23rd Sunday A: “If your brother sins against you”

“If your brother sins against you”

Lloyd LeBlanc and his wife talk to Sister Helen Prejean face to face.  Sister Helen is a religious sister who worked tirelessly in her ministry to prisoners on death row and to the elimination of the death penalty.  She eventually wrote the book Dead Man Walking, which became a movie.

Lloyd LeBlanc told Sister Helen face to face, “You’ve spent your time with those people on death row.  Our 17-year-old son David, and his girlfriend, were abducted and shot to death by two men, who their bodies left in an abandoned field.  You never reached out to us.  And we’re Catholic.  You’ve done us wrong.

Lloyd followed the teaching of Jesus who said, “If you brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.”  No doubt in the early church, members wronged one another.  Feelings got bruised.  And so, Jesus spells out a process for forgiveness, reconciliation and healing.  It’s part of being church. Nowhere in the Gospel does Jesus approve of gossiping behind someone’s back, which often leads to pent up anger and resentment. 

The book Dead Man Walking ends with Lloyd LeBlanc and Sister Helen making a Holy Hour together at the small wooden church of St. Martin of Tours deep within the Cajun country in Louisiana.  Lloyd makes the hour of adoration every Friday beginning at four in the morning.  He invited Sister Helen to join him that morning.  Over much time they had become close friends.

Sister Helen ends her book spelling out the hard process of reconciliation to which all of us are called as disciples of Jesus:  “Lloyd LeBlanc has told me that he would have been content with imprisonment of his son’s killer Patrick Sonnier.  He went to the execution, he says, not for revenge, but hoping for an apology.  Patrick Sonnier had not disappointed him.  Before sitting in the electric chair he had said, ‘Mr. LeBlanc, I want to ask for forgiveness…,’ and Lloyd LeBlanc nodded his head, signaling the forgiveness he had already given”. 

He recalls that terrible day in 1977 when he arrived with sheriff’s deputies in the field to identify his son.  He knelt by his boy and he prayed the Our Father.  And when he came to the words: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” he had not halted or equivocated, and he said, “Whoever did this, I forgive them.”  But he acknowledges that it’s a struggle to overcome the feelings of bitterness and revenge that well up from time to time.

It especially hurts as he remembers David’s birthday year by year and loses him all over again: David at twenty, David at twenty-five, David getting married, David standing at the back door with his little ones clustered around his knees, grown-up David, a man like himself, whom he will never know.  Lloyd admits that forgiveness is never going to be easy.  “Each day it must be prayed for and struggled for and won.”

Yes, this Sunday Jesus lays out the slow process of forgiveness, reconciliation and healing, not only among church members, but with family members, neighbors, co-workers, school mates, and others we encounter in life. 

Fr. Tom