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The Power to Forgive

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Solemnity of Ss Peter and Paul. fr Thomas Skeats helps us to understand how evil can only be overcome through the power of forgiveness.

In the story of Jesus and the early Church the name of Herod does not usually provoke cheerful thoughts. It was a Herod, known as the Great, who sought the life of the child Jesus and had the children of Bethlehem slaughtered. Another Herod, Herod Antipas, during the public ministry of Jesus, consented to the death of John the Baptist and played a central role in the trial of Jesus. And in the Acts of the Apostles, Herod Agrippa, grandson of Herod the Great, unleashed a wave of persecution against the Church and its leaders, having James, the brother of John, beheaded, and Peter imprisoned.

But the history of the Church is never a straightforward, clearly-delineated one of goodies versus baddies, of oppressors and martyrs. The Apostle Paul passed his early career persecuting the embryonic Church, and Peter, from time to time, proved himself a stumbling block to the Lord’s work. And yet they both became faithful stewards of the Gospel and martyrs for the faith.

The lives of Peter and Paul witness to the truth that the Church is founded upon, and held together by, the forgiveness of God. The Church is never a community of the perfect, but always a community of sinners who need forgiveness. Our Lord’s words to Peter about binding and loosing in our Gospel reading are all about the authority to forgive, an authority that through Peter is granted to the Church.

It is only the power of forgiveness that can overcome evil. The promise of Jesus to Peter ‘Upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the underworld shall not prevail against it’ is often treated as if it meant that the Church would be able to withstand any attack by evil. But, in fact, Jesus says that the gates of Hell, the powers of evil, will not be able to stand against the Church. It is the Church which is attacking evil and which will eventually be victorious on account of her power to forgive, the power of prayer, and the power of God’s grace to transform lives.

When we think about evil we often tend have in mind extreme examples throughout history - like Herod the Great slaughtering the innocents - as if to suggest that true evil exists elsewhere, that it has nothing to do with me and my rather ordinary life. But the real struggle between good and evil is played out in the soul of each one of us, even the souls of the greatest of saints. Salvation or damnation are personal, not collective, concerns. The battle against evil must be fought by each one of us, each day.

A successor of the apostle Peter once wrote that ‘the Church can come into being only where man finds his way to the truth about himself, and the truth is that he needs grace’. Peter and Paul are themselves personal embodiments of this truth: sinful men who through the transforming grace of God became new creations, people configured to and able to imitate in their words and actions the person of Christ.

In his second letter to Timothy we find Paul coming to the end of his earthly pilgrimage, writing, after many sufferings and trials, with the thought of his impending death in mind. Paul is able to look back over the course of his apostolic life with a conscience that has been purified by the forgiveness and grace of God. The Lord had stood by him and given him strength. Paul has kept the faith, and, like an athlete who has completed the race, he can look forward to a crown of victory, the reward of being brought safely to God’s heavenly kingdom on account of a life well-lived..

Paul is aware that he is not the only one who will receive this crown. The Christian disciple who can look back on a life spent in the service of the Lord can look forward to receiving a crown of victory from the hands of the just judge. Paul’s words should encourage and comfort all those who, whatever the trials, wish to dedicate their lives, like Peter and Paul, to serving Christ and his Church.

 Readings: Wisdom 1:13-15,2:23-24|2 Corinthians 8:7,9,13-15|Mark 5:21-43

Thomas Skeats O.P.

Thomas Skeats Thomas Skeats is a member of the Priory of St Dominic, London.


Anonymous commented on 25-Jun-2015 01:40 PM
Dear Father Skeats,
Thank you for the powerful and m moving sermon. It is sustainable food for the faith-journey. I am praying for you and your apostolate. the cry of our father St. Dominic reverberates within the cloister and in our individual hearts. Lord, what will become of sinners. Let us join hands in prayer as we celebrate the 800th anniversary of the Order of Preachers. God bless you.
A cloistered Dominican contemplative nun.

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