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Seventy-Seven Times

by Msgr. Robert L. Stern

The beginning of the book of Genesis explains why God’s creation is marred by evil. In simple stories, it gives a profound message. God’s work is good. If there is evil, it comes from our misuse of our God-given freedom.

After the shocking story of Cain’s killing of his brother, the litany of his descendants culminates with Lamech. Lamech’s evil boast is that his revenge against his enemies knows no bounds: “I have killed a man for wounding me, a boy for bruising me. If Cain is avenged sevenfold, then Lamech seventy-sevenfold.”

There is a beautiful, contrary story in the Gospel according to Matthew. When Peter asks Jesus, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?”

Jesus answers, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.” Not only must we renounce our right to revenge, we must pardon those who injure us and our pardon must know no bounds!

Gustave Flaubert wrote a very moving short story called The Legend of Saint Julian the Hospitaller. It’s a variation of the Saint Christopher theme, about recognizing the Lord in one of His least ones.

Julian, living a life of austerity and penance for his many and great sins, is visited by a hideous, leprous beggar. First he needs shelter; Julian shares his hut. Then he asks him food and drink; Julian gives away his meager meal. Next he asks rest; Julian shares his pallet. Finally he asks him warmth; Julian, overcoming his instinctive loathing, takes him in his arms.

The happy ending of the tale: Julian finds himself in the embrace of Christ and caught up into eternal life.

In my life story – maybe yours too – I want to ask Jesus, “Lord, if someone asks my help, how often must I respond to him? As many as seven times?”

“No,” his answer will be, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.” Your concern, your charity, your love must know no bounds.

I guess we all know the answer. It’s living the answer that is so hard.

What do I do Lord, if his needs seem to have no end?

What do I do Lord, if he never stops asking me?

What do I do Lord, if helping him consumes all that I have?

What do I do Lord, if he takes not only my money but my time?

What do I do Lord, if response to his needs takes my blood, my sweat and my tears?

This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

There are no limits to the human needs the media spread before our eyes. There are no limits to the appeals to our charity. May there be no limits to our love.

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Msgr. Robert L. Stern, Secretary General of CNEWA



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