Sunday, April 22, 2007

Forgiveness and Satisfaction

Jesus to Peter: "Feed my lambs."

(Third Sunday of Easter (C): This homily was given on April 22, 2007 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read John 21: 1-19.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Third Sunday of Easter 2007]

I steal a hundred dollars from you. I ask for your forgiveness, and you graciously give it to me. Is that where the story should end?

I write a letter to the Westerly Sun in which I accuse you of doing something that I know you haven’t done. I call you the next day, and apologize. You forgive me, because you’re such a nice person. Is that where the story should end?

I’m envious because you have a nicer car than I have. So late one night I sneak over to your house, and put scratches all over your vehicle with one of my house keys. A week later, I apologize; and once again, you extend me mercy and forgiveness. But is that where the story should end?

The answer, of course, in all three cases is NO!!!

These three anecdotes illustrate the difference between forgiveness and what the Church calls, “satisfaction”. Seeking forgiveness is always necessary when we’ve wronged another human being and sinned against them in some way. But receiving forgiveness doesn’t do away with the need to make appropriate amends for our actions! It doesn’t do away, in other words, with the need to make “satisfaction”. If I steal a hundred dollars from you, I definitely need to seek your forgiveness. But I also need to give you back your hundred dollars! If I write a letter to the Westerly Sun in which I falsely accuse you of something, I need to ask you to forgive me—and then I need to write a letter of retraction and apology, and get it published in the local newspaper! And if I intentionally scratch your car with my key, I need your forgiveness—and then I need to open my wallet and pay for a new paint job on your nice vehicle!

This, incidentally, is akin to step eight in the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous (or any other twelve step program). Step eight reads: “Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.”

That’s satisfaction. It’s also the purpose of the penance given in the sacrament of Confession, even when that penance consists of prayers. Normally when I give a “prayer penance” in the confessional I specifically tell the person to pray those prayers for the people whom they have hurt by their sins.

Praying for those we’ve offended is one way to make satisfaction for what we’ve done.

Here’s how the Catechism explains it in paragraph 1459: “Many sins wrong our neighbor. One must do what is possible in order to repair the harm. . . . Simple justice requires as much. But sin also injures and weakens the sinner himself, as well as his relationships with God and neighbor. Absolution takes away sin, but it does not remedy all the disorders sin has caused. Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin: he must ‘make satisfaction for’ or ‘expiate’ his sins. This satisfaction is also called ‘penance’.”

I mention this subject this morning because in today’s Gospel text Peter, in effect, makes satisfaction for the terrible sins he had committed on Holy Thursday night. Three times that evening, in the courtyard of the high priest, he had denied even knowing Jesus.

Had Jesus forgiven him? Of course! He had forgiven Peter, as he had forgiven the rest of the apostles for running away during his passion. But Peter still needed to make satisfaction for what he had done! And that’s why Jesus had him profess his love three times. Three times Peter had denied Jesus with his words, so in order to make satisfaction Peter had to profess his love for Jesus three times with his words.

Perhaps Jesus also required this of Peter because of what he expected from this man in the future. Peter, as we all know, was to be the very first pope—the first visible head of the Church here on earth. Obviously, therefore, Peter needed to have his relationship with Jesus in very good order. He didn’t need to be carrying around any extra ‘internal baggage’ from his Holy Thursday sins! He needed to be right with God and right with his fellow apostles.

But his Holy Thursday sins had definitely weakened him; they had affected his ability to be a strong leader in the early Church. As the Catechism reminds us (in that text I quoted a few moments ago): “Sin also injures and weakens the sinner himself, as well as his relationships with God and neighbor.”

Peter’s three-fold profession renewed his bond of love with Jesus, and reinforced his position of leadership among the apostles and within the universal Church. Jesus said to Peter: “Feed my lambs. . . . Tend my sheep. . . . Feed my sheep.” The Bible tells us that Thomas, Nathaniel, James, John and two other disciples were present when the Lord said these words to the future pope. At that moment they understood that what Jesus had said to Peter at Caesarea Philippi: “You are ‘Rock,’ and upon this Rock I will build my Church” was still valid, in spite of Peter’s denials.

And I’m sure they passed on this message to the apostles and disciples who were not present at the time: “Yes, Peter is still our leader—even though he messed up on the night before Jesus died!”

One final point needs to be made here: It wasn’t easy, nor was it pleasant. Yes, Peter made satisfaction for his three sins of Holy Thursday night, but it was definitely not a pleasant experience for him! As we heard a few moments ago, he was disturbed—he was deeply hurt—when Jesus said, “Simon, do you love me?” for the third time!

But when it was all over, and he realized WHY Jesus had questioned him in this way, I’m sure Peter was happy—and thankful—that he had swallowed his pride and had answered yes all three times!

Making amends—making satisfaction—isn’t normally a pleasant experience for any of us; but it is rewarding, since it improves our relationship with God, and our relationships with others.

So I leave you with this question to ponder: Do I need to make amends to anyone in my life?

Ponder that question as you pray after Communion today, and reflect on it honestly during the week.

Do I need to make amends to anyone that I’ve hurt by my sins?

And if the answer is yes, then ask the Lord to give you the grace to make those amends through prayers and through good deeds as soon as possible.

Because if we don’t do it here—if we don’t make adequate satisfaction for our forgiven sins while we’re still on this earth—we will be required to make satisfaction for them somewhere else: in purgatory.

So we can do it now, or we can do it later. But do it, we all will—just like Peter.