When we are in the fire of suffering like Azariah, do we repent as he did or are we preoccupied with blaming the people who threw us into the fire?


“Azariah stood up in the midst of the fire and prayed aloud…” Daniel 3:25.

Focusing on the verse above from today’s first reading, I agree that sometimes we find ourselves in the midst of fire.  These verses in Daniel, which are part of the Catholic canon of scripture, provide an astonishing example of a faith in the midst of a trial, which is inspired by an encounter with God.  It has much to offer us in our Lenten journey.

When we are in the fire of suffering like Azariah, do we repent as he did or are we  preoccupied with blaming the people who threw us into the fire? We can forgive those who have hurt us and get on with life and the business of repenting, or we can “stew” over our hurts and hold un-forgiveness in our hearts. Forgiveness is so powerful, and to give or receive it requires this faith. God accepts and loves us, despite the times when we don’t get it right. We need to do the same for ourselves and for others.

Jesus commands us to forgive always. He commands us to forgive seventy times seven. With so much forgiving to do, we hardly have time for anything else — which is just perfect. If we spend our time forgiving, that’s often all we need to do. The Lord will take care of the rest. We’ll be so busy forgiving that we won’t have time to get into things which lead us away from God.

If we don’t forgive when we’re in the fire of suffering, we make the fire hotter not for those who have hurt us but for ourselves. We hand ourselves “over to the torturers” of self-hatred, anxiety, compulsive behavior, depression, fear, etc. However, if we forgive when we’re in the fire, we will be purified so deeply that we will thank the Lord forever for our time in the fire. Forgiveness makes the fire a holy fire rather than a place of destruction. Therefore, “forgive whatever grievances you have against one another. Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you”.

Following God makes a lot of sense when you are in the fire and need to get out, but then there is always the question: what are you going to do next, after the crisis?  Sometimes deliverance is not sufficiently trans-formative of our attitude and way of life.  The Gospel today provides a severe object lesson about deliverance and the requirement of something from us — forgiveness.  In the parable, the debtor who was forgiven much fails to forgive another debtor – and his own deliverance was therefore withdrawn.

As we sit comfortably at a distance, we can wonder what this debtor was thinking and why he was so dense.  But if we had been in the midst of that adventure, could we be so sure of ourselves?  If we were the debtor who had been mistreated over our small debt, would we be glad that the other fellow was getting his due for bullying us?  What about our dignity, which has been offended by this brute?  Would we want justice more than mercy?

During this Lenten season, how can we find the kind of prayer that arose in Azariah’s heart – and the transforming change in attitude that accompanied it?  Perhaps we may find such prayer by spending more time with our Lord than we spend brooding over our injuries and our neighbor’s faults (though indeed they are real and many).  May God help us to perform this supernatural work.  And I suspect we will be astonished at the results if we try.  Thanks be to God.


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