Last Sunday, a mother of three was deeply moved by a sermon from the Norbertine abbey-church. It deeply spoke to her experience of her three daughters. This particular image stayed with her. ‘On a trip, the boy was carrying his younger brother for miles, as he twisted his ancle. When they arrived, the host of the family told him: it must have been quite a burden to you, it must have been a heavy weight. The boy replied, it is not a burden, he is my brother.’
This banal illustration has a profound truth. This truth makes us Christians. We are baptised in the Lord in order to perceive our neighbours in difficult situations just as the boy did in the example of the sermon. He is not a burden: he is my brother.
This wise saying remains a ‘nice saying’ unless we fully understand what is at stake. Today’s readings direct us towards what is at stake, and even more. God clearly tells us that the quality of life we live together depends on our ability to forgive. Forgive your neighbour the hurt he does you, and when you pray, your sins will be forgiven. If a man nurses anger against another, can he then demand compassion from the Lord?’ Without God, and our faith in our Saviour, it is a mission impossible. Without the Lord as our daily friend, and our toiling on this friendship, our heart will never forgive those who hurt us. On the x-ray image of our hearts what do angels see? Most often our grudges, our unfinished conflicts, our book-keeping of offences and the fault (the blame on) of others.
With our Lord, on our side, this impossible leap is possible. ‘Peter went up to Jesus and said, ‘Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘Not seven, I tell you, but seventy-seven times. Unless we can see the offender as our brother and sister in the Lord, forgiving will remain for us a heavy burden. The boy in our story could have said, ‘yes, it was a heavy burden. I am dead tired because of it.’ He would have been right, just as we are right when saying, ‘forgiving is an impossibly heavy burden.’ Yet, with the Eucharist we receive, with the Lord’s daily friendship, with prayer life, and through the daily experience of Divine Love, we can imitate our Lord. Who sees only his brothers and sisters, and not a heavy burden.
Our readings take us even further than realising what is at stake in our forgiving. The quality of our life, that of the community, wholly depends on practicing this ‘impossible forgiveness’. ‘The life and death of each of us has its influence on others.’ The increase or decrease of violence, mistrust, lies, dishonesty, greediness, and indifference in our culture depends solely on us. Our world becomes a better world, a healthier world, a more beautiful world, a more peaceful world if we take up the cross of this impossible task of forgiving.
For when we forgive, we not only reduce violence, and bring the air of peace into the world. Far more happens than that. When we forgive, joy and light come into our life. We get focused, our thinking becomes more efficient, our mind and heart gets more clear, our emotions are more positive and constructive.
Let us think of the victory of the boy in our example, and the victory of Our Lord, which made possible his beautiful confession. He or she is not a burden; not an enemy, not a rival. ‘He is my brother; my sister.’ It is not a burden; ‘It is the Lord!’
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These are verbal Icons, expressions of how the world is seen from Saint Augustine's..