Peace and Forgiveness

Pentecost Sunday (June 4, 2017)

Acts 2:1-11

Psalm 104:1,24,29-30,31,34

1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13

John 20:19-23

 

The Understanding Widower

After a long shift at the fire department, Matt Swatzell fell asleep while driving and crashed into another vehicle, taking the life of pregnant mother June Fitzgerald and injuring her 19-month-old daughter. Fitzgerald’s husband, a full-time pastor, asked for the man’s diminished sentence—and began meeting with Swatzell for coffee and conversation. Many years later, the two men remain close. “You forgive as you’ve been forgiven,” Fitzgerald told Today.

Interesting….

 

The Unbelievable Friend

During a night swim with girlfriends, bride-to-be Rachelle Friedman was horsing around and got jokingly pushed into the shallow end of the pool, where her head hit the bottom. She cracked her neck and has not been able to feel anything below it since. Despite the life-changing injury, Friedman went on with her marriage and has said she never harbored resentment toward her friend about the freak accident. “There is no use in being down in the dumps and depressed. It’s not going to get you anywhere,” she told Today in an interview.

Very interesting…

 

The Unexpected Connection

Sandra Walker, a mother of two, lost her husband in a car accident that also caused her to have a life-changing brain injury. At the trial for the accident, in her court statement Walker said she sympathized with the woman who crashed into them—who herself lost a child in the accident—and gave her a hug. “I know she is going through as much pain as I am feeling. I wanted her to know that I forgive her for what she did,” Walker told WSB-TV.

Very, very interesting…

 

The Compassionate Officer

Steven McDonald was a young police officer in 1986 when he was shot by a teenager in New York’s Central Park, an incident that left him paralyzed. “I forgave [the shooter] because I believe the only thing worse than receiving a bullet in my spine would have been to nurture revenge in my heart,” McDonald stated.

Very, very, very interesting…

 

These are four very powerful, real life stories of what can happen when forgiveness and peace are fully realized. And this, my friends, goes to the heart of what Jesus did for us in today’s Gospel from John.

The Risen Jesus offers us two gifts in today’s Gospel. Both of which have the potential to change our lives. Peace and forgiveness.

Jesus stands in the midst of the Apostles and says, “Peace be with you” as he shows them his hands and his side. It’s almost as if Jesus is reminding them that, in spite of the torture He suffered, He still offers peace, not vengeance. He says a second time, “Peace be with you.” The peace Jesus is offering us here is not just the absence of war, but of a complete calmness of mind and body. No more worry. No more stress.

In order to achieve this type of peace, we have to use the second gift Jesus offers us… forgiveness. In the four stories I shared with you, the people who were wronged had a choice. Harbor hate or offer forgiveness. Each one of them chose forgiveness. I couldn’t imagine how much their lives would have been altered if they chose hate and resentment. Those negative things tend to bleed over into other aspects of your life. Before you know it, you’re not only mad at the person who wronged you, but everyone else as well. It leads to unhappiness.

So I ask you… do you want to have peace in your life? Then you need to take a very close look at whom you need to forgive, or whom you possibly need to ask forgiveness from. And yes, as we’ve all heard it said before, forgiveness doesn’t always mean forgetting. If you forgive someone, but they are not healthy to be around, you should stay away from them. But true forgiveness means you are not allowing another person’s words or actions to control you or rule your mind. And that, my brothers and sisters, leads to peace.

Today, on Pentecost, Jesus offers us the gifts of peace and forgiveness before he ascends to heaven. And in His supreme wisdom, He also leaves us the Holy Spirit to guide us and strengthen us on our journey so we are not alone!

So I ask you one more time… do you want to fully experience the peace of Jesus Christ??? Then open your heart, allow yourself to forgive and be forgiven. Find peace in our risen Lord. Find peace through the Holy Spirit. Allow your bodies to fully surrender over to God’s loving mercy and fear no more….

Peace be with you!

 

*The four stories above were found here:

http://www.rd.com/true-stories/inspiring/extreme-forgiveness/

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Always Choose Love

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Sept 18, 2016)

Amos 8:4-7

Psalm 113:1-2,4-6,7-8

1 Timothy 2:1-8

Luke 16:1-13

Back when I was a “baby” Deacon, I would usually write out my homilies about a month in advance. That way I could fine-tune them over and over again and try to get them in my head as much as possible. That was in 2012. Now, 4 years later, I pretty much wait until a few days before I preach to put them together. I’m glad I did that this month because I had some good “homily material” happen to me about a week ago that fits perfectly with today’s reading from 1 Timothy.

For my Facebook friends out there, you may have already heard this story so please bear with me. As I was coaching my U14 soccer team last week in Lexington, I heard screaming from the field behind me so I turned to see what was going on. Apparently the referee blew his whistle for a hard foul. As the ref was reaching for his yellow card (caution), the U14 player started mouthing off to the adult referee. The referee then correctly pulled out his red card instead (ejection). At that point the head coach started screaming and had to be restrained from running out on the field by his assistant coach. Now he wasn’t screaming at his player for the foul or use of inappropriate language… No, he was screaming at the referee for ejecting his player. The referee calmly walked over to the coach and, I assume, explained the reasoning for the red card. The coach stood there long enough to listen but then quickly walked away yelling again all the way back to his bench. The coach should have been ejected but wasn’t. My point…. it’s U14 recreational soccer. These are 12-13 year old kids…. One of which committed a bad foul, then argued with the referee using disrespectful language. His coach reinforced the player’s bad behavior by acting like a screaming baby and 4 teams and all of the fans in the area witnessed it. And we wonder why there’s a shortage of referees in youth sports….

What, you may be asking, does this have to do with the reading today from 1 Timothy? Paul is asking us to pray for everyone, “that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity.” That coach was not quiet, he was not tranquil and he was lacking in dignity at that moment. You see, being a Christian extends outside of these four walls. It’s easy to act like a “good person” when you are sitting here at church for an hour on a Saturday or Sunday. But out there in the real world is where our “Christianity” is put to the test. I have no idea if that coach was a Christian. I have no idea if he was just having a really bad day and lost it in the heat of the competition. I’ve been at that point many times in my life. Trust me. I’m no saint! But what gives us the right to act like “angels” on a Sunday in Church, but then tear into each other the other 6 days of the week?

It’s taken me a very long time to realize the root of many of our problems, in my opinion, can be traced back to one thing… anger. Paul tells us today that, “It is my wish, then, that in every place the men should pray, lifting up holy hands, without anger or argument.” Anger is a very tricky thing. It seems like so many people are full of anger these days. I mean come on… just look at the presidential race for example. It’s nothing but anger being spewed back and forth between the candidates and, unfortunately, many of their supporters. Why? It’s so much easier to hate someone than it is to love them. Love takes putting some of our own needs on the back burner while you try to help and support others. Love means being respectful of another person’s views, even if they don’t necessarily line up with your own. Love means praying for sinners rather than condemning them.

But the good news is this… loving rightly often leads to quiet and tranquility. Love leads to dignity. Love leads to peace and communication instead of arguing. And guess what?? Paul tells us in 1 Timothy that, “This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.” And what is that truth? Jesus Christ gave himself up as a ransom for all.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is Love.

Ok, now allow me to bring this full circle. What are we doing here in church today? We are praying and worshiping the God of the universe. We are uniting together to honor our Heavenly Father who gave us His Son…who died for our sins so that we may have eternal life. We are offering our prayers for each other and for those that are not here with us today… those who are currently outside of these walls. We are praying that all of us, along with the people “out there”, will come to feel and know the love of God in our hearts so that we will have peace.

We do this so that when we are faced with challenges “out there” we will hopefully stop and think about how we should act vs. lashing out at others with anger or frustration. By being “here” in church, we are asking God to give us the Grace to act more Christ-like “out there” in the face of sin and temptation. We are asking God to give us the restraint to not yell at the nice referee who just ejected our player for a just reason, but rather allow us to use restraint and model good behavior to all of the fans, parents and athletes watching us.

This is not easy at all. But neither was the love Jesus showed us as he hung on the cross. Loving with that intensity forces us to die to our own ways. This is painful and there’s no short cut. It is a marathon, not a sprint. A marathon that leads us to eternal love with God in Heaven.

Do not lose sight of this.

Because I don’t know about you… but I’m tired of being angry. I’m tired of being frustrated…

I desire quiet, tranquility and peace. I desire God to fill my heart completely and totally.

So please, join with me today in prayer and ask God to give all of us the grace to always choose love.

Peace Be With You

Pentecost (May 15, 2016)

Acts 2:1-11

Psalm 104:1,24,29-31,34

Romans 8:8-17

John 20:19-23

Of all the things we know about Jesus… through the Scriptures, through the Apostles… I’ve never heard Him repeat Himself without a reason or speak a word without meaning. So in this very short Gospel passage we hear today, we should have perked up a little when Jesus spoke the exact same phrase two times. It wasn’t by accident! The phrase he speaks is, “Peace be with you.” To which every good Catholic should reply, “And with your spirit!” Now if Jesus has a purpose for everything He says, it would behoove us to discern what that purpose is.

Let me refresh your memory as to what happens in John’s Gospel right before the passage we hear today. It’s the Sunday of Jesus’ resurrection. Mary Magdalene, Simon Peter and John just discovered that Jesus’ tomb was empty. Jesus then appeared to Mary Magdalene and told her to tell the other disciples that He would be ascending to the Father very soon. By now, the Jewish authorities knew something wasn’t right. They’ve probably heard stories and rumors that the Disciples have somehow tricked people into thinking Jesus has resurrected by stashing His body somewhere. The Disciples were being hunted down for questioning. They were hiding behind closed doors…. full of hope and anticipation…. full of fear of the unknown… perhaps even afraid that they would be crucified next if found.

So there they were… behind locked doors… running around the room like a bunch of preschoolers on a sugar high… not knowing what was going to happen next. Through all of their fears, through all of the commotion, Jesus then stood in their midst and says, “Peace be with you.”

How many times do we allow our lives to spin out of control due to fear and anxiety? How many times do we lose control of reality simply because we don’t know what it going to happen next? How many times do we try and hide behind locked doors rather than confront our fears? In spite of all of our fears and trials that we may be facing, Jesus reminds us in today’s Gospel that He is the only one who can truly give us peace. We can’t lock Him out. He is ALWAYS in our midst offering us His divine peace.

Our Risen Lord offers us His peace, and then He shares with us the surest way to sustain it. That is where the second, “Peace be with you” phrase comes into play. “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

So the surest was to sustain the peace of Jesus Christ is two fold: 1. Go out and spread the joy of the Gospel, and 2. Offer forgiveness.

How does this sustain peace you ask? Let me ask you this: Do you feel more at peace when you talk about death, destruction, evil, and failure OR when you talk about happiness, joy, love and excitement? The Gospel message is the ultimate love story. If you continually talk about and share this love story to others, you will be more at peace even if the world is falling in around you. You see this love story ends with you being embraced by Jesus Himself in heaven. This world is temporary. Heaven is eternal. I don’t know about you, but that gives me peace.

Now, I know there’s at least one person out there thinking, “Sure, that sounds nice. I can do that. I can spread the Gospel message. But what about that whole ‘forgiveness’ thing you mentioned? Listen, You don’t know ‘so and so’ because I’ll never forgive what they did to me.” Sound familiar to anyone??

Yup, I said the surest way to sustain the peace of Jesus Christ is TWO fold. Spread the joy of the Gospel AND offer forgiveness. Don’t worry… I feel your pain! There have been a few people in my life that I swore I’d never forgive and it ate at me for YEARS. Interestingly, it was in the confessional that a priest pointed out that the only one that this was hurting was myself. So through much prayer, I forgave these people and the weight that was lifted off of my shoulders was unbelievable. The hate in my heart was replaced with peace and joy.

To be clear, me forgiving them doesn’t mean I have to interact with them again. It means that I can move on to bigger and better things rather than reliving past hurts. And that, my brothers and sisters, leads to peace.

Yes, it’s intimidating to spread the Gospel message in a world full of sin.

Yes, it’s hard to offer forgiveness.

But take heart…the Holy Spirit will help us, strengthen us and guide us…if we let Him in.

Let us all continue to strive for true and lasting peace by spreading the Good News of the Gospel and by offering forgiveness to others.

Peace be with you!