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Overcoming Spiritual Minimalism

24th Sunday in OT


“Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?”

(Matthew 18:21-25)

Dear Family in Christ,

Our Gospel this Sunday picks up right where we left off last Sunday. After Jesus’ three-step instruction on fraternal correction, Peter asks Jesus a question: “Lord, how often should I forgive my brother or sister if they sin against me? As many as seven times?”

What strikes me about this inquiry isn’t that it’s unreasonable, but that it belies something about my own heart that is in desperate need of redemption: Spiritual Minimalism. By this, I mean that aspect of my sinful human nature that wants to get away with doing as little as possible and still get a ‘passing grade’- as a Christian, as a son, as a friend, and even as a priest. Maybe you can relate; as a spouse, as an employee, and in whichever other manner you’ve been called to follow Jesus… maybe it’s not just Saint Peter and I.

Even as a Church, we can fall into this: the Church gives us the Ten Commandments, and obliges us to go to Mass every Sunday, to go to Confession once per year, and to fast during Lent and on Fridays. Let’s not forget that these are the minimum requirements intended to help us get to Heaven. They are a baseline, not the fullness, of the holiness Jesus invites us to.

Peter wants to know the bare minimum when it comes to forgiveness. Jesus meets his minimalistic request by turning it upside down. Instead of answering him directly, Jesus tells a parable to remind Peter that the standard for forgiveness is God Himself. Particularly, it is the forgiveness with which God has forgiven(and will forgive) Him. When we stop and consider what this means, we realize that Jesus is demanding of us something so great that it would be rightly called ‘impossible’, or at least ‘unreasonable’... if He was asking us to do it without Him. The truth, indeed the key, is that Jesus is only asking us to give that which we have received from Him.

Jesus doesn’t give Peter the ‘low bar’ to step over; He shows him the mountain-top to strive for. While this Gospel applies it specifically to forgiveness, I think each of us can apply this approach to our own lives- as Christians, as spouses, as Priests, and beyond. Let us not be spiritual minimalists, content with the absolute least necessary. Why not instead be a saint?

God love you,

Father Daniel

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