09 September 2011

'How often must I forgive?' Sunday Reflections, 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A.

St Peter in Penitence, El Greco, painted c.1605

Readings (New American Bible, used in the Philippines and the USA).

Gospel Matthew 18:21-35 (Jerusalem Bible, used in Australia, England & Wales, Ireland, Scotland).

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. 
'And so the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who decided to settle his accounts with his servants. When the reckoning began, they brought him a man who owed ten thousand talents; but he had no means of paying, so his master gave orders that he should be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, to meet the debt. At this, the servant threw himself down at his master's feet. "Give me time" he said "and I will pay the whole sum." And the servant's master felt so sorry for him that he let him go and cancelled the debt. Now as this servant went out, he happened to meet a fellow servant who owed him one hundred denarii; and he seized him by the throat and began to throttle him. "Pay what you owe me" he said. His fellow servant fell at his feet and implored him, saying, "Give me time and I will pay you". But the other would not agree; on the contrary, he had him thrown into prison till he should pay the debt. His fellow servants were deeply distressed when they saw what had happened, and they went to their master and reported the whole affair to him. Then the master sent for him. "You wicked servant," he said "I cancelled all that debt of yours when you appealed to me. Were you not bound, then, to have pity on your fellow servant just as I had pity on you?" And in his anger the master handed him over to the torturers till he should pay all his debt. And that is how my heavenly Father will deal with you unless you each forgive your brother from your heart.'

Soiscéal Matha 18:21-35 (Gaeilge, Irish)

Tháinig Peadar chuig Íosa ansin agus dúirt leis: “A Thiarna, cé mhéad uair ba cheart dom pardún a thabhairt do mo bhráthair nuair a chiontaíonn i m’aghaidh? Go dtí seacht n-uaire?” Dúirt Íosa leis: “Ní go dtí seacht n-uaire a deirimse leat ach go dtí seacht n-uaire seachtód.

“Agus dá réir sin is iad dála ríocht na bhflaitheas mar a bhí ag rí arbh áil leis cuntais a réiteach lena chuid seirbhíseach. Agus i dtosach an réitigh dó, tugadh chuige duine a raibh deich míle tallann amuigh air. Agus ó tharla gan an t-íoc a bheith aige, d’ordaigh an maistir é a dhíol, agus a bhean agus a chlann agus a raibh aige, agus an t-íoc a dhéanamh. Mar sin, chaith an seirbhíseach é féin ar lár, agus ag umhlú dó dúirt: ‘Bíodh foighne agat liom a mháistir, agus íocfaidh mé an t-iomlán leat.’ Agus le barr trua, scaoil máistir an tseirbhísigh sin uaidh é agus mhaith na fiacha dó. Ag dul amach don seirbhíseach sin, casadh air duine dá chomhsheirbhísigh a raibh céad déanar aige féin air, agus rug sé greim scóige air ag rá: ‘Íoc a bhfuil amuigh ort!’ Mar sin, chaith a chomhsheirbhíseach é féin ar lár ag achainí air: ‘Bíodh foighne agat liom,’ ar seisean, ‘agus íocfaidh mé leat é.’ Ach níorbh áil leis siúd é gan dul agus é theilgean i bpríosún nó go n-íocfadh sé na fiacha. Nuair a chonaic a chomhsheirbhísigh an méid sin, ghabh buaireamh mór iad, agus chuaigh siad ag insint an scéil ar fad dá máistir. Chuir an máistir fios air: ‘A sheirbhísigh mhallaithe,’ ar seisean, ‘mhaith mé féin duitse na fiacha úd ar fad mar go ndearna tú achainí orm. Nár cheart go ndéanfása mar an gcéanna trócaire ar do chomhsheirbhíseach faoi mar a rinne mise trócaire ort?’ Agus le barr feirge thug a mháistir suas do na céastúnaigh é nó go n-íocfadh sé na fiacha leis go hiomlán. Sin é freisin mar a dhéanfaidh m’Athair neamhaí libhse ach mura maitheann gach duine agaibh dá bhráthair féin ó chroí.”

The Misa Criolla, by Argentinian composer Ariel Ramírez (1921-2010), is a Mass for tenor, chorus and orchestra, is based on folk genres such as chacarera, carnavalito and estilo pampeano, with Andean influences and instruments. It is also one of the first Masses to be composed in a modern language. Ramírez wrote the piece in 1963-1964. In Latin America 'Kyrie eleison', is translated as 'Señor, ten piedad de nosotros', 'Lord, have mercy on us', whereas in Spain it is 'Señor, ten piedad', 'Lord, have mercy'. Here it is sung by Los Frontizeros and the choir of San Isidro Cathedral, Buenos Aires. I do not know to what extent the Misa Criolla has been used in worship, as distinct from concert performances.  

Today's gospel brings us in touch with what is perhaps its most difficult demand: to forgive. El Greco's painting shows us St Peter praying with hope and trust in God's merciful and forgiving love. The setting of Ariel Ramírez of the Kyrie expresses the same thing.
Fr Werenfried van Straaten OPraem
Two examples come to mind. One is that of Fr Werenfried van Straaten OPraem (1913-2003), about whom I posted on 6 June this year. A Dutchman, he appealed to his fellow Dutch citizens who had suffered greatly from the Germans during World War II to help German refugees after the war by supplying food and other necessities. He was also deeply concerned about the spiritual welfare of the refugees. His request, especially to those who had family members killed by German soldiers, pushed some of his listeners to the limit. But they acted according to today's gospel and found hatred and anger replaced by pity and love.
During the week I came across an extract from a letter of Fr William Doyle SJ, an Irish priest who died in August 1917 while serving as a chaplain in the British Army in World War I. The extract is take from a post in a wonderful blog called Remembering Fr William Doyle SJ.
Father Doyle is describing in a letter to his father in Dublin events of 5 September 1916:
In the bottom of one hole lay a British and a German soldier, locked in a deadly embrace, neither had any weapon, but they had fought on to the bitter end. Another couple seemed to have realised that the horrible struggle was none of their making, and that they were both children of the same God; they had died hand-in-hand praying for and forgiving one another. A third face caught my eye, a tall, strikingly handsome young German, not more, I should say, than eighteen. He lay there calm and peaceful, with a smile of happiness on his face, as if he had had a glimpse of Heaven before he died. Ah, if only his poor mother could have seen her boy it would have soothed the pain of her broken heart.
To Father Doyle no German soldier was an enemy. Indeed, one of the remarkable things in the literature that came out of the Great War is that soldiers didn't seem to have hatred for the official 'enemy'. It was more often against their own generals and bullying corporals. Photos and videos from the war show prisoners of war, especially wounded ones, being treated with the same kindness and consideration as others.
Father Doyle's description of the British and German soldiers holidng hands in death illustrates poignantly and powerfully what Jesus asks of us.
Fr Willie Doyle's letter recalls to me the poem Strange Meeting by Wilfred Owen. He was perhaps the greatest of the English poets of the Great War. Tragically, he was killed in action only one week before the war ended and his mother was informed of his death on 11 November 1918 when it actually did.

'I am the enemy you killed, my friend'.

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