If true love is the noblest manifestation of the human person, true forgiveness is the noblest manifestation of true
love. In turn, the noblest manifestation of forgiveness is to forgive the one who will not accept your forgiveness and who,
indeed, may hate you all the more because you “dare” to forgive them. To forgive one’s enemies seems more
than idealism: it sounds like extremism, folly or absurdity. If we were to imitate Jesus literally in such forgiveness, would
not all the good be massacred and the world descend into pandemonium?
Such a commonsense doubt may seem reasonable, but it is oblivious to one important historical fact. It was the extreme
forgiveness of Jesus manifested most fully on the Tree of torture which changed the course of human history. It is human commonsense
which is folly in the light of the wisdom of the Cross. The Sermon on the Mount, from which we have just heard, is replete
with that wisdom. It is a wisdom which sees beyond rights and freedoms, violence and counter-violence, possessions and loans,
negotiation and accountability, yes, and beyond our all too defective vision and exercise of human justice. The wisdom of
the Cross perceives the heart of all things, especially the heart of man and, indeed, above all, the Heart of God Himself.
True forgiveness seeks out with a passion what commonsense and justice cannot see: it focuses its gaze with penetrating
desire upon the hidden beauty, worth and dignity of the other and seeks to call it forth, like Lazarus from the tomb. It wades
through the filth and the thickets of sin and complexes, of defense mechanisms and of all forms of evasiveness and elusiveness,
and with unyielding tenacity it seeks communion of love with the other. Forgiveness is the divine battle-cry against all that
is the enemy of the communion of love between God and mankind, between each person and his neighbor and between a man and
his own inner self. Forgiveness cares nothing for the rights, privileges and protections of the one who wields it, since it
has already convinced him that all he has and is, is worth nothing if he cannot be in deep and everlasting communion with
the other. What dignity can mine be if it prevents me from finding its fulfillment in oneness of love with the other? What
integrity can mine be if I fear it being broken in seeking wholeness in my neighbor? What reputation is worth having if I
keep it at the price of alienation from my brethren? What riches have a value if they stop me from seeking to enrich the souls
of others with mercy, forgiveness and compassion? And if I myself seek understanding, acceptance and freedom from my failures,
am I not more likely to find all these in giving them to others?
Forgiveness does not eliminate the difference between right and wrong: it gives a heart to the right and hope to the
wrong. Before exerting itself, forgiveness recognizes the difference between
good and bad; but afterwards, if accepted, it eliminates that difference by overcoming bad with good. Forgiveness is not moral
blindness; it sees in the moral darkness and turns on the light of goodness and truth.
At the time of King David, the rule of morality and justice was often reduced to the famous dictum: ”an eye for
an eye”. Yet David did not apply it when Saul was in his power because David recognized in Saul the Lord’s anointed.
But we are all anointed, if not with sacred chrism, then with our identity as created sons and daughters of God. We may and
must judge certain actions to be wrong or right according to the law of God, but we are in no position to judge the innermost
conscience of another human being. When someone does something contrary to the law of God, we must recognize it as wrong and,
speaking the truth in love, do what we can to help our neighbor examine his or her own conscience in the light of God’s
law. But the ultimate goal of any such dialogue must be forgiveness and reconciliation. The Church only imposes penalties
on members who knowingly and obstinately do what is wrong, in part, yes, to discipline them, but ultimately as a remedial
measure to help make them stop and realize the spiritual danger in which they have placed themselves. No-one is happier than
the Church herself when someone under such a penalty repents and returns in reconciliation to the community. Discipline, sanctions
and penalties are but tools of forgiveness seeking to achieve its ultimate goal of restored communion between believers. The
Church would fail in Her ministry of forgiveness if She simply overlooked the plight of someone in grave spiritual danger,
even although that individual might refuse to accept that he is in such danger. Later, however, as a result of the pedagogy
of grace working through discipline and reconciliation, he will hopefully come to himself and realize his situation. Then
he will give thanks for what the Church has done for him. In all this, the Church merely serves the Crucified Lord in seeking
to elicit from believers the inner dispositions to welcome and receive the saving mercy of God.
It is false to say that a forgiving Church would not condemn evil. Evil crucified Christ precisely because He denounced
it uncompromisingly. Many would crucify the Church for doing the same. People misunderstand that the condemnation of evil
ideas, evil behavior, evil laws and any other form of evil, never, never, never means condemnation of the human person who
might promote or even live such evil. As Christ, so the Church condemns no-one; as Christ, so the Church by the authority
of Christ calls evil by its name so as to call the sinner to repentance and say to the sinner “neither do I condemn
you; go and sin no more.” If and when members of the Church turn a blind eye to evil or cover it up, they connive with
Lucifer who himself is the master of manipulation in making evil look good. Think of all the clever words he has managed to
inspire in those who conspire with him to make evil sound good. Human beings in many countries are massacred in the name of
health, dignity, freedom of choice, peace, justice or even scientific progress. Marriage, established by the Creator as the
culminating point of His entire work of Creation, is being hijacked from the authority of the Creator. One hopes that those
who are doing these things really do not know what they are doing and thus will receive Christ’s forgiveness on the
appointed day. In the meantime, the Church, despite the failures of Her members, must speak up, because the very image and
likeness of God in the individual human being and in the nuptial covenant between man and woman is being quite simply debunked.
So-called “homosexual marriage” is not just about human rights and privileges, although most may see it that way;
whether people want it or not, that proposal effectively seeks to rewrite the meaning of creation, that is to say, the will
of the Creator. I know that most, if not all, of the men and women involved probably do not see it this way, and, for their
sake’s, I am truly glad. But irrespective of their good intentions, God is in fact being told that He got it wrong in
the beginning, and now the wrongs will be righted. We cannot look at these questions merely in terms of civil rights, important
though these may be; marriage is a matter of divine right and is intimately connected
with the structure, the meaning and the goal of Creation and of history itself.
In this context, too, must be placed the question of divorce, so clearly rejected by Christ in the Gospel. While divorce puts
asunder what God has united, “homosexual marriage” would put together what God has separated. Children, rather
than being loved for their own sakes as God’s gift to those He has united in conjugal love, are often killed before
they are born, commercialized before or after they are born, or end up being wanted for the sake of those who obtain custody
over them, rather than loved unconditionally for their own sakes. What can remedy these ills which will assuredly accelerate
the disintegration of society? Forgiveness, yes, but a forgiveness which, by proclaiming God’s truth, has effected the
return of hearts and minds, behaviors and understandings to the ways of the Creator and Redeemer.
It is not true to the spirit of the Gospel of forgiveness to fail to point out what is wrong according to Christ’s
truth, whether it be welcome or unwelcome, a source of applause or of disdain. What is, however, true to the Gospel is to
speak that truth with great love and hope that those whose sinful behavior alienates them from God will, by the courageous
witness of the Church to His truth and love, feel their hearts moved to return to the Lord. This is a most difficult task.
People are deeply sensitive and can feel that condemnation of their actions is condemnation of their persons. That is what
evil wants any sinner to feel, but it is simply not true. It is precisely because they are loved that the waywardness of sinners
(all of us!) is pointed out to them, because those who love them in Christ do not want to see them suffer more or run the
risk of being lost altogether. We are all sinners; Christ alone is our judge, but He will judge us upon our willingness to
live according to His truth, not only to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, but to liberate from the prison of falsity
those who are enchained by the fascination of evil. May He have mercy upon us all and break open our hearts to measure out
to one another, with noble generosity, the saving wisdom of His Holy Cross!
Msgr. Peter Magee
Sunday, February 22nd,
2004, St. Matthew’s Cathedral, DC –