‘You Wicked Servant’

Yesterday’s gospel reading was Matthew 18:21-35, in which Peter asks Jesus how often he must forgive his brother. “As many as seven times?” he says naively, thinking that would be plenty.

Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times. That is why the Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants…”

Thus begins the parable of the wicked servant, in which the Lord lays out in stark terms our duty to forgive.

You probably remember the story: The king calls to account a servant who owes him a huge amount of money. Since the servant has no way of repaying it, the king plans to sell him, his family, and all his belongings.  But the servant begs for mercy, promising to repay the debt in time. And the king relents—not only does he decide not to sell the servant and all he has, but he forgives the loan altogether in response to the servant’s humble plea.

The first servant then seeks out another servant who owes him money and seizes and chokes him, demanding immediate repayment. The wrath of his master is immediate and severe: The first servant is handed over to the torturers until he repays his entire debt to the king.

Consider for a moment the fact that we’ve already been told the servant had no way of paying back the money. How, then, will he ever escape the torturers?

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You Did It For Me

It is the first full week of Lent, and already I struggle. I must have chosen well which things to uproot from my life—my family and I are enjoying great sport pointing out my unconscious consumption and countless offhand comments, both of which I’m attempting to quit.

Additionally, each Lent we notice how little we focus specifically, consciously, on the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.  During our morning prayers, Jodi and I shared today’s Gospel reading,  Matthew 25:31-46, which includes these words of warning:

“‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’  …  ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

It’s sobering each time we hear it: another year flown by, and what did we do for the least of His brothers? Our brothers?

Sure we’ve given money, now and again. We lend a hand when we can. And we pray—often—for the poor. In fact, in the past year we’ve added a prayer to each and every meal. Each time we say Grace, we end with a prayer adopted from a couple of local families who are dear to us: “May God provide for the needs of others as He has provided for us. Amen.”

So this morning we prayed, read Scripture, reflected, and discussed. When we sat to eat breakfast, we said the meal prayer and added our family coda.

Something struck me. That little added prayer, which should have made us more aware of those in need, was serving as our escape clause. The prayer should be: “May we provide for the needs of others as God has provided for us.”

God provides abundantly for His people, but although we are equal in dignity, inequalities abound as part of His plan.

On coming into the world, man is not equipped with everything he needs for developing his bodily and spiritual life. He needs others. Differences appear tied to age, physical abilities, intellectual or moral aptitudes, the benefits derived from social commerce, and the distribution of wealth. The “talents” are not distributed equally. These differences belong to God’s plan, who wills that each receive what he needs from others, and that those endowed with particular “talents” share the benefits with those who need them. These differences encourage and often oblige persons to practice generosity, kindness, and sharing of goods; they foster the mutual enrichment of cultures (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1936-1937).

In other words, inequalities exist so that we complement each other and share what we have with those in need out of love. We cannot outsource this call to charity, especially by foisting it back upon the Giver of all Gifts. He gave them to us for a reason.

So we’ve changed our prayer (for Lent, and maybe for good) in order to change our hearts:

May we provide for the needs of others as God has provided for us. Amen.

May this thrice-a-day reminder spur us to action. God has already done His part to take care of those in need: He gave them me.

Chains of Memory

The past couple of days I’ve been plagued by memories: guilty recollections of past sins, glimpses of images I never should have seen, bits of off-color or debauched “humor,” lyrics to songs that should not be sung.

Beginning in college, this was my rebellion. I looked at, listened to, and watched whatever I wanted. And in short order, I proved the adage, “Garbage in, garbage out.” During much of my college years, I swore like a sailor; I told dirty jokes to old friends and new acquaintances, and I made excuses for my behavior—to others and to myself.

“It could be worse,” I said, and I knew I was right. I had a vivid imagination, and worse played out in my mind if I lingered too long on any impure thing.

Thanks be to God, over the first ten year of my marriage to Jodi, I weeded these things out of my life. Little by little I dropped the jokes, kicked my swearing habit, left porn behind, stopped watching racy movies, and cleaned up my taste in music. And beginning with one no-nonsense confession with Fr. Siebenaler, in which he politely but firmly questioned my resolve to actually amend my life and advised me to open myself to Jodi and ask for her help, I left off making excuses, and began instead to apologize.

So here we are, more than a decade later, and the Enemy is at work again: I find myself mindlessly mouthing the music in my head, only to realize it’s some obscene gangster rap fantasy or metal mayhem I laughed at as a younger man. In my mind’s eye I see images I haven’t looked upon in years, like a sin scrapbook I can’t help but leaf through, gazing at memories best forgotten.

That’s the first point of this ramble: you can’t forget. What your brain takes in is filed away for later reference. Every image, every word, is there, tying you to past experience. And those things you subject yourself to again and again, out of desire or habit? Your mind naturally assumes they are important, forging shorter, stronger connections so they can be easily accessed.

I can’t recall yesterday’s discussion with my bride, but I remember every detail of my past sins, with a clarity that repels the spirit and tempts the flesh anew. The Accuser seeks to set me against myself—but I know now I must seek every day, every moment, to purify both body and soul.

That’s the second point: The struggle against sin is noble and never-ending, to be sure, but all struggles are not created equal. The struggle of the rabbit in the snare speeds its demise; it kicks and thrashes against the noose, which only tightens against its efforts.

That was me, in the confessional all those years ago—declaring sorrow for my sins but unwilling to even attempt to remove my head from the strangling wire. The death brought about by sin cannot be escaped by panic, emotionalism, or bodily struggle. It is a spiritual struggle, requiring prayer, persistence, and genuine love of neighbor and of self. At some point, all the plans, safeguards, and accountability measures boil down to a decision: Am I going to stop doing these things or not?

How does one become a saint? Will it.

Finally, the third point: We don’t have to remain bound in these chains of memory, because God’s love is mercy.

This is not the first time I’ve struggled with recalling past sins and feeling old remorse and new temptation. The last time I remember it as strongly as this, our pastor, Fr. Richards, advised that I repeat the prayer, “Jesus, I trust in you.”


At the time he told me this, it didn’t click with me that these are the words of the inscription at the bottom of St. Faustina’s image of Divine Mercy. (“Jezu ufam tobie” in the original Polish, above.)

Jesus, I trust in you. I trust in your mercy. I trust that you have forgiven these past, confessed sins. I trust that you continue to forgive me. I trust that you love me.

We are washed clean in the blood and water that flow from His Sacred Heart. We need not linger in darkness or doubt. He loves us. He forgives us. He saves.


But he was pierced for our sins, crushed for our iniquity. He bore the punishment that makes us whole, by his wounds we were healed. — Isaiah 53:5

Almost two weeks ago I shared an image of Jesus I see in my mind, most often in Adoration, in which the scars from His scourging are revealed to me. And as you may have seen, last Thursday I left to make a silent retreat. The weekend was peaceful, profound, and, I believe, fruitful; I will be sharing bits and pieces of it over the next many days, I’m sure.

One particularly impactful reflection began as we prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, and came to a beautiful conclusion early this morning. As we prayed, I meditated on scourging and crucifixion, and as usual, wondered what must happen to people to harden them enough to inflict such suffering on another human being. I can almost imagine it in the abstract—that people could be cruel enough to flay someone ragged and nail him to a cross to die. But when the scene becomes specific—how could this person put his hand to the whip or the hammer and make that person weep and bleed—I struggle to comprehend the inhumanity.

Could I do it? Never…

And then I thought about those around me, whom I profess to love and then lash with my tongue and pierce with my glance. The suffering I inflict out of comfort and convenience by looking away, tuning out, remaining ignorant and silent and comfortable. Continue reading

God’s Love Is Mercy

84764-divinemercy“Proclaim that mercy is the greatest attribute of God.” – Jesus to St. Faustina

Devotion to Divine Mercy is not every Catholic’s thing. Some people struggle with the image of Divine Mercy: Jesus, His right hand raised to bless and heal, His left indicating his heart, from which rays of red and white, symbolizing blood and water, pour forth as a fountain of mercy for souls. Every version I’ve seen has been a bit mysterious and unsettling—which seems appropriate, given that it’s a vision of the resurrected Christ.

Some don’t like the chaplet, which is simpler and more repetitious than the rosary. Some consider the visions of a poor Polish nun to be private revelations: fine for her, but not necessary for us (even though she is a saint and was canonized by another saint).

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