77 Times – Arnel Aquino, SJ

Matthew 18:21-35, 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time


From my own life and from the life of people I have accompanied through the years, I observe three reasons why we find it so difficult to forgive: (1) We don’t say “I’m sorry” enough; (2) we remember past hurts like they happened only yesterday; and (3), we might be growing old hateful rather than grateful.

First: we don’t say we’re sorry often enough. Remember when we were children? We were playing, then we either purposely or inadvertently hurt another kid, and that kid cries—remember what mom or dad said, “O, what will you say, what will you say?” Then we’d say, “Sorry.” But now that we’re much older, in the much fewer times that we ever apologize, our apology has grown what I call, a “hook”. “You know, Sister, I’m sorry sa ginawa ko ha, but I was forced to do it kasi naman ikaw….” The hook. “Alam mo, Bro, sorry ha kung nasaktan ka sa sinabi ko tungkol sa ‘yo. Pero sa totoo lang, ikaw kasi….” The hook. And when someone apologizes to us that way, we can’t be sure if the person is really sorry or retaliatory. But we can be sure of one thing, though: we become unforgiving when we are unapologetic. That’s why Jesus’ “77 times” is crucial because we can only forgive 77 times when we are willing to say, “sorry,” 77 times, too. Our sincere “I’m sorry”, without that hook—our sincere “I’m-sorry” is a 77 times practice for our “I forgive you.” Kapag hindi marunong mag-sorry ang isang tao, ay, umasa ka pang matututo ‘yang magpatawad.

Second: we often recall past hurts as though they happened only yesterday. Kapag dumarating sa alaala natin ang mga ikinsamâ natin ng loob, our fantastic brain tricks us into imagining that our wound is still open, even when it’s actually started to heal. Our fantastic brain tricks us into thinking that the fault is fresh and we’re still raw. It’s like negative anamnesis, Sisters: we “make present again” the fault and faces of people who have wronged us as though it all happened only yesterday. Do you know what they call that in psychology? Interestingly, it’s called “rehearsal”. We rehearse angry and painful memories when we start dwelling on them again. That’s why the angry, painful memories don’t get any better because we rehearse them 77 times…making them hard to forget… making them even harder to forgive.

The third reason I observe why it’s difficult for us to forgive is that we might have become more hateful rather than grateful. And we who live in community, dear Sisters, we’re very familiar with this, aren’t we? Yes, we have brothers and sisters who grow old gracefully. But we cannot deny the one or two who have grown old with so much hatred in their hearts. They’re usually the accomplished, the popular, the revered somebodies to the “outside world”. But back home, in their communities, they’re more tolerated than loved. I myself am a witness to how hatred in an old’ man’s heart springs many other thorns: suspiciousness, envy, lying, vengefulness, rumor-mongering. The first reading says it all: “Wrath and anger, are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight.” The thorns sprung from our hatred, we tend to hug them tight, you know. So, they stab us so much more deeply than they cut the people we despise. This is why some of us in religious life grow old vile and unforgiving rather than grow old seasoned,

How then could we forgive more easily? How might we say “I’m sorry” more readily? What ought do we replace bad, angry memories with, so we don’t grow old hatefully? There’s a whisper of it in Jesus’ parable today. I say it’s a whisper because we tend to not hear it. Gratitude. The sense of constantly being grateful could help us say “I’m sorry” more readily. Gratitude could replace bad, angry memories. Gratitude could help us grow old gracefully. In other words, a forgiving person is forged and formed in the ardent flames of gratitude. See, in the Gospel tonight, when the master forgave the debtor, the one thing he expected of the debtor was gratitude—gratitude not only to the master, but gratitude he should’ve extended by being forgiving of others. Incidentally, isn’t that what we mean when we tell someone, “Wala kang utang na loob,” which means, “Hindi ka marunong magpasalamat. Pinatawad ka pero hindi ka nagpatawad.” In other words, “Hindi mo sinuklian ng kabutihan ang tinamo mong kabutihan.” If only the debtor paid for his debts in the currency of gratitude, he would have been so much richer in forgiveness. Because gratitude makes us forgive, my dear Sisters. But because the Lord expects us to forgive 77 times, then we must practice it by being grateful 77 times. I have seen it in myself and in other people. Kapag maligaya kang tao dahil damang-dama mo ang malalim na pasasalamat sa kabutihan ng Diyos, mas mabilis kang magpatawad. Constant gratitude makes us realize how the Lord’s blessings far outweigh our neighbors’ offenses. Just as our psalm says, “The Lord is kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion.”

But if we are quick rather than slow to anger, stingy rather than rich with compassion, in a word, if we remain unforgiving, it might just be a sign that have stopped being grateful. Would we be able to stand it when our day comes and God ever tells us, “Anak, wala kang utang na loob.”

*homily delivered to the St Paul Sisters

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