St. Dominic Catholic Church

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Prison or Freedom: The Choice Is Ours 2022-2-20 Fr. Roberto



Homily for 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C
Fr. Roberto Corral, OP
St. Dominic Church, Los Angeles, CA
February 19, 2022
Title: Prison or Freedom – The Choice Is Ours
Theme: Forgiveness is setting ourselves free from the prison of hatred and bitterness.
Readings: 1 Samuel 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23; 1 Corinthians 15:45-49; Luke 6:27-38

Two years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, a team of Catholic missionaries were giving a parish retreat at a Catholic church in New York City just a few blocks from where the World Trade Center had once stood and had been destroyed by the terrorists. The theme of the retreat was forgiveness. On the second night of the retreat, a woman named Christine, who seemed to be in her 60’s, asked the retreat directors if she could speak with them. She told them that her son, who worked at the Twin Towers, was killed in the 9/11 attack and that his body was never recovered. Christine talked about her constant depression during the two years since the attack. She said she was frozen in time and that there was no relief from her pain. 
She knew that her grief, her anger and her depression were overwhelming her, but she simply could not forgive the terrorists. 

The talk given by the retreat directors the night before touched her heart so much that, when she went home, she spent the night crying and praying. By morning she came to realize that God had sent her to this retreat, and, because of that, for the first time in two years, she confronted the reality that her rage was destroying her. So, Christine said to the team, 
“The terrorists killed my son. Now they are killing me…and I am letting it happen.” During that previous night of crying and praying, Christine had come to understand that she had a choice: she could continue to internalize her anger and watch herself die slowly, 
or she could choose to take away the power from the terrorists by beginning the slow and difficult process of forgiveness and healing. That moment changed her life.

To me, this story is a great example of just one way that Jesus’ teaching in today’s Gospel can set us free and can set free so many other people in our world. Because, my brothers and sisters, hating and not forgiving those who have hurt us is not just a sin, it is a prison! Like Christine in this story, when we refuse to forgive, we put ourselves in a prison that we have made. And when we remain resentful, bitter and hateful toward someone, we are actually killing ourselves slowly. As the saying goes, not forgiving someone is like drinking poison every day and waiting for the other person to die.

Today’s Gospel presents to us Jesus’ most difficult teaching: to forgive, to love and even to pray for our enemies. This teaching was absolutely radical in his day for the Jewish people who considered the Romans, and others, their bitter enemies; and it is still a radical teaching for us today who perhaps consider as our bitter enemies Russians, North Koreans, terrorists, murderers, rapists, Democrats or Republicans, and perhaps even members of our families. I cannot tell you how many confessions I have heard through the years where someone has told me, “Father, I just cannot forgive him or her or them for what they did to me.” 

I may not know how much they hurt you and how difficult it is for you to move on in your life, 
but Jesus knew from personal experience how gut-wrenching it can be to forgive and to love someone who has hurt us or a loved one. And Jesus gave us this teaching because he knew that forgiveness is ultimately the only way for us to be free – free from the prison of hatred and bitterness. How many people do you and I know who are consumed by anger, hatred and bitterness; people who have carried a grudge for years and years; people who waste so much time and emotional energy holding onto that wound, hating that person or that group of people, going over the hurt again and again in their minds? 

I know that some of you here have been painfully wounded by someone else. But if you don’t at least try forgive them and love them and pray for them, you are letting them continue to hurt you; you continue to give them power over you and make you a victim again and again. 
And it won’t end until you forgive them. 

My brothers and sisters, love and forgiveness give us life and health. Studies show that people who learn to forgive suffer less from anxiety and depression, have higher self-esteem and can even enjoy better physical health. Could it be time for you to free yourself from the poison and the prison of anger, bitterness and the desire for revenge? It doesn’t matter if the offender is sorry or asks for forgiveness or not because forgiveness has nothing to do with the person who hurt you; forgiveness is about you setting yourself free regardless of what the offender does or doesn’t do.

If you find it difficult to forgive someone who has hurt you or a loved one, let me quickly outline some steps that might help you. The first step is to acknowledge that you are hurt and angry. 
Don’t deny it; accept it. And realize that it will take time for you to forgive – forgiveness is a process; the deeper the hurt, the more time it will take. After a while, if you still cannot forgive the person, ask God to help you to want to forgive. At some point, it can be helpful for you to pray and imagine yourself and that person who hurt you standing before Jesus on the cross. 

Then, ask the Lord to help you realize that he died on the cross for that person and loves that person just as much as he loves you. And ask Jesus to help you love and forgive him or her.

My brothers and sisters, Christine’s story, and so many other stories of forgiveness like hers, are proof that forgiveness is the best solution if we want to live healthy and happy lives; and forgiveness is the only solution if we want to be disciples of Jesus. Jesus wants us to love and forgive our enemies so that we can be free. There are no shortcuts and no easy solutions…
and there is no other way that works.