- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 11, 2005

The following are excerpts of a sermon given yesterday by the Rev. Christopher Pollard at St. Agnes Catholic Church in Arlington:

Today is the first time since that horrific day that we mark September 11 on a Sunday.

There still is a lot of unfinished business, you could say. Internally, many of us still struggle with anger. Just after it took place, I spoke to a lot of people about their anger. We’re not good at being angry. If I were to give you a homework assignment for the week, it would be to practice being angry … in the manner that St. Paul teaches the Ephesians in Chapter 4. “Be angry but do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your wrath.”

It is possible to be angry without sin. We shouldn’t hold on to our anger the way today’s first reading describes: “Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight.” Sometimes being angry shows that we care about something, that we love someone, that we cherish the truth. When that thing, person or truth we love is violated, our anger is a good thing as long as it doesn’t get the best of us. But we are so easily unraveled when we are angry.

After years of prayers and memorial Masses, today we have to join the sad memorial to the Resurrection of Christ, which is each Sunday’s commemoration. Today we remember the Resurrection of Christ, which — His death having won for us redemption and the opportunity to be forgiven of our sins — is His victory over death, His conquering sin and evil. Today’s readings couldn’t have been better chosen.

I am going to read the last part of today’s Gospel and connect to the beginning of last week’s Gospel (Matthew 18:15-20) as well as a passage that appears earlier in St. Matthew’s Gospel. “Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.”

Twice in the Gospels, in the New Testament even, is there mention made of paying back to the last penny, paying back the full debt: in Matthew 5 (and its counterpart in the Gospel of Luke) and in Matthew 18. Matthew 5 is about our begging forgiveness. Matthew 18 is about our granting forgiveness. In Matthew 5:25-26, Jesus teaches us to settle with our accuser before he drags us to court and the judge sends us to the jailer. Early on, the fathers of the Church, like St. Augustine and Pope St. Gregory the Great, associated this with the punishment of purgatory. In Matthew 18, Jesus teaches us to forgive the debtor who comes to us begging forgiveness; otherwise, we will be sent away because of our own sins. …

And remember last week’s Gospel, where Jesus teaches us how to correct the brother who sins against us. …

Keep all of that in mind, and we can consider the great consolation of the doctrine of purgatory. It’s not helpful to talk about how long it takes or where it takes place, but we know that if we die in the state of grace but not yet completely perfect, God will purify us so that we can be joined to the company of angels and saints (1 Corinthians 3:12-15). God really wants us all to be with Him in heaven. The Catechism teaches it clearly (paragraphs 1030 to 1032), and our own instinct already knows it anyway. …

The doctrine of purgatory consoles us as we deal with our own sins and those of our enemies.

We know that God will do everything He can to get us to cooperate with His Grace. We also know that we will need to be purified to be in heaven (Revelation 21:27). That will involve having to pay back to the very last penny. But if we have not yet been completely purified before we die, we know that God won’t just dismiss us. That shouldn’t be an excuse for spiritual laziness. But it should save us from despair. God loves us so much that He offers one last gift of grace. His mercies are not limited to this life.

And our mercy should not be limited in this life. We must forgive those who repent of their sins against us. But we also have unrepentant enemies. Each of us has enemies who would kill us if they had the chance. And we need to love them. We love our enemy if we are Christian. … It is absolutely fundamental. Loving them, praying for them, hoping that they get to heaven does not mean that we turn a blind eye to their sins. It’s not as though we would hold out that hope that they get off scot-free. They will have to pay back to the very last penny. God also wants them in heaven. And He will purify them.

We need to beg forgiveness and grant forgiveness if we want to look forward to being gathered at our Lord’s banquet table in heaven. We should hope to be not only with each other, with our friends and loved ones, but even with our enemies. Gathered around His altar here and now, we join together our prayers, our good works and even our anger.

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