Homily for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A
Theme: “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” (Matthew 18:21)
By: Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
Homily for Sunday September 13 2020
In the gospel passage we hear today, Peter asks Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” (Matthew 18:21) Rather than answer directly, Jesus relates a parable whose simple lesson is this: Forgive others as often as you wish God to forgive you. Yet while we may spend a lifetime voicing assent to belief in God’s great mercy, how many of us secretly entertain a vision of the all-seeing God just waiting to accuse us of our hidden sins when, finally, we meet face to face on that fearful Day of Judgment. When I sometimes find myself thinking like this, the face of Br. Patrick appears, his usually stern, forbidding visage contorted into a wide smile of humored understanding.
In the beginning years as a member of our religious community, I came under the tutelage of Br. Patrick, stiff, gaunt and white-haired, the superior Moreau Hall, our house of studies on the campus of Stonehill College. In appearance a ready stand-in for Count Dracula, the similarity continued in the wilting, silent stare that marked his response to most situations. On first arriving at Moreau Hall, he coldly welcomed the eight of us, concluding his remarks with the shivering statement, “I see all but say very little.”
Remarkably in light of this statement was the fact that Br. Patrick had but one good eye, a glass orb substituting for the absence of a second functioning eye. And further accenting his forbidding presence was the fact that his artificial eye seemed to move of its own accord, usually out of sync with the focus of his immediate attention. One never knew when speaking with him which eye was keeping watch on the world at large while the other focused on the speaker. And it was this very uncertainty that gave Patrick the edge on a house full of young collegians.
As was his custom, Patrick scheduled brief monthly interviews with each scholastic, my turn coming on the 17th of each month. Having been prepped by the older members of the house to pay attention to his good eye, the one on his right, I appeared at his office door for my first meeting. All seemed to be going well as we discussed my new life as both a religious and a student, but I became more and more unsettled as I watched the beginning of a smile struggling to suppress itself at the corners of his mouth as we spoke. Thinking him not taking me seriously, I stared ever more intently into that right eye as I soulfully affirmed my commitment to work hard at my studies. And it was then that he could hold it no longer, exploding in laughter as, bending over, he slapped his knees. Regaining just a bit of composure, he looked up to find me white-knuckled in tension gripping the chair’s armrests. “You’ve been looking at the wrong eye,” he proclaimed drolly while he motioned toward the door with his left eye, the good one, that the interview was over and I could make my escape.
Subsequent to that first interview with Br. Patrick, I learned that this same joke had been played on every new member of the house prior to the initial interview, and that, indeed, Patrick enjoyed the joke even more than did the original perpetrators. Seeming to relish his forbidding appearance, an asset when sternness was needed, he took even greater delight in the astonishment he could cause when breaking character, a huge, warm smile transforming him into someone appearing quite grandfatherly. And so I imagine it to be with God.
While we profess belief both in God’s perfect justice and his perfect mercy, we seem so often to reckon God’s abilities at balancing both to be as imperfect as our own. It seems easier, surely more comfortable, for us to judge rather than to love one another, even though God has clearly stated that it’s our life’s task to love, and that judgment belongs to God alone.
But when I choose to take the easier road, to judge rather than love, I hear again Br. Patrick’s voice, droll words barely concealing humored understanding, “You’ve been looking at the wrong eye.” For him, it was the eye of mercy that beheld our every deed, the eye of judgment blind, long ago replaced by a glass orb. God grant that we should have such vision!