Memento Mori – Fr. Bob’s Homily for Sunday, September 17, 2023

On my way to the priesthood, I spent several years of my life as part of a religious order called the “Montfortians”, founded by St Louis Marie de Montfort, a great priest and evangelizer from the 16th century in France. St Louis Marie stood out from his fellow clergy by the stark asceticism of his life, his utter dedication to his ministry and his uncompromising preaching. His fellow priests lived a rather more comfortable lifestyle and ridiculed his poverty and ragged clothes, but they never accomplished the miracles he did, nor won anywhere near as many converts to Christ as did St Louis Marie. They are all forgotten but this poor, humble priest’s name is honored around the world, and he is a canonized saint. 

One of St Louis Marie’s rather bizarre practices, as a seminarian,  was to go down to a local undertaker’s and ask to spend the night, sleeping  in one of their empty coffins. He did it to keep before him the reality that one day he, and every one he would ever preach to, would die and face God’s judgement on  their lives… Memento Mori: a Latin phrase meaning “Remember that you shall die”, used to be a common Catholic expression, and we find its origins right in our first reading today from the book of Sirach: “Remember the end of your life, and set enmity aside; remember corruption and death, and be true to the commandments.”  Uncomfortable words to be sure, but unfortunately very true – as the American statesman Benjamin Franklin  once wrote: ”nothing is certain in our world, but these two things :  death and taxes.”

We usually think that the sins we have committed against God are somewhat less than the offences we have received from others. But that is to forget that the true measure of an offence is the stature of the person we have sinned against . For instance, if I attack and assault one of you, I am guilty of the crime of assault and battery. But if I attack and assault a member of the British  royal family, say, then that is the crime of treason, which still carries the death penalty in England. Each sin we commit is a sin against God, who is the Lord of Lords, the King of Kings. For each such offence, we deserve the penalty of death, eternal death. That is why the sins of mankind, from the rebellion of Adam and Eve to the sins of human beings to this present day are so grievous. And why the forgiveness of God required the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, required the willingness of Jesus to offer himself on the cross as a sin-offering to his heavenly Father. 

When we understand this, really grasp hold of this, we can appreciate why the willingness of the king in our gospel to forgive the debt owed to him by his slave is so immense. It is a debt which he will never be able to pay, yet his king and his lord willingly forgives him. So this same slave’s unwillingness to forgive his fellow slave for such a moderate debt, compared to what he has been forgiven by his king, is a total lack of charity and mercy on his part. Psalm 130 says this: “If you, O Lord would take strict account of our guilt, who could bear it? But there is forgiveness with you, which is why we love and revere you so much.”  And our responsorial psalm today reminds us that: ”God does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.” However, we, myself included, are inclined to take strict account of others’ offences against us,  and seek to repay those people with anger, condemnation, blame and shame. But if God is willing to forgive us so much fault, how can we withhold forgiveness to those whose offence against us, is so much less than that which we have committed against God?

That is the point of the parable of Jesus in our gospel today.