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How can we love unlimitedly as Jesus teaches us?

Commentary on the Gospel of Sunday, September 17, 2023.

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Mons. Francesco Follo

(ZENIT News / Vatican City, 09.16.2023).- Commentary on the Gospel of Sunday, September 17, 2023 to learn to love and forgive like Jesus.

An enormous measure.

In this Sunday’s Gospel it is told of when Peter asked Christ how many times he would have to forgive his neighbor. The Messiah, the bearer of the Gospel of mercy, replied that he had to forgive “not seven times, up to seventy times seven” (Mt 18,21ff). that is, always. In fact the number “seventy” for “seven” is symbolic, and means, more than a specific quantity, an infinite, immeasurable quantity.

By saying that it is necessary to forgive “seventy times seven”, Jesus teaches that Christian forgiveness is without limits and that only forgiveness without limits resembles God’s forgiveness. This divine forgiveness is the reason and measure of fraternal forgiveness. Since God the Father has already made us the object of immeasurable forgiveness, we must forgive without measure. Fraternal forgiveness is a consequence of God’s paternal forgiveness to be invoked on those who offend us, praying: “Our Father who art in heaven… Forgive us our debts as we forgive them” to those who are guilty towards us (= “to our debtors”) and making our own the prayer of Christ on the Cross, when, turning to the Father, he begged: “Forgive them”, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk 23.34).

“Forgiveness” is the word pronounced by Christ, who was harmed in a most unjust and immeasurable way. The dying Messiah forgives and opens the space of infinite love to the man who offends him and is killing him. He pronounces this word of the heart which reveals an infinitely good God: the God of forgiveness and mercy.

How can we poor limited beings put this unlimited love into practice?

First, begging for God’s mercy, because we cannot give what we do not have. The Master, of whom Christ speaks in today’s parable, allows himself to be moved by the servant’s plea and forgives him all the debt, revealing a love that is not only patient but boundless in his mercy. The mistake to avoid after this forgiveness is not to recognize that in that forgiveness there is his love for us and that this love grows in us if we share them.

Secondly, by becoming aware that the acceptance of God’s forgiveness is expressed in knowing how to forgive others and that by forgiving those who have offended us, we love our neighbor as ourselves and realize not only his but also our good, and our happiness.

Thirdly, by becoming aware that forgiveness is not just an act that we are called to do infinite times, but it is a way of being that must involve our entire daily life for the entire span of our existence. It is a “religious” dimension, in the full sense of the term because it expresses our communion with God, whose love transforms: “Forgiving is not ignoring but transforming: that is, God must enter this world and oppose the ocean of injustice with a more great of good and love”. (Benedict XVI, 24 July 2005)

A high and human example of this forgiveness comes to us from the Madonna, who is often invoked as the Mother of mercy. At the feet of her crucified Son, Mary forgave us by accepting as her children the men for whom Christ had been put on the Cross and for whom he died. With this yes (fiat) she became forever, without limits, our Mother, Mother of forgiveness, just as a few decades earlier she placed herself fully at God’s disposal and became the mother of Jesus, the human Face of divine Mercy. Mary became like this and remains forever the “Mother of Mercy”, model and example of forgiveness.

Forgiveness and gratuitousness

Today’s parable also gives us another teaching about forgiveness, which must not be “only” forever but free and that the relationship with others must not be separated from that with others. In fact, the servant in the parable is condemned because he keeps forgiveness for himself, and does not allow the forgiveness received to become joy and forgiveness for others. The mistake of this servant is to separate the relationship with God from the relationship with others. And instead it is a unique relationship: just as between God and man there is a relationship of gratuitousness, of welcoming love, so it must be between man and his brothers.

I think the parable wants to underline that God’s love is not primarily circular, reciprocal, but expansive, self-giving. It is in the line of gratuitousness, not of strict reciprocity. God does not allow himself to be locked into strict reciprocity. And, therefore, those who believe in God and speak about God must widen the space of forgiveness, which achieves true justice.

The important thing is to understand and live the fact that “God’s justice is his forgiveness” (Misericordiae Vultus, 20). Pope Francis writes: “Mercy is not contrary to justice but expresses God’s behavior towards the sinner, offering him a further possibility to repent, convert and believe” (Id. 21). We must be an outgoing Church looking at others with the eyes of Jesus: eyes of love and not of exclusion, certain that God is all and only Love, and precisely by being Love he is openness, acceptance, dialogue, which in his relationship with us, men sinners, and we show compassion, grace, forgiveness: mercy.

The consecrated Virgins are called in a particular way to be witnesses of this mercy of the Lord, in which we are all saved.

The existence of these women keeps alive the experience of God’s forgiveness, because they live in the awareness of being saved people, of being great when they recognize themselves as small, of feeling renewed and enveloped by the holiness of God when they recognize their own sin.

Therefore, consecrated life remains a privileged school of “compunction of the heart”, of the humble recognition of one’s own misery, but it is also a school of trust in the mercy of God, in his love for him which never abandons. In fact, the closer you are to God, the more useful you are to others.

With the total gift of themselves, the consecrated virgins experience the grace, mercy and forgiveness of God not only for themselves, but also for their brothers, because their vocation to carry the anguish and expectations in their hearts and prayers of men, especially those who are far from God.

Virginity is the fruit of a prolonged friendship with Jesus matured in constant listening to his Word, in the dialogue of prayer, in the Eucharistic encounter. For this reason, consecrated virgins are credible witnesses of the faith. They must be people who live for Christ, with Christ and in Christ, transforming their lives according to the highest demands of generosity.

Gratuity is one of the fulcrums of the gospel. Everything is Grace. “No one” can expect anything, everything flows, because everything is given. As Paul would say, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you have received it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Cor 4.7). Gratuitousness is not doing things without motive, but doing them with the maximum of motives, which is faith that becomes active through charity (see Gal 5:6).

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