Glory to Jesus Christ!
My dear friends in our Lord, today we come to the end of our time of preparation for Lent. Now Lent itself, of course, is a time for preparation, it’s not an end in and of itself, but it is nevertheless important to prepare ourselves in order to undertake the Lenten fast if we are to do it well.
In fact, if we have been doing what we should have been doing over these past few weeks of the pre-Lent, if we have been learning the lessons that the Church has put before us, and if we have been taking those lessons to heart and putting them into action, then already, now, we will have some spiritual fruit that is ready. Spiritual fruit that can become the nourishment that we need as we go forward in the fast.
First and foremost of these fruits is forgiveness. It is a necessary nourishment for our souls. Think of it in that manner.
We hear it recounted in today’s Gospel that the Lord said: “[I]f ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
If we are to be forgiven, then we ourselves must also forgive. This is not a negotiable point.
There are many today who love to claim that questions of morality, ethics, and the like must be approached with a “nuanced” understanding. That word “nuanced” is brought out in order to distract from just about any immorality imaginable. There is, nevertheless, a certain truth to the proposition, as we know. We need only hear the words of the Scriptures themselves that testify to the necessity of understanding both the spirit and the letter of the law, as opposed simply to the letter.
But, true as this may be, there are nevertheless a good many times that our moral duty admits of no nuance whatsoever. It is quite simply and plainly an open and clear duty.
And forgiveness is precisely one of those duties. Our Lord admits of no nuance when He informs us: “[I]f ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
Of course, there is nuance even in this, for forgiveness is not indescriminate or just a thoughtless statement. More than anything, our Lord here tells us to forgive so that we do not let our own hearts become slaves to wrong-doing: either our own, through the sins which we might commit, or that of others, which they may commit against us.
We pile sorrows upon ourselves when we refuse to forgive from our hearts, when we cling to personal grudges, when we remember past wrongs done against us – and we let them become sources of pride within our hearts.
Few are more prideful than the victim who revels in his or her own victimhood. Few are more unforgiving than those who, having no viture to speak of, cling to their own real or imagined victimhood as if it were itself virtuous.
There is nothing virtuous in wrongdoing in itself, though there may indeed be virtue to be found in being the victim of it, as we hear nearly every day at the Liturgy in the Beatitudes. Remember what our Lord says? “Blessed are ye when they shall revile you, and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you, untruly, for my sake: Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in heaven.”
“Be glad and rejoice,” our Lord says. Even in the face of being reviled, persecuted, slandered, and victimized for His sake. Gladness and joy make forgiveness easy. Gladness and joy do not stay long in a heart which is unforgiving.
Today, on the Sunday of Forgiveness, we each and every one of us, every member of the Church will approach each other and ask for forgiveness, in any and all things in which we may have offended. And we likewise offer forgiveness each and every one of us to each other.
It is in precisely this way – and only in this way – that we can set out on our Lenten fast with the necessary provisions of forgiveness which will sustain us in the way.
My brothers and sisters, forgive me, a sinner.
Through the prayers of our holy fathers, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us. Amen.