Vanquishing the Snakes in Our Midst
”To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable.” ~ G.K. Chesterton
Today’s Gospel (Matthew 18:21-35) commands us to reflect upon the root of our unwillingness to forgive. In this sobering parable, we revisit the unforgiving servant, who after having been pardoned of his enormous debt, promptly refused to show leniency and compassion towards his debtor, who in reality owed a far smaller amount. Sound familiar?
Saints Philip Neri once said ”If a man finds it very hard to forgive injuries, let him look at a Crucifix, and think that Christ shed all His Blood for him, and not only forgave His enemies, but even prayed His Heavenly Father to forgive them also.” While listening recently to the Catholic Radio Station where I volunteer https://thequestatlanta.com/, I heard an old sound byte from the late Mother Angelica as she reflected upon the plea from Jesus to the Father that Saint Philip Neri alludes to in the latter portion of his quote, wherein Jesus calls out to the Father while deep in the throes of his agony on the cross saying “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.” The founder of the Eternal Word Television Network then wondered aloud “When was the last time that we made that plea to God regarding one of our adversaries after they have done harm to us?”
“Forgive them Father...for they know not what they do.”
Today the church pauses to celebrate the Feast Day of the legendary Bishop and Patron Saint of Ireland, Saint Patrick. Born in Scotland to a fairly influential Roman family in the year 387, Patrick was kidnapped at the age of sixteen, ultimately to be enslaved to an Irish Chieftain named Milchu, a Druidical High Priest and very cruel master. After six years, Patrick escaped to Britain and subsequently devoted his life to God and the church. Deep down however he had an unceasing yearning to return to Ireland.
That dream eventually became a reality and due to his impeccable knowledge of the Celtic tongue and precise understanding of Druidism, his impact on the Emerald Isle was profound. He went on to perform countless miracles while in Ireland, although contrary to popular folklore, none of these miracles entailed the driving out of snakes. He was a man of deep prayer and evangelical fortitude and his use of the three leaved Shamrock to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity ~ the Father, Son and Holy Spirit ~ to the pagan Irish during the 5th Century remains prevalent in modern day Catechesis. Saint Patrick desired to bring freedom to others, this despite being enslaved. He sought to save this land that he grew to love, even though he himself was not Irish.
Had Saint Patrick never been held captive for those six years, he may never have returned to Christianity with the passion and fervor that he did. Had he not freed himself of the shackles of bitterness and hatred towards his captors, he certainly never would’ve traveled back to Ireland, where he would go on to evangelize thousands and change an entire country’s spiritual direction and destiny. As Saint Paul teaches us, “we know that all things work together for good to those that love God, to those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28). It was only after forgiving his adversaries that Saint Patrick’s true greatness was unleashed, his true Earthly destiny fulfilled.
In the spirit of the legend surrounding Saint Patrick, Lent affords us the opportunity to banish the “snakes in our midst,” those flaws that remain stubbornly woven into the fabric of our spiritual makeup they need to be vanquished. An unwillingness to forgive as freely and as swiftly as Jesus did ~ and continues to do by way of the Sacrament of Reconciliation ~ is certainly one of them.
Anxiety is another. In this atmosphere of rampant speculation, general mayhem, disinformation and hysteria surrounding the Coronavirus, we must remember the words of Saint Francis de Sales, who said “Anxiety is the greatest evil that can befall a soul, except sin. God commands you to pray, but He forbids you to worry.”
As this Lenten Season continues, let us be mindful of our need to forgive as swiftly as we seek forgiveness, to leave judgement to the one true and just judge, and to work together with Jesus in doing the work of salvation, a task rooted in the spiritual gifts of wisdom, patience, humility and forgiveness.
“He watched over me before I knew Him, and before I learned sense or even distinguished between good and evil.“ ~ St. Patrick