Homilies

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Times
Ezekiel 33:7-9; Rom. 13:8-10; Gospel of Matthew 18:15-20
“Our Blindness” can destroy Communities . . .

Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of Good Shepherd, on 10 September 2017

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is teaching His disciples about community living.  More specifically, Jesus is addressing the challenges of how every community are to radically care for someone in the community who is straying.  And, this is all the more so when the person is causing division and destruction to the integrity of the community.  Jesus Himself and His disciples have been the victim of serious accusations when He befriended public sinners, like tax-collectors, forgave prostitutes and reached out to the Gentiles, while He was proclaiming the Good News of Salvation to them with great Compassion.

Jesus is reminding His disciples that such serious accusations and evil must be dealt with promptly and firmly, to prevent the community’s integrity from being further harmed and worse still destroyed.  And so, Jesus taught His disciples to help the sinner become more aware of his sins, and hopefully lead him to repentance, reconciliation and restoration to the community.  

Such pastoral responses must be carried out with love and forgiveness.  This is essential because as a Christian we do not only live our faith as though it is solely a relationship between God and me, as though the way we live has no effects on our community.  This is because in reality, we either build the community through our Gospel witness or divide and destroy the community through our selfish and self-centred ways of living and relating to people.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, it seems to me that one of the biggest challenges of living our faith is not so much that we deliberately want to cause division and destruction to our community, whom we all know we should love and build.  As sinners, one of the biggest challenge is for us to know and admit that we each have “blind spots” and areas of unfreedom and sin in our lives; nobody is “perfect”. 

Steve Arterburn, a spiritual writer and psychologist explains that we all have blind spots or gaps in our perception that keep us from seeing the truth about others and ourselves.  This is because we are at times blinded to reality, andwe are immobilized and crippled by guilt and shame, anger and bitterness, worry and regret, and fear and anxiety.  Too many people live needlessly in defeat, and are immobilized by their own mistakes or the mistakes of others. They stumble around in life with blind spots blocking the work God wants to do in them.  But it doesn’t have to be this way. No matter how broken or hurt, every person can discover the way to healing, hope, and a joyful new way of living. 

For this, Steve identifies five areas of “blindness” that are common.  The first form of “blindness” is Stubborn Resistance.”  Many people hang on to stubborn resistance just as Pharaoh did in the days of Moses.  We become kings of stubborn resistance in our own little worlds.  We develop habits and hang-ups that we have no intentions of releasing.  We hurt ourselves and those around us, and allow boils to fester. . . Rather than looking for a way to remove these blind spots, we often deny we have a problem.

The Key to overcoming Stubborn Resistance is “willingness.  If we realize that we have a tendency toward stubborn resistance, then be grateful, because it is not easy for people to see their need to change in this area.  Stubborn resistance is by its very nature stubbornly resistant to change.  So don’t expect to overcome it in a moment or a day.  It will take time and hard work.

On the other hand, open-mindedness is a valuable assessment tool, but it’s worthless unless it is followed up with a willingness to act. A person with willingness goes beyond good intentions, and is willing to do whatever it takes to make things different.  Willingness lead to real change.

The second area of ‘blindness’ is Arrogant Entitlement”.  We live in a world that is bombarded with advertisements that tell us to “have it your way” and “you deserve a break today.” Go out there and get what you deserve no matter what it does to others. Buy this luxury product because you deserve it. You’re entitled to be happy, so if you’re not getting what makes you happy, you’re entitled to find it elsewhere.  And even if in our hearts we know our thoughts and actions are wrong, we rationalize so that we can continue to indulge.

Self-centred people are stuck in an immature way of thinking. Mature adults learn that their adolescent, selfish sense of entitlement hinders their ability to achieve all that God has in mind for them.  They broaden their viewpoint from self-absorption to include the needs of others.

The Key to Overcoming Arrogant Entitlement is “Humility”.  Humility eliminates the self-centred arrogance that results in entitlement.  However, humility doesn’t climb over others.  It reaches out to connect with others, appreciating them for who they are, and not for what they can do for us.  A humble person desires to use whatever strength or position he has to help others and meet their needs.  As a result, the relational blind spot is removed, giving him access to a rich life full of invaluable connections with family and friends. “Humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time, He will lift you up.” (1 Peter 5:6)

The third area of ‘blindness’ is the Justifiable Resentmentthat is blinded by Bitterness.  Are you angry about something in your life? Has someone hurt you, and you feel you have every right to remain angry and bitter?  Have you done something so awful that you cannot forgive yourself? If you’re carrying around anything like this, it can eat away at who you are at the deepest levels of your being.

And, the Key to overcoming Justifiable Resentment is forgiveness.  Without exception we are to forgive, no matter how strongly we feel that the severity of the offense justifies our continued resentment.  Often we look for any possible loophole to withhold forgiveness, but there is none.  We must forgive. 

When the hurt is deep, forgiveness can seem too much to ask.  Some are unwilling to forgive because they believe the abusers deserve the worst.  Steve Arterburn, himself shares, “I’ve been the victim of offenses I thought were so great, no one could ask me to forgive them.  I was astounded at the depth of pain, and could not believe I had to forgive these people. Anyone could see I was entitled to any amount of anger, rage, resentment, or bitterness.  But I knew in my heart the longer I held onto the resentment, the more it would hurt me.  However, the forgiveness was not instantaneous; it took time.  Forgiveness is a process rather than an event.

The fourth area of ‘blindness’ is Disconnected Isolationthat is blinded by Detachment.  Life alone is easier, but it’s emptier.  If we isolate ourselves from wholesome relationships that bring out the inner truth about ourselves, then we don’t have to face who we really are.  We shut ourselves off from the areas of our lives that we need to grow.  We stop developing the maturity and wisdom God wants for us.  The disconnected life is based on an assessment that the world is unsafe, people are not dependable or worth the trouble . . .

And, the Key to overcoming Disconnected Isolation is IntimacyIsolation is a blind spot that blocks us from deep joy and the way humans are designed to live as relational beings in a community with others.  If we have been hurt in the past, intimacy is the opposite of what we want.  Who can blame the abused woman, the abandoned boy for not wanting to relate and trust people? To them, the world and people seem unsafe. But Jesus has given us His Body—the Church—a community of refuge and love.  “Anyone who loves another brother or sister is living in the light and does not cause others to stumble” (1 John 2:10).

The fifth area of ‘blindness’ is Willful Ignorance”that is blinded by Disobedience.  Psalm 119:29 says, “Lord, Keep me from lying to myself.”  Even when we don’t lie to ourselves overtly, we often keep ourselves busy enough to avoid looking at the true reality of the situations of our lives, especially, when there are painful relationships and traumatic hurts of distrusts.  

And, to overcome Willful Ignorance we need, ObedienceActing on truth removes our blind spots because truth helps us see beyond our blind spots and creates new opportunities of reality that we need to encounter.  All truth is from God, and truth presents to us with who we truly are as God has created us to be and become.  Because God loves us so deeply and unconditionally, it is God’s Will that we live in joyful, loving, and harmonious lives as much as possible.  In John 8:32 Jesus says, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”

My sisters and brothers in Christ, as I conclude, let us remind ourselves that we are each called truly to live our Christian vocation daily.  As such, let us become more fully aware of our need to be more deeply and genuinely in tuned with the Holy Spirit in all that we do and live daily.Otherwise, we will fall into the temptations of justifying our behaviour and attitudes in life that does not witness to the Gospel.  And so, if we deny that to some degree, you and I have blindness in our lives that needs to be converted, we will then remain in our: Stubborn Resistance, Arrogant Entitlement, Justifiable Resentment, Disconnected Isolationand Wilful Ignorance. 

But, if we are open to the Holy Spirit of today’s Gospel to help build our communities, then we will have the wisdom to live with first, the willingness and openness to change for the better, second, the humility of appreciating, respecting and valuing others; third, the need to forgive others and ourselves regardless of how painful the hurts may have been; fourth, the need to develop genuine intimacy in relationships, instead of cutting ourselves from people and relationships, and fifth, the needed obedience, always to live the Truth of God in our lives.  

For all these to happen, we need God’s Strength to sustain us and His Spirit’s Light to lead us forth and be the life-giving person that Jesus wants us all to become as He has shown us . . . Yes, with God, nothing is impossible . . . we only need to take one little step at a time, and allow God’s transforming Love to re-create us and liberate us constantly from our blindness . . . in our daily living and loving.

(Ref: Adapted from, Steve Arterburn Author and Founder of New Life Ministries;

www.crosswalk.com/faith/spiritual...)

Fr Philip Heng,S.J.

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