Sunday, June 17, 2007

Forgiveness Is A Fatherly Virtue

Michelangelo's David

(Eleventh Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on June 17, 2007 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read 2 Samuel 12: 7-10, 13.)

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

Forgiveness is a fatherly virtue.

That, I believe, is the simple and clear message the Lord has for us on this Father’s Day.

Forgiveness is a fatherly virtue.

Let me begin by asking you to reflect on this question: What was your father like? Or, if he’s still alive, what is your father like? Would you say that he was—or that he is—a forgiving person?

That’s a very important question, because the level—the quality—of your earthly father’s forgiveness has a direct impact on you and on your family life right now. It also, believe it or not, has a direct impact on your present relationship with Almighty God.

More on all that in a few moments.

Paragraph 239 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that God is the “origin and standard” of human fatherhood and motherhood. Therefore if we want to know what it truly means to be a good father here on earth, we should look first and foremost to God the Father in heaven.

And when we do that we see that one of the most important aspects of our Heavenly Father’s Divine Personhood is his willingness to forgive. Our God is a forgiving Lord!

This is why I began my homily by saying that forgiveness is a fatherly virtue. It’s a fatherly virtue because God is forgiving—and God is the origin and the standard of all fatherhood!

We see the Heavenly Father’s forgiveness illustrated beautifully in the story of King David, part of which we heard in today’s first reading from 2 Samuel 12.

Most of us know it, but for the few who might not . . .

After he had been anointed King of Israel, David was taking a stroll one evening on the roof of his palace. As he was walking along, he happened to catch sight of a beautiful young woman bathing in the distance. The woman’s name was Bathsheba.

Unfortunately lust got the better of him at that moment, and David decided to invite the young woman over to his place to “see his etchings” (as Bishop Sheen used to put it).

Bathsheba came to the palace and she and David committed the sin of adultery. Not long afterward she found herself pregnant with David’s child. She knew it had to be David’s because her husband, Uriah, had been away for some time fighting in a war.

Well once the king found out about the pregnancy, he immediately called Uriah home from battle and told him to go home to see his wife. Obviously he was hoping that Uriah would sleep with Bathsheba and end up thinking that he was the father of the child. And since there wasn’t any DNA testing available at the time, David’s devious plan had a very good chance of succeeding.

But Uriah was a good soldier who happened to be at war. And good Israelite soldiers at war were not supposed to go home to see their wives and families. So Uriah didn’t. Instead, he slept in the courtyard of David’s palace.

The next day, David got Uriah drunk and told him a second time to go home, but once again Uriah slept in the palace courtyard.

At that point, David had had enough. He immediately wrote a letter to his general, Joab, and told him to put Uriah on the front lines in the next big battle. Then he said to Joab, “When the fighting gets really fierce, pull the rest of your troops back, so that Uriah will be killed.”

Unfortunately, David’s plan worked this time. That made him guilty of two capital sins: adultery and murder.

And he felt no guilt about either of them, until the prophet Nathan presented him with a social problem that supposedly involved someone else. (It’s always easier for us to see someone else’s sin.) Nathan said, “David, what do you think about a very rich and powerful man who had flocks and herds in great numbers, but who went out and stole a ewe lamb from a poor man—the only lamb the poor man owned—in order to feed his hungry friend when his friend came for a visit?”

David said, “The man who did such a thing deserves to die!”

Nathan replied, “Well, it’s interesting that you should say that, David, because THAT MAN IS YOU!!!”

Then Nathan uttered the words we heard a few moments ago in our first reading. Listen to them again, now, in their proper context:

Nathan said to David: “Thus says the Lord God of Israel: ‘I anointed you king of Israel. I rescued you from the hand of Saul. I gave you your lord’s house and your lord’s wives for your own. I gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were not enough, I could count up for you still more. Why have you spurned the Lord and done evil in his sight? You have cut down Uriah the Hittite with the sword; you took his wife as your own, and him you killed with the sword of the Ammonites. Now, therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah to be your wife.’”

Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

Nathan answered David: “The Lord on his part has forgiven your sin: you shall not die.”

David received forgiveness from the Heavenly Father once he sincerely repented for what he had done. That should give us hope for even the worst of sinners. Of course, David still had to face some negative consequences for his sins—one of which was the death of his infant son. But his own guilt was taken away, and it’s said that in thanksgiving he wrote “the Miserere”—Psalm 51—which begins with the words, “Have mercy on me God, in your kindness; in your compassion blot out my offense. O wash me more and more from my guilt, and cleanse me from my sin.”

Forgiveness is a fatherly virtue, because it has its origin in God the Father. King David was a living witness to that important truth.

Fathers, I ask you this morning: Do your children experience the Heavenly Father’s forgiveness through you whenever they repent? Or do you withhold forgiveness from them? (Now please don’t misunderstand the question. I’m not implying here that you shouldn’t discipline your children. Forgiveness and discipline are two separate issues. Remember, David was still disciplined after the Heavenly Father forgave him; he still had to face some negative consequences for his actions. But in the midst of the punishment he had to endure, David knew that his sins had been wiped away.)

At the beginning of my homily I asked everyone in the congregation to think of their own father. I said that the experience of our earthly father’s forgiveness (or lack of it) has a direct impact on us and on our family life now, and that it even influences our relationship with God in the present moment!

That should make perfect sense.

For example, if my earthly father refused to forgive me over and over again in my childhood, I will probably have great difficulty believing that my Heavenly Father will be willing to forgive me now in my adulthood. The tendency will be for me to project my earthly father’s unforgiveness onto God, my Heavenly Father—and that will have terrible consequences for me in my spiritual life.

This message, incidentally, is one that I also must take seriously as a spiritual father! It’s not only for you earthly dads! You see, if I treat people unkindly in the confessional—a place where they should experience God’s compassion and forgiveness—chances are they will project my anger and lack of charity onto Almighty God, and be spiritually scarred for many years.

They may even abandon the Church and the practice of their Catholic faith altogether. And we’ve all heard stories of this kind haven’t we?—“I told that priest my sins one day in the confessional. He yelled at me and screamed at me and humiliated me. I’ll never go back.”

I’ll conclude my homily today with two words. They’re the words of a request, which were first spoken by Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, as he hung on the Cross on Good Friday: “Father, forgive.”

Jesus, I believe, says those very same words this morning to all of us dads—even the spiritual ones: “Father, forgive.”

But he says those words to each of us not as a request; he says them to each of us as a command: “FATHER, FORGIVE! FATHER, FORGIVE YOUR CHILDREN—AS OFTEN AS THEY NEED TO BE FORGIVEN.”