What do we do when people hurt us? During my time in seminary, I had an experience with a brother that caused me pain and anger.
Unfortunately, I allowed this anger to affect me deeply. I held on to all of the interior pain and anger that I couldn’t forgive my brother. My unforgiveness cost us our friendship.
Our readings today challenge us to confront our anger. In the first reading, Sarah is hurt that her husband Abraham has had a son with their servant Hagar. It is important to remember, however, that Sarah told Abraham to have relations with Hagar so that they could have a son. But now, ruled by her anger and jealousy, she demands that Hagar be sent away.
In our Gospel, Jesus heals two men possessed by demons. He sends the demons out of the men and into a herd of swine, causing the swine to be killed. Jesus does this in the land of the Gentiles. This is important because it was only the Jews that considered them unclean and unfit for eating. As a result, we hear some of the saddest words in the Gospel: “they begged him to leave their district” (Mt 8:34). They couldn’t accept Jesus, not because he had performed a miracle, but because he had killed a herd of swine. In their anger they couldn’t receive the Lord.
Anger has three grave negative effects. First, it causes division amongst our friends and family. This we saw in the first reading. Sarah’s anger towards Hagar, results in Abraham being separated from his son Ishmael. Secondly, anger can lead to division in oneself. Sometimes it can be harder to forgive ourselves of our own failings than it can be to receive God’s mercy. Finally, the third negative effect of anger is that it leads to spiritual destruction, anger can lead to the denial of Jesus and his love.
Anger is something we all deal with. To avoid these negative pitfalls we have to stay close to the Eucharist. As Fr. Mark said so beautifully on Sunday the Eucharist must be the foundation of our spiritual lives. Unjust anger that leads to a deep resentment for others and God, is sin that separates us from the body of Christ. The Eucharist is our antidote. The Eucharist is where we all come together in unity as the Mystical Body of Christ to receive Christ into our hearts so that we can go out and bring Christ to the world.
How do we overcome anger? We overcome anger through the power of forgiveness. When I look at the Cross I hear Jesus say to me, “Stephen, there is nothing you could do that could make me love you less.” And so, there is nothing our brothers and sisters can do to make him love them less. Thus we are challenged to love them as Christ loves them.
Jesus says these powerful words to us in the Gospel of Matthew: “Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” We do this through the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist.
When I was reflecting on what I wanted to share with you today, I came across this journal entry from a couple of years ago, in regards to my seminarian brother that I was angry with. I wrote, “My brother is a beloved son of God. I was reminded of this truth during prayer when I asked God for the grace of forgiveness. I think that I am finally able, willing, and ready to forgive my brother. I felt all the hurt and pain that he has caused me and Jesus asking me to let him use me as an agent of forgiveness.”
When we pray the “Our Father” before we receive the Eucharist today, let us truly mean these words, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”! Let us be agents of Christ’s forgiveness.