How Can You “Measure” Grace? (Homily for the 24th Sunday Ordinary Time)
How do you quantity grace?
Dolph Lundgren is a Swedish Fulbright Scholar, MIT grad and actor who has made over 40 films and first became famous as the Soviet boxer, Ivan Drago, in Rocky IV. In a TED Talk, he talks about the struggles he experienced in his early life when he was physically abused by his father. He shares how, after many years, he was able to find healing for himself, reconciliation between himself, his children and his former wife and even a sense of forgiveness towards his father. Although he never calls it that, what Dolph experienced and did was grace, and grace is difficult to quantify and measure.
People sometimes come to me in Confession and say “I still hate that person. I guess I haven’t forgiven them yet.” I say, “Let’s make the distinction between forgiveness, reconciliation and love. Forgiveness is level 1. It is what you do. It’s an act of the will. You decide to let go and cancel the debt. The problem is that it doesn’t have any emotional benefit. You might “forgive” the person and still feel the anger or shame or hurt or embarrassment or resentment. Reconciliation is level 2. It is what God does. It’s when the anger or shame or hurt or embarrassment or resentment is gone. It’s all grace. It’s a free gift. You simply don’t know when that might happen AND even if it does, some residual emotions might still remain for you and God to work through for a long time.” One leads to the other though. In an August 18, 2014 homily entitled, “Holy Mass for Peace and Reconciliation,” Pope Francis wrote the following:
Jesus asks us to believe that forgiveness is the door which leads to reconciliation. In telling us to forgive our brothers [and sisters] he is asking us to do something radical. What appears, from a human perspective, to be impossible, impractical and even at times repugnant, He makes possible. He also gives us the grace to do it. The power of the cross of Christ reveals the power of God to bridge every division, to heal every wound, and to reestablish the original bonds of brotherly love.
Love is level 3. Love wants the good for the beloved, which means that the other person actually gets better. However, their good requires, first of all, that they stop hurting others and that they repent of any terrible treatment of others as well. This is where
the entire issue becomes complicated. Scripture Scholar, Eleonore Stump, writes that, “The interaction between forgiveness and love helps us see the difference between forgiving a wrongdoer [on the one hand,] and enabling the wrongdoer to continue. There is nothing loving or forgiving about enabling a person to continue down an evil path. That’s just wishing that the person gets worse. Any forgiveness of them will be like a gift that can’t be given because they simply won’t, or can’t, receive it.”
Let’s be clear – if you’re being hurt or abused it is dangerous to you, and unhealthy for them, to say, “Oh, but I love that person. I have to forgive them.” That’s not pastoral – that’s pathology.
Christ-like love is level 4. This is identified by the Greek word agape. “If the other person is unrepentant, if they reject goodness and love, another person can still want the good for them anyway. God’s love is like this, too. God’s forgiveness is always there and so is God’s love. Because God loves every person, God is offering the good to every person too, no matter what his or her sins may be.” (Eleanor Stump)
In a Sermon of his, (83, 2. 4: PL 38, 515-516), St. Augustine offers us a “stop-gap” measure as we move from forgiveness through reconciliation to love. He writes that “There are two works of mercy which will set us free. They are briefly set down in the gospel in the Lord’s own words: ‘Forgive and you will be forgiven,’ and ‘Give and you will receive.’ The former concerns pardon, the latter generosity.” If you can’t forgive someone who is hurting or has hurt you, at least don’t hurt them. If you can’t do even that, then be generous to someone else and wait for more of the grace to kick in.
- Is it harder for you to forgive someone or to ask for forgiveness?
- How good are you at overlooking the faults of others as Sirach suggests?
- Are their areas in your life where you need to forgive yourself?
- When you want to “hug wrath and anger tightly,” do you have ways, or people, or places who help your anger calm down?
An audio version of the homily is here: