5th Sunday of Lent – Tucson – 2020
5th Petition of the Our Father – Forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors.
Hello and welcome to St. Gianna Oratory, the apostolate of the Institute of Christ the King in Tucson, Arizona. Before I begin my sermon, I’d like to introduce our topic : As Lent is properly a time of deep prayer, here at St. Gianna Oratory, this Lent we have been looking at the prayer par excellence taught us by Our Lord / so that our prayer follows how we should pray, what we should pray for, and in what order we should pray for them. As our principal source we’re using the holy and profound teachings of the Council of Trent as exposed in the Catechism of the Council of Trent. Today we are continuing on the 5th petition: “and forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.” If you like this sermon and would like to see the other sermons you may have missed on the Our Father, visit our website at saintgianna.net. Thank you and may God bless you and your family!
“Then his lord called him; and said to him: Thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all the debt, because thou asked me: Should not thou then have had compassion also on thy fellow servant, even as I had compassion on thee? And his lord being angry, delivered him to the torturers until he paid all the debt. So also shall my heavenly Father do to you, if you forgive not every one his brother from your hearts.”
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Great are the wonders of God: the number of the stars, the size of our universe with countless galaxies, the beauty of the sunset, the beauty of flowers, the joy of seeing a newborn baby, the harmony of trillions of tiny entities in our bodies working for our good health. God is Omnipotent. But the greatest wonder of God is His Mercy. “There is truly nothing that more eloquently proclaims his supreme love and admirable charity towards us, than the inexplicable mystery of the Passion of Jesus Christ… which washes away the defilements of sins.”
The great heresy of our day is the denial that “nothing pure can enter heaven.” Because of the goodness, purity, and love of Almighty God, no stain of sin can be in His Presence in Heaven. The problem is that as sin dulls the mind and weakens the will, we are blinded from properly judging the evil of our actions while yet magnifying the littlest of mishaps that come to us – thus we often do not fully grasp the horror and weight of our sins and how they offend God. And they do tremendously offend Him, that is why He came to pay the Infinite debt with the Passion of His only begotten Son. He paid the debt so that all our sins could be washed away.
In the previous petitions of the Our Father, we prayed for the supernatural goods to lead us to heaven, and the temporal goods of which we are in need. With this petition, we pray that our evils of soul and body be removed so that we will be able to enter the Eternal Kingdom.
But in order to obtain what we ask, we must pray as we ought – we must have the proper interior dispositions. Cain and Judas only saw God as the Judge, the Avenger, the Punisher. But the very first word of our prayer called God: Pater/Father and this should instill in us the view that God is mild, merciful, and full of benignity. God is willing to grant pardon but we must first, acknowledge our sins, secondly we must have sorrow for our sins, we must have compunction for our evils.
First, we must acknowledge our sins. If we believe we have no sins to be forgiven, then Our Lord must have taught us an error telling us to pray for something we didn’t need – why pray to have sins forgiven if we have none? The Holy Scriptures can help us with acknowledging our sin. St. John the Evangelist says: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” King Solomon said: “There is no just man upon earth, that doth good and sinneth not.” If we want to be healed, we must acknowledge our spiritual sickness.
Secondly, we need remorse. It’s not enough that we have a memory of the sin, we must also view it as hurtful to God, that it touches our heart and imprints sorrow. Sin is indeed hideous, ugly, wretched, filthy and makes us the worst of creatures. But the worst part is that after our creation, after our redemption in the Blood of Christ, after having received the innumerable and incomprehensible graces of Salvation through the Sacraments making us the children of God, heirs to His kingdom, His confidants, we’ve betrayed Him and preferred sin. We must detest these sins that have offended the Good Lord, we must detest how we’ve misused and squandered His good gifts, and we must detest the evils we have brought upon ourselves.
Unfortunately though, it’s not always so easy to see our sin, or how we stray for the path of righteousness. The “Father of lies”, the “prince and ruler of the world”, the “prince of darkness”, “the king over all the children of pride” has seduced us to seek the most base of things, to seek the shackles enslaving us to his tyranny. Words cannot fully describe our fall from grace, of how Satan has tragically seduced us to “shake off the sweet yoke of God, and break the most lovely bond of charity, by which our spirit is bound to God our Father…”
Now, to acknowledge our sins, to have sorrow and to detest for our sins are the first two steps towards our reconciliation. Thirdly, then and only then, do we go to seek our pardon. By the petition in which we are taught to ask: “Forgive us our debts…” we see that our Heavenly Father is inclined to pardon our sins. And how does He do this? Through the power that He gave to the Church, as Our Lord said: “The Son of Man came to save that which was lost…. [and] Amen I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven.” It is through the keys of the Church that Christ gave to St. Peter that our sins are forgiven. This is the order established by Our Lord Himself and no sinner has power to circumvent the proper ways for forgiveness that Christ has established. The criminal doesn’t tell the judge the punishment he will do. Rather, as it is the Supernatural virtue of Faith that makes us pleasing to God, by Faith we believe in the divine power of the Church to forgive sins, the power given to the Church from Her master. In the Apostle’s Creed we profess: I believe… in the Holy Catholic Church, the Communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins…” It is through the Sacraments that the Church forgives sins through the ministry of the bishops and priests. The Catechism of the council of Trent states that : The Lord has given this power of forgiving sins only to bishops and priests, “for sins can be forgiven only through the sacraments, when validly administered…” Knowing the dignity, the goodness, the beauty of having the mercy of God so easily accessible to us in the Sacrament of Confession, we ought to piously and religiously make use of what faith tells us is useful and necessary for the forgiveness of our sins. If we don’t make use of these means, we can hardly escape blame for treating this Sacrament with contempt and ingratitude; and thus contempt of God’s mercy. God is merciful and inclined to pardon, but we must make use of this salutary remedy. As no man can be saved without baptism, so Confession is necessary for us once a year and as remedy to recover the grace of baptism forfeited by mortal sin.
Now, what do we mean here when we say “debts”? Debts is the literal translation from Latin. Debts can mean duties: such as obedience, worship, veneration, etc. or 2) it can mean the debt of punishment. 1) We do not mean to pray for an exemption of the first, an exemption from obeying God’s Law. 2) What we mean to pray for is a forgiveness of our “debt of punishment, we pray that the Lord “will deliver us from our sins.”
The Catechism of the Council of Trent then asks how the perfect satisfaction of Christ on the cross can be applied to our souls. We must employ prayer and the pardon of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ, without which no one ever obtained pardon of sins and from which, as from its source, have flown all the efficacy and virtue of satisfaction. [and this next point is perfectly apropos for us Catholics today in this pandemic, the Catechism continues] For us such value is that price paid by Christ our Lord on the cross, and communicated to us through the sacraments received either actually or in purpose and desire, that it obtains and accomplishes for us the pardon of our sins, which is the object of our prayer in this petition.” The satisfaction is paid for us by 1) our actual reception of the sacraments or 2) their reception in purpose and desire. The first: the actual reception of the Sacraments is our Sacramental reception from the hand of the priest. The second: the reception in purpose and desire is our “spiritual reception” like the Spiritual Communion. For those of you faithful that are unable to “Sacramentally receive the Sacraments” in their normal mode at this time of pandemic, I encourage you to instill in your hearts the pious plea of pardon and mercy from God through the merits of His Son that is administered in the Sacraments: it is implicit that you want the Sacraments and this desire should underlie the reception of each Sacrament as its foundation.
The Catechism also goes on to state, that we seek pardon for our venial sins, which are more easily pardonable through this petition. We also seek pardon for mortal sins, but “this petition cannot procure forgiveness [of mortal sins], unless it derives that efficacy from the Sacrament of Penance received” either actually or by desire, either a Sacramental Confession or a perfection act of contrition with the desire to confess to a priest as soon as possible.
What is the sense of “our” as in forgive us “our debts”? In the last petition, “our bread” meant the bread meant for all humanity out of God’s abundance. Here “our” refers to our own personal sins, our voluntary acts. And unlike Adam and Eve, we do not seek to put the blame on others. With humility and sincerity, we acknowledge our sins and debts and beg God’s pardon with simplicity without excuses.
But we also pray “forgive us” and not “forgive me” because we are obliged by the sweet bond of fraternal charity to pray for our fellow man, our neighbor. Fraternal charity ought to “subsist between all men” and thus we should be solicitous for the salvation of all souls and so we must pray for them.
Next, “As we forgive our debtors”. The word “as” has two senses: 1) a comparison: just as we forgive the injuries done to us, we’ll be forgiven by God. 2) a condition: only if we forgive the injuries, will we then be forgiven by God. In both senses, as a comparison and as a condition, we’re only forgiven our sins by pardoning those from whom we’ve received injury. God’s grace is so good, so abundant, that He does not dispense His mercy without justice. He is perfectly merciful and perfectly just. The reason for our sins being forgiven by God “as” we forgive those who have trespassed against us is because only those who truly acknowledge their sins, who are truly sorrowful for offending God, for hurting the Church, for hurting their fellow men, for hurting their own soul, for misusing God’s grace, who are truly contrite and repentant – only those will have no or little difficulty in forgiving the trifles of their neighbor. For what can compare to the infinite goodness of God that we have wronged? Our Lord gives these words: “Pray for them that persecute and calumniate you; that you may be the children of your Father who is heaven.” If Christ became man to pardon our sins, can we not die to our pride and self-love to pardon those who’ve wronged us? Can we not imitate our Savior who teaches that love necessitates sacrifice for the good of souls?
But what does it mean to forgive? It is to love them again like a brother. We should try to bury and forget the offense. However, some painful experiences are burned into our memory. But even if they remain, it’s not a sign of lack of forgiveness but we must try to suppress the grudge, the anger, the revenge and open our hearts to God’s mercy by praying the Our Father. Just as we must constantly work on humility, we also need to work on persevering in charity and forgiving injuries. And for those who have an extremely difficult time from removing the “desire of revenge”, we ought to even more frequently and piously pray the “Our Father” for the grace to help us forgive and be forgiven.
What are the chief remedies to heal the wounds of the soul? The Sacrament of Confession, the Holy Eucharist, prayer, almsgiving, fasting, works of mercy and especially good works and charity toward those who have wronged us. Then we will experience the mercy and pardon of our good heavenly Father as He embraces us in His divine love.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.