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The Word, The Truth

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Homily for Holy Wednesday, 13 April 2022, Mat 26:14-25

One of the things some people do not like about Christianity is that we tend (daw) to be too forgiving. That even if we know that forgiveness is important, it is also important to not forgive too quickly, to hold people accountable for their actions, and to satisfy retribution before we can have reconciliation. This is a very valid concern. It is about the need for assurance that justice is not eclipsed by forgiveness. But is it possible that this reaction is founded on some misunderstanding about the Christian value of forgiveness?

I think so. It is a misunderstanding because Christian tradition refers to forgiveness as just one of the four essential elements of the sacrament of reconciliation. Meaning, forgiveness is important, but it is not everything. It is in fact only the fourth element in a dynamic that is preceded by three other equally important components: CONFESSION— meaning admission of sins, CONTRITION—meaning a sincere remorse for the harm that one’s actions may have caused on other people, and PENANCE—meaning, the concrete effort to make amends or to do some acts of reparation for the wrong that we may have done to others.

The fourth element is not even called forgiveness but ABSOLUTION. The focus is on the effect of FORGIVENESS—namely, the liberation of a person who has been held captive by evil. Take note, these four elements together make up the sacrament; they are the necessary elements that facilitate reconciliation.

While we take it for granted that the sacrament of reconciliation is a forgiving sacrament, we often forget, however, that there is one other forgiving sacrament in the life of the Church. It is the Eucharist. Unfortunately, we have tended to turn it into an exclusive meal for the righteous. That is why in the past we have tended to make confession an absolute requirement for communion.

How, indeed, we reason out, can we enter into communion with the Lord if we are in a state of sin, which we commonly understand as a willful and deliberate choice to separate from God? In many ways, Jesus has changed our attitude towards sinners by making us understand that for some people, sin is a state of captivity to the evil one. Getting out of that captivity is not always something they can do by themselves.

It is only by understanding sin also as a kind of spiritual enslavement that we can begin to treat sinners with mercy and compassion the way Jesus did. If we think of it as a disease, perhaps we can compare it to the mental state of people who are struggling with addictions. It is a tall order to simply tell addicts to decide once and for all to kick off the addiction like a bad habit if they want to free themselves. I think of the story of the raising of Lazarus as a good analogy for this. Even after Jesus had raised him back to life, Lazarus still needed some help in order to be unbound.

Jesus helps us imagine situations in which the option to do evil is not necessarily always a product of deliberate and willful choice. It can also be the effect of a state of “possession”, or in a more ordinary language, of being under the spell of evil. That sometimes, we can be in such a spiritual state that is vulnerale or prone to the contagion of evil, if we may use the analogy of infectious diseases this time. It is in situations like these that we tend to be less judgmental and more considerate even of people who may have caused us harm.

This has to do with making room for the benefit of the doubt that some people inflict harm on others not because they mean to but because they couldn’t help it, or that they had been overcome spiritually by the vicious attacks of the evil one. In short, they do evil, not because they are evil but because they are under its spell. They are in such a spiritual state that makes simply demanding accountability a tall order. The evil that people do in some instances can come across as an expression of helplessness, a cry for help or a desperate plea for deliverance.

Sometimes, much as we wish to hold some people accountable for their actions, within certain circumstances it can be pointless to do so without making the necessary move to get people out of the evil spell that keeps them in a state of captivity.

So, why do I call the Eucharist a forgiving sacrament? Because the occasion in which Jesus is instituting it is the night of his betrayal by Judas Iscariot. Listen to how the words of consecration are introduced in the Eucharistic Prayer: “On the night he was betrayed he himself took bread…” The Gospels present the Last Supper as Jesus’ winning move against evil. In plain language we might say, it was the weapon that Jesus used in order to break the spell of evil, not just on Judas but on the rest of the twelve.

It is not surprising that in Luke 22:3 & John 13:27, both evangelists explicitly mention that “Satan entered into Judas.” Even in Matthew, the remorse of Judas does not come until much later. During the supper itself, he is even able to break bread casually with Jesus. And when Jesus says one of them was going to betray him, Judas is even able to join the others in asking Jesus, “Is it I, Lord?”. I would have added, “He said it without batting an eye lash.”

It was at that very moment that Jesus turned the meal of betrayal into a meal of fogiveness. And so the evangelist tells us Jesus took the bread and wine and offered them as his “body and blood”, meaning as sacraments of his passion and death on the cross, as his act of self-oblation, with himself as the Paschal Lamb. What for? SO THAT SINS MAY BE FORGIVEN. I prefer to understand that as SO THAT THE CAPTIVES OF SIN MAY BE LIBERATED.

Take and eat, this is my body… Take and drink, this is my blood… It is his way of saying “I will not offer a lamb for your freedom; I myself will be the lamb, I will give my life for your deliverance from the angel of death who has taken possession of you.”

And so at the Eucharist, when we receive him, he allows us to enter into communion with him and become part of his body. That way we are also able to take part in his work of delivering other fellow captives. By learning the same technique of counteracting evil, we discover the power of this sacrament of radical love that alone can break the spell of evil and bring about our deliverance.

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Rev. Fr. Anton CT Pascual

Rev. Fr. Anton CT Pascual

President of Radio Veritas

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