenter, The Inner Life of Abraham Lincoln: Six Months at the White House (Lincoln, Nebraska, University of Nebraska Press, 1995), p. 282. Also, Ward Hill Lamon Recollections of Abraham Lincoln (Lincoln, Nebraska, University of Nebraska Press, 1994), p. 91.
- George A. Aschenbrenner, S.J. “Forgiveness,” Forgiveness, Jesuit Center For Spiritual Growth, n.d.; first appeared in Sisters Today (December 1973), p. 1.
- Ibid., pp. 2-3.
- Ibid., p. 2.