A friend of mine has been fighting heavy narcotic addiction for years. It’s a struggle that he’s been dealing with and suffering the effects of for the majority of his adult life.
When I first met him, we were working together at an office. He had been clean and sober for some time, a trustworthy employee who performed his duties professionally and with great attention to quality. He was the “go-to-guy” the owners of the company would turn to when they needed something done. He was friendly and would bring out the best in other employees he worked with.
The exact circumstances of what transpired, I’m not sure of. Whether it was stress from work, personal life, or just the influence of the wrong people, my friend fell back into old ways. Over some months I watched a competent employee and caring friend slowly change form. It was subtle at first but became much more pronounced as time went on, and he tried to hide it more and more. My friend had turned into an erratic, volatile, and at times frightening person.
While others were taking note of the changes in my friend, we were all still giving him the benefit of the doubt, hoping he’d pull himself together and turn back to the guy we knew. All of our hopes for his return to “himself” were dashed when he was caught stealing funds from the company to pay for his drugs.
He managed to get a couple of temp jobs, but nothing substantial, not nearly enough to maintain his addiction, forcing him to feed his habit in other ways. He began selling anything of value that he had, and when he ran out of things, he began asking his friends and family for loans. When everyone around him was tired of loaning him money which was never paid back, his family and friends began to notice their possessions disappearing whenever he was around. Finally, the straw that broke the “camel's back” was when he sold his elderly father's (only) car to fund a weekend of drugs.
Over the course of time, his friends left him, each reaching their “limit” with him. Some of his own family “disowned” him. His brother-in-law, who he was very close to, cut him out of his life. Refusing to let him see his nephews, his cousins equally cut ties with him. His elderly parents who had suffered much, continued to love him and stay by him as best they could. His sisters also having suffered much cut ties briefly, but later would continue to love him and allow him in a limited fashion back into their lives.
If we were to put ourselves in the lives of his family and friends, to feel the suffering they must have gone through, first witnessing the change in someone they cared for deeply, and finally to be hurt in many ways by him. How easy would it be to cut him out of our lives? How practical a decision to “disown” him? Yet there was a group of people who, regardless of the pain they suffered, or he inflicted, could not deny him, or cut him from their lives. His parents, and sisters stayed the difficult course.
“Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy times seven times.” [Matthew 18:21-22]
I’m sure that forgiveness was not easy for my friend’s parents and siblings, but they recognized a need in themselves to see the good in my friend and love him nonetheless. In Matthew’s Gospel, we see that this is exactly what we are called to do. Christ tells us we are His brothers and sisters, we are a family united by the Blood of His Cross, discipleship means we are members of the same family.
This is no easy task to live; no easy feat to see those around us as our brothers and sisters, yet Christ calls this task by name as the second most important command – to love our neighbors as ourselves. Christ’s response to Peter goes one step further, not only love our neighbors, our brothers and sisters, but recognizing them not in some “glowing perfect light” but as the imperfect humans we are. So we are to love, and forgive and continue loving and forgiving.
“‘For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow-slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, “Pay what you owe.” Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’ [Matthew 18:21-35]
We are commissioned to forgive and love infinitely, not because of who we are, but because of who God is. Infinite love, mercy and forgiveness is what our Heavenly Father offers us, just like the slave in the parable above if we but only repent and ask for it. Similarly, we are to “pay it forward” by being loving, merciful and forgiving to our brothers and sisters.
At a young age, Monica who was a devout Catholic, married a non-Catholic man who had a violent temper. While life was “challenging” with her husband's temper, he was at least respectful of her faith, and didn’t stand in the way of her devotions or faith life, and it wasn’t long before Monica was a mother of three children. While Monica’s youngest two children had grown strong in their faith, even entering into religious life, the oldest son grew lazy and crude in demeanor. Monica would pray continually, dedicating hours of prayer, masses, and pilgrimages to her eldest son in the hopes of changing his ways. Finally when Monica’s husband passed away, she sent her oldest away to school in the capital city.
The combination of being away from home and city life fanned the flames and tempted her eldest son into vice. He left the faith Monica had shown him, and he began to indulge in mind altering substances, and pleasures of the flesh. Initially when she discovered her son’s vices, Monica ostracized her own son, continuing to pray for him nonetheless. Several years of debauchery passed until Monica had a dream of reconciliation that began her quest to find her son again. By this time, he had moved to a new city.
When Monica arrived in the city, she met with the Bishop of the city, and with his help, they were able to convert her son back to the Church, and give up his vices.
Monica is recognized today as St. Monica, for her ceaseless prayer and efforts to save her son’s soul. Her eldest is also recognized now as a doctor of the Catholic Church, St. Augustine of Hippo who turned from vice, and was strengthened by his faith and Monica’s.
St. Monica who didn’t give up praying, forgiving and loving her son, no matter what he did.