Pastor’s Corner 7/23/2017

Dear Parishioners and Visitors:  please enjoy this guest column by John F. Craghan. —Msgr. Richard

Only the patient and forgiving can sing: “We shall overcome.” All too often we feel used by others and conclude that violent retaliation is the order of the day. We are betrayed by others, even loved ones, and reason that only revenge is the proper reaction. We are often hurt by the actions and words of others and judge that to hurt in turn is the right antidote. Yet only the patient and forgiving can sing: “We shall overcome.”

In the first reading the Jews in Alexandria experienced pain and frustration. The pagan Egyptians mocked them and even persecuted them (Wis 1:16-2:14). To the question, “Is the Lord the God of justice?” the author of Wisdom answered, “Yes, but a God of mercy as well!” This God manages to control both justice and clemency so that blind rage does not result. In tum, the author exhorts his fellow Jews to exercise restraint by being kind and to offer hope by forgiving. For the author of Wisdom only the patient and forgiving can sing, “We shall overcome.”

In the responsorial psalm the setting appears to be one in which the people of Israel have rebelled yet were forgiven (Exod 32-34). Despite the present suffering and pain the psalmist pleads for the Lord’s forgiveness. To bolster his petition, the author underlines the Lord’s covenantal credentials: “good and forgiving” (v. 5), “steadfast love/kindness” (v. 5), “merciful and gracious” (v. 15), and “abounding in steadfast love/kindness and fidelity” (v. 15). In the context of today’s liturgy the faithful are challenged to emulate their God’s capacity to forgive. They too are to abound in steadfast love and mercy by offering forgiveness to all offenders. Only the patient and forgiving can sing: “We shall overcome.”

In the gospel Jesus realizes that the kingdom is no utopia. Both good and evil coexist—and not peacefully. Confronted by attacks, he yet recommends the policy of the wise farmer to overcome evil with good. To check one’s wrath in the face of the weeds means to protect the common good. To refuse to yield to rage implies hope for future repentance. For Jesus, only the patient and forgiving can sing: “We shall overcome.”

How can we embody this message today? The married person who, while remaining firm, chooses to forgive his or her spouse has captured Jesus’ liberating message. Parents who exercise long-suffering and patience with their family have grasped Jesus’ understanding of freedom. Those who demonstrate tolerance and compassion in their jobs and personal lives have uncovered Jesus’ strategy for the kingdom. Priests and religious who prefer pardon to revenge and understanding to retaliation have accepted Jesus’ manner of self­assertion. These and similar people maintain that only the patient and forgiving can sing: “We shall overcome.”

We proclaim this message whenever we celebrate the Eucharist. For it is in the sacrament that we see a Jesus who exercised forgiveness and understanding at the time of the passion. The Eucharist offers a Jesus who continues to pray: “my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt 26:28). The Eucharist demonstrates that to die to self in forgiveness is to experience the ultimate human liberation. The Eucharist, too, proclaims that only the patient and forgiving can sing: “We shall overcome.”

—John F. Craghan

John F. Craghan is professor emeritus of religious studies at St. Norbert College, De Pere, Wisconsin, and the author of Trust (Little Rock Scripture Study); The Gospels of the Weekday Lectionary; And the Life of the World to Come; Psalms for All Seasons; and I Was Ill and You Cared for Me (Liturgical Press).

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