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May 1977

If your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go: first be reconciled to your brother (Mt. 5:23-24)

"I met a lady in hospital full of bitterness towards her mother-in-law: 'I will never forgive her' was her attitude. There are an enormous number of family feuds about... 'haven't spoken for years, etc." One comment of a friend among a group who was living this word of life. Jesus lived out this word of life and showed the contrary attitude when he was on the cross. "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do." (Lk. 23:34).

Jesus will have known how hard it is for us to reconcile ourselves to our brother, especially when we have done nothing to hurt him and he still bears us a grudge. This is the extent to which our love and our life must go if we want to follow him. Unredeemed human nature complains. But in our better moments - and it is then that we are more fully ourselves - we know we cannot be fully mature and free if others bear a grudge against us, because their presence affects our way of life, and their memory is a pain to our hearts. We discover from experience that it is easy to be rather half hearted about being reconciled, not giving ourselves fully. But there is a great joy in reconciliation which lies beyond the barriers that hold us back. God has made us for perfection and fulfilment, and so it is logical that we have to make all the effort we can continuously to be at peace with all men, before we can be at peace ourselves. A bishop who felt the divisions between himself and his priests not only asked forgiveness during the liturgical ceremony of the Eucharist on an occasion when they were all gathered round for a meeting, but approached each one personally to gain a real reconciliation.

So although there is a necessary suffering in reconciliation for we have to let go our pride, the fruit is something our whole being yearns for: peace and a natural fulfilment. What Jesus puts before us is neither impossible nor foolhardy, but leads us to the culmination of our human spirit, redemption, which he has made available for us. What are we hanging on to when we say, "I will forgive but I cannot forget"? Every time we remember is another opportunity for forgiving, and so growth into our true self.

This word is of particular importance to those of us already trying to live as Christians together with others. If we were not of one heart and mind, fully reconciled to each other, then our sacrifices and efforts were of no meaning. We had to be able to make it up with the others always if necessary, and do so at the soonest possible opportunity. Living this word of life is a very good and necessary form of self-discipline, making us continually aware of the others who are an integral part of our Christianity. This discipline we find, makes us become 'new people' whom others find it easy to talk to and to say what they think. Furthermore if we are criticised then that is something to be joyful about, because we can accept it without self justification and excuses, in the context of building up and improving the body of Christ of which we are members.

This word mentions directly the service at the altar. Many, especially the young, find the whole institutional Church and its liturgical life boring and alienating. Maybe because many of the services are inauthentic, as they do not really touch the centre of the 'me', the person in the pew. Often there is a feeling of frustration between the individual and the priest. There is a wound to be healed and a reconciliation to be made which cannot but colour the atmosphere of the ceremony we attend. No modernisation, structural change or gimmick can affect that, without some form of reconciliation. Only a new style of living will allow that, permitting such openness based on security that the whole situation is changed. This can come only when we live our lives in a certain way, the way that Jesus wants us to live them, which makes us take into account all other people, and makes us especially sensitive to those we may not know we have offended. It is a Divine attitude of mind, which is a gift of God to us, which begins to share in the sensitivity of God himself, especially in that it is strong enough not to interfere with others but stand back and wait until they are ready to accept a new way of seeing things, just as God himself is ready to stand back and not interfere with us. Without this it is hard to see how we can have the grace and strength to be reconciled with others. Nor how we can gain the benefit that God wants for us from the Eucharist, union with him, as we are alienated from our brother. But if that truth and freedom exist, then our Eucharist will be an expression of that life which we are already living, a life in which we are united with others in his name and are living his word each moment of the day.

Suppose we attend a Eucharist where there is a dead atmosphere, a congregation bored and alienated, then in our hearts we can live this word, sharing the attitude of Jesus on the cross. Similarly suppose that it is not possible to be reconciled before going to church, then that too may be a chance to share in the cross. We realise that reconciliation is not for our own peace of mind, but for the peace and unity of the body so that we go to God together.

Jonathan Cotton, OSB


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