Homily for the 24th Sunday of the Year 2020.
This morning I feel conflicted.
In my right hand I have a carefully crafted, 4 minute homily and in my left, a sheet with a few lines. I could use either. The one on my right would tell you that forgiveness is a virtue espoused by every religion – though Buddhism is the only one to suggest how to do it. It would tell you of a priest in Bristol, The Rev Julie Nicholson, resigning her ministry because she couldn’t forgive the terrorists who killed her young daughter… concluding that she could no longer lead others in the Our Father while she herself was unable to forgive.
It would tell you about Fred Luskin, the Stanford University Professor the first scientist to study forgiveness. No one took him seriously until his results showed that forgiveness, reduces blood pressure, eases depression, increases hopefulness, decreases angers, then he was on the front page of the New York Times.
Research is booming and the number of published studies on forgiveness has quadrupled in the last ten years. It has become big business. Stanford University offers, ‘The Stanford Forgiveness Program’. In the UK, I found a “forgiveness coach” offering a 21 week course “to heal past hurts using ‘the ancient practice of forgiveness.” Cost £2500 sterling.
Lastly, it would also tell you that though Fred Luskin knows he can teach forgiveness skills, he can’t teach forgiveness (and he has worked with Protestant and Catholic woman from the North who had suffered significant loss) – he says, “forgiveness skills make people more available to forgiveness but there is something ethereal, or grace or something, that still has to fill that HUMAN SPACE beyond those skills and I don’t know what that is”! Grace or something else?
But we need to be mindful of this ‘something else’ for “Grace goes further in youth – it meets less opposition. Old people are in soul, as stiff, as lean, as bloodless as their bodies, except so far as grace penetrates and softens them. And it requires a flooding of grace to do this.” To quote Eda Gorres.
This page on my left, admits that having reflected on today’s readings, I asked myself, “when was the last time I forgave someone or asked forgiveness? It was a challenging question. Forgiveness and indeed sin, have become worn terms, blunted in their significance. I know they are not operating in my life as they once did. Yet I know there is a kind of sludge in my heart that will only be moved if forgiveness finds its ‘nerve and voice’ – its original vitality.
Maybe, like the Rev Julie Nicholson, I should ‘consider my position’ or at least sit down, and ask your forgiveness for not having the answer as to how one might forgive once, not to mind 7 times 77, other than to align myself with that ‘flooding of divine grace’ and allow myself to forgive and be forgiven.