September 17, 2023

Dear brothers and sisters,

As we begin this 24th week of Ordinary Time, the Scripture readings for this Sunday underscore the essence of our Christian journey: forgiveness. They highlight God’s infinite mercy and His directive for us to extend such grace to others.

Why forgive? This was the penetrating question posed by Time Magazine shortly after Pope St. John Paul II’s historic visit to Mehmet Ali Agca in Rome’s Rebibbia Prison, the very man who tried to assassinate him two years earlier. Their private conversation remains cloaked in mystery, but the Pope’s message to the world was clear: “I spoke to a brother whom I have pardoned.”

As a priest, I’ve counseled numerous individuals burdened with the scars of resentment, betrayal, and anger. These past traumas act as shackles, casting shadows over their relationships and interactions. Despite attempts to escape through vacations, work, entertainment, or even spiritual endeavors, they remain imprisoned by these emotions. Their outlook on life turns gloomy, and their spirit wanes. This spiritual malaise isn’t mere allegory. St. Augustine aptly remarked, “Resentment is like drinking poison and hoping the other person will die.” Louise Hay, in her book “You Can Heal Your Life,” posits that many physical ailments stem from unforgiveness – an observation that resonates with my pastoral experience.

The reluctance to forgive, I believe, stems from not having experienced the depth of being forgiven. I’ve observed that genuine reconciliation with others often follows after one’s own reconciliation with God. Confronting their own flaws, many come to understand that their transgressions can be as grave, if not more so, than the wrongs done to them. This humbling realization paves the way for deeper understanding and compassion. In the Gospel, Jesus’s call to Peter to forgive “seventy times seven times” (Mt 18:21-35) is a profound lesson in the art of letting go. Forgiveness isn’t simply an act of mercy; it’s a path to liberation. It doesn’t aim to condone the offense, but to free the offended. As such, it can be the best gift to give to yourself.

As we start this week, I urge you to embrace Jesus’ teachings on forgiveness as a route to the joy and peace that perhaps you are seeking. Please feel free to share with me your stories of journeying towards transformation by forgiveness.

On the subject of personal journeys, I wish to share an imminent trip of my own. This Tuesday, I’ll be heading to Rome for two weeks, a detail some of you might recall from a previous column. I’m eagerly looking forward to the upcoming Consistory where the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, under whom I previously served, will be elevated to Cardinal. This trip marks a poignant return to the Eternal City, a place where I dedicated fourteen formative years in service to our universal Church. In addition, it provides me the privilege of participating in the Opening Mass of the World Synod of Bishops on Synodality. Convened by the Holy Father Francis, this pivotal assembly represents a profound moment for Church leaders to attune their ears to the Holy Spirit, echoed in the voices of the People of God today. Engaging in this experience will undoubtedly enrich my continued ministry here among you.

Please know I’ll carry you in my prayer, especially before the Tombs of the Apostles and our beloved saints, including St. John Paul II. In return, I kindly ask for your prayers, hoping this trip will bring me rest, reconnection, and spiritual renewal.

Looking forward to rejoining you soon,

Msgr. Cuong M. Pham