Unilateral Forgiveness Is Asking A Lot

At some stage in our lives we all come to understand that forgiving others is actually beneficial to us. So, from a selfish standpoint we should look forward to forgiving others since it ultimately serves our best interest, as long as they ask for our forgiveness.

As we grow a little more, we can see that we again benefit by using unilateral forgiveness when the other person does not ask for forgiveness. They may not think they did or even be aware they did anything wrong. In either case, forgiving them anyway, benefits us even though they did not ask.

Unilateral forgiveness asks a lot from us as individuals. It is not nearly as personally satisfying as the simple transaction where one person asks another for forgiveness and the other grants it and they both live happily ever after. Unilateral forgiveness asks the offended party to make a clear-cut decision to forgive and then proceed “as if” forgiveness had been asked for and given.

That “as if” condition means we have to then reject any internal voices that try to carry us back to the state of feeling offended. We have to then treat the other person with trust and resist the thoughts of un-trust that will pop up in our minds from time to time. We have to then treat the other person as if they are totally restored to good relationship with us. Hummm, that is difficult.

The highest level of forgiveness is what Jesus calls us to in the Gospels. We have to repeat those effort at forgiveness seventy times seven. Oh my, that is the ultimate. That means on-going forgiveness of someone who offends us over and over, and over again. One would have to be almost perfect to indulge another that many times.

The harder levels of forgiveness are also the most rewarding to us in the long run. So, let us call on God and His grace to enable us to forgive no matter what level of forgiveness is required of us. Jesus set the example. He died for us and is asking us to be more and more like Him in dying for others.

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Baptism Of The Lord, Homily

Homily, Jan 11-12, 2014: Cycle A, Last Sun of Christmas Season (Baptism of the Lord)

Last Sunday we celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany – the visit of the magi telling the world that Jesus was the King of Kings.

Today we celebrate the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

In a way, the Baptism of the Lord represents another Epiphany, revealing Jesus accepting His mission from His Heavenly Father.

There are other events that serve as epiphanies, as well. The Transfiguration reveals Jesus’ place In God’s overall plan of salvation linking Him back to Moses & Elijah.  The wedding feast at Cana reveals the beginning of Jesus’ miracles in public ministry.

And, as Msgr said last week – we all have epiphanies throughout our lives & learn new things about the Lord & new things about ourselves. He was too kind to mention that after a certain age – everything sounds like an epiphany. A year ago, as I told my brother-in-law a story I told him to stop me if he heard it.  He said, no; go ahead he would be hearing it again – for the first time.

Our Gospel today describes how Jesus came to John the Baptist at the Jordan River to be baptized.

It intrigues me that Jesus, who is like us in every way but sin, thought it necessary to receive the baptism of water and repentance.

John even tried to talk Him out of it saying that Jesus needed to baptize him, rather than the other way around.

Those who were being baptized by John were making a statement for the Kingdom, renouncing sin. Jesus’ baptism would show how important He considered it for us & that He was one with us.

It certainly wasn’t lost on Jesus that John’s ministry prepared the way for His own ministry. John’s theme was “Reform your lives! The reign of God is at hand.”

John told the people, that while he was baptizing with water for repentance, there was one to follow him that was more powerful than he, and He would baptize them in the Holy Spirit.

All of this played right into the fact, that the Israelites of old were convinced by some of the words of their prophets, that the coming of the Messiah would be preceded by the second appearance of Elijah.

In fact, when John began his preaching and baptizing, many even asked him if he were Elijah, because of their similar styles & similar messages, to which he said “No”. 

Still, that thought must have lingered in their minds, especially with him telling them that one more powerful than he was coming.  It certainly sounded like John was the one positioned to precede the Messiah.

Into this milieu steps Jesus to be baptized. When He came up from the water, our Gospel says the heavens opened, the Spirit of God descended on him like a dove, and a voice spoke, “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.”  I’m sure after that there was little doubt in the minds of those present.

By allowing John to Baptize Him, Jesus is declaring that He is one with all, not just the Jews, all who are willing to reject sin, and to bring about His Father’s kingdom.

Our Second Reading today shows that through the person of Jesus, God will reach out to all Peoples in a new way.  No more king’s strong army crushing nations and imposing their religion or mighty power dominating the weak.  The words in Zechariah now come true, “Not by an army, not by might, but by my Spirit.”

Whatever Jesus does from this point forward, will be accomplished by the power of God’s Spirit in Him. 

The Spirit empowered Him at His baptism for His mission.  This same Spirit empowers us at our baptism for our mission.

So here we are today, followers of Jesus Christ, standing in the river of life, and determined to reject sin.

And, to that end, we come to Church to receive Him in the Eucharist, in His Word, and in the gathering of His people, because we need His grace since we fail over and over, and we need Him to lift us up, over and over.

Our baptism needs to be validated by our daily personal decisions, great and small. Our Baptism is more than a one-time historical event in our lives.

I think that sometimes we are afraid of the challenge of our baptism.  The basic challenge is to become more and more Christ-like.  That can be a very daunting call & conflict with the way we would prefer to live our lives.

So, we try to seek God in activity, especially church-going activities.  As a result, we can end up running around in circles and never get to the center of it all, where the Spirit is there awaiting us in that stillness.

It is when we can be still that we can hear our own inner wisdom as well as the wisdom of the God’s Spirit and amazingly, the two often blend.  It is by being still, and letting go of all asking, planning, pleading, begging, or give me this or give me that, that God speaks to our hearts and shares with us at least the essence of the next step of His plan for us.

Have you ever noticed we often hear Him more clearly while we do mindless things like bathing or shaving or washing dishes or sitting in a hammock watching the rain or mowing the lawn, or walking on the beach?  It’s at those times He can break through our normal resistance.

So today, on this Feast of the Baptism of the Lord as we reflect on the impact of John’s Baptism of Jesus, let us also reflect on our own Baptism & how we might answer God’s call to us.

Let us not forget, the choice is always there to ask for the help of His Spirit to lead us, to guide, to fill us, to renew us, to give us the heart to serve as He served.

But Now My Eyes Have Seen You

In the final chapters of the Book of Job, God chides Job by asking him a series of questions that are designed to put Job back in his place.  He is reminding Job that he is not God, only God is God. He points that out through the questions posed to job, i.e. “Have you an arm like that of God? Can you bring down the haughty with a glance? Can you thunder with a voice like His? Can you lead about Leviathan with a hook.”

Job has no fight left in him and finally acknowledges what God knew all along, Job was but a man, and should not have harangued God for the difficult things that had befallen him. Indeed, Job addressed God humbly in chapter 42 saying: “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be hindered. I have dealt with great things that I do not understand; things too wonderful for me, which I cannot know. I had heard of You by word of mouth but now my eyes have seen You. Therefore I disown what I have said, and repent in dust and ashes.”

That phrase, “…but now my eyes have seen you”, appears in other parts of scripture as well. Many of us humans even come to that place where we have an epiphany and realize that we have spent years learning about God, and can actually parrot that knowledge back to other people and appear to be more spiritual than we really are.  And then one day, we awaken like Job and realize we have been putting on appearances and want to stop that practice once and for all and truly search out the experience of seeing Him first hand.

Once we reach that stage in our lives, everything changes at the core of our being and we launch a life long effort to draw close to Him, to know Him because we have seen Him in our lives, and begin to try to be more like Him. It is at that point that He sends His Holy Spirit to help us with practical solutions to practical problems on our journey. That experience is often referred to as the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.