On Friday of this week, the Jewish community is celebrating Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year – 5781). Rosh Hashanah is a celebration of forgiveness and new beginning. One of the beautiful traditions on this celebration of Rosh Hashanah is the dipping of apples into honey and then offering the apple to each other as a sign of mutual forgiveness. The basic concept is that every human being must try hard to bless another with the honey of forgiveness.

Tomorrow, the Church will celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Most Holy Cross. It is in the Cross that we find redemption. It is in the Cross that we find hope. It is in the Cross that we find forgiveness for ourselves and the command to forgive one another.

One of the most difficult things Christ asks us to do is to forgive those who hurt us – those who have broken our hearts, stolen our money, exposed our secrets, or lied about us; those who have snubbed us used us, walked over us, walked out on us, caused us heartbreak.

We are to forgive them all because it is the nature of God to forgive and we are called to be like Him. Jesus tells us not to forgive them merely once, nor even seven times, but seventy times seven times a day – as many times as they need our forgiveness for their offenses against us.

This kind of forgiveness goes against everything that cries out from within us for justice and revenge. Why is it so important to forgive? What do we do when we can’t forgive someone? How do we carry out Jesus’ instruction to forgive in today’s Gospel reading? Why is it so difficult to forgive?

Our First Reading from the Book of Sirach reminds us that “wrath and anger are hurtful things, yet the sinner hangs on to them.” So often we hang on to unresolved anger. We become demanding of others like the ungrateful official in the Gospel, and we forget the many times we have been forgiven by the Lord. Sirach felt that the secret to peace with God and receiving God’s forgiveness is to develop a forgiving attitude toward those who have offended us.

There is not one of us here who has not been hurt, or let down or betrayed by someone. The older we become, the more we become disappointed in the very people we thought loved us, or supported us, or respected us. The answer to this problem is not being angry at the world, all or most of the people in it including ourselves for not being what we have determined to be “perfect”.

Peter, in the Gospel reading, asks the crucial question. “How many times should we forgive someone?” The response of Jesus is seventy times seven times a day. It is difficult to forgive someone who has hurt us, but that is exactly what Jesus commands us to do in the Gospel. If every person in this Church were to make a genuine reconciliation with another person, the whole world could begin to relax.

Forgive your neighbor for whatever it was that caused you to stop speaking. Forgive your son or daughter for his or her alleged failure to live up to your expectations and standards – remember perhaps you made some mistakes as a kid.

Forgive your parents for their inability to understand the problems you experience in your family and for meddling in your life. Forgive your brother and sister for whatever it was that caused your anger.

Husbands and wives, forgive each other – remember what you felt when you were first married. Finally, forgive God. Can God be responsible for every human action that has taken place in your lives? No! God has given us a free will, a heart, and a brain with a tendency for needing and loving each other but so many times, we hold on to our resentments and our anger and we turn in on ourselves and refuse to forgive. So our unwillingness to forgive comes from deep within ourselves. We are responsible and we are the only ones who can do something about it. God who is powerful enough to keep the entire universe in existence cannot and will not force us to open our hearts to a spirit of forgiveness.

How can you and I forgive? When Jesus gives us the command to love our enemies, He gives us along with the command the grace we will need to forgive the other person. To achieve that kind of a spirit of forgiveness, we also need to remember how much and how often God had forgiven us. We need to see our enemies in a totally new light – to see them not as enemies but as brothers and sisters are hurting just as we are.

Jesus prayed on the Cross for His executioners: “Father forgive them! They do not know what they are doing.” Jesus saw His executioners in a much different light than we see them. He saw beyond their external motives and appearances. He saw them as they really were: Children of His Father who had lost their way. Forgiveness is God’s invitation for coming to terms with our world which has lost its way.

It is a world in which, despite our best intentions, we are unfair to each other and often hurt each other deeply – sometimes without even realizing it. God began by forgiving us. God urges all of us today to forgive each other and to forgive ourselves – so often we are our own worst enemies. Like the vineyard owner in the parable in the Gospel, God looks at us, not simply through the lens of justice, but rather through the eyes of mercy. Our value does not come from what we do or what we have accomplished, but from who we are.

The message of today’s Gospel, the Jewish Celebration of Rosh Hashanah and the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross invites us to examine our relationships with God and each other – especially with the members of our own immediate family. We are invited to examine our relationship with ourselves as well – sometimes we hate ourselves and do not see ourselves as God sees us and loves us.

Finally, He invites us to examine our relationships with the extended family of the parish. We are invited to ask ourselves if any of these relationships need to be improved upon. We are invited to take the initiative to begin the healing process. We are invited to live the prayer of the Deacon St. Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light:
Where there is sadness, joy.

Grant that I may not so much
seek to be consoled as to console.
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born into eternal life.