Epistle: Ephesians 6:10-17
Gospel: Matthew 18:23-35
O Lord, we beseech Thee, to keep Thy household in continual godliness that, through Thy protection, it may be free from all adversities, and devotedly given to serve Thee in good works to the glory of Thy Name.
– From the Collect for the Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost
Today many Catholics hesitate to use war-like imagery when describing the Christian life. They would prefer a less violent, more politically correct language. Yet the Scriptures tell us that Christian discipleship is a struggle that is truly a battle.
Sunday’s Epistle makes that very clear. Every battle has two sides, and St. Paul first notes who we are fighting: “For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places” (Eph 6:12). In other words, we are not primarily fighting a physical battle, but a spiritual battle. If we choose to be a disciple of Christ, we become an enemy of The Enemy, Satan. He will do all he can to defeat us and bring us under his dominion.
How do we fight such a powerful enemy? The Apostle tells us we first must be well-equipped; we must have “the armour of God,” “loins girt about with truth,” “the breastplate of justice,” “feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace,” “the shield of faith,” “the helmet of salvation,” and “the sword of the Spirit.” In each case, St. Paul uses the analogy of physical equipment to remind us of the importance of spiritual tools such as justice, peace, and faith. If we do not keep ourselves fully equipped with the armour of God, we will surely lose the battle. In other words, if we trust in our own strength, we will be defeated, for our foes are far more powerful than we could ever hope to be.
Beyond the armour of God, we must also be equipped with weapons. One of the most powerful weapons in spiritual warfare is forgiveness. Forgiveness disarms our enemies and allows us to rescue those who have fallen into their clutches. Christ emphasizes the importance of forgiveness in Sunday’s Gospel. Immediately before this parable, Peter asks Jesus, “Lord, how often shall my brother offend against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?” (Mt 18:21). Jesus answers, “I say not to thee, till seven times; but till seventy times seven times” (Mt 18:22) and then proceeds to tell the parable of the servant who owed 10,000 talents. The servant couldn’t repay the great amount, but the king forgave his debt. However, when the servant encountered another servant who owed him a hundred pence, he refused to forgive that measly sum. Jesus condemns the one who isn’t willing to forgive those who have harmed him.
Blessed Dominic Barberi, the priest who received St. John Henry Newman into the Church, gave a powerful testimony to the power of forgiveness. An Italian Passionist priest, he had a strong desire to do apostolate in England, and eventually he got his wish. When he arrived, however, he was mercilessly mocked by his non-Catholic neighbors. Once someone even threw a rock that hit him in the face. Blessed Dominic picked the rock up, kissed it, and then put it in his pocket and kept walking. A Protestant passerby saw what happened and this little act started him on the path to conversion to Catholicism.
Blessed Dominic battled evil forces throughout his life, but he followed the command of his Master and forgave those who sought to harm him. By doing so, he disarmed his enemies and brought them closer to Christ.
Eric Sammons is the Executive Director of Crisis Publications. He is the author of eight books, including Deadly Indifference: How the Church Lost Her Mission and How We Can Reclaim It.