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Pastor's Letter 20200223 - 23 February 2020 - Loving Your Enemies


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23 February 2020:  7th Sunday-Ordinary Time

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A Message from Father Michael

Today’s Theme:  “Loving Your Enemies”

 Scripture Note

Since God is holy, we are to be holy.  We are holy when we imitate Christ by not exacting vengeance, or bearing a grudge against our neighbor.  The commandment: “You must love your neighbor as yourself ” (Leviticus 19:18,) initially was restricted to fellow Israelites.  Jesus broadened it to include everyone, Gentiles, as well as Jews—enemies as well as friends—because Jesus taught us that this is the way of our heavenly Father—showing equal love towards everyone—good and bad—not because of an indifference to morality, but because He loves without limit.   In our Second Reading, Paul tells us we should respect one another, because  each of us is a Temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16-23.)  Individually and collectively, the Holy Spirit dwells in us.  This is the basis of our unity. 

A Better Way

When Jesus says: “Offer the wicked man no resistance” (Matthew 5:39,) He is not telling us to be passive in the face of physical danger or abuse.  He is rejecting retaliation.  We are not allowed to have hatred in our hearts for anyone, even our enemies.  

 The story of Nelson Mandela is an excellent lustration.  When he was finally released from more than 27-years in prison, he had every reason to feel animosity and to seek revenge on those who unjustly deprived him of freedom. Instead, he alighted into freedom smiling, seeking reconciliation with the leaders of the regime that had imprisoned him. In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom (1994,) he relates:  “I knew people expected me to harbor anger against whites.  But I had none.  In prison, my anger for whites decreased, but my hatred for the system grew. I wanted South Africa to see that I loved even my enemies, while I hated the system that turned us against one another. I saw my mission as one of preaching reconciliation, of healing the old wounds and building a new South Africa.”

 Hatred is very dangerous.  It can destroy us. When we hate, we expend far more energy than in any other emotion.  It creates a legacy of bitterness, hostility and resentment.  Christ’s way is better, but it is not soft.  In fact, it’s a hard way that calls for great strength and toughness of character.  When Jesus talks about “the enemy,” He is not necessarily referring to an enemy in war.  He is talking about someone who is close to us—perhaps someone in our family, community, neighborhood or workplace, who is making our life difficult. The people whom we seek to avoid at all costs, those we find hard to forgive, who awaken in us feelings of unease, fear and anger—which can easily turn into hatred—are the very ones with whom we should seek reconciliation. This is what Mandela did—achieving the only worthwhile triumph:  not being soured by his suffering and surrendering his dignity to revenge. 

 It’s human nature for an enemy to arouse hatred in us.  However, when we discover our capacity to hate and harm, it can be very humbling.  At the same time, this can be good, as it can put us in touch with our poverty.  It is then we discover, perhaps, that the enemy is not outside—but within us.  It is only when we recognize and look at the “world of shadows—the chaos within,” that we can begin to travel towards toward freedom.  Only truth can set us free.  Our enemies are not those who hate us, but those whom we hate.  Jesus’ command, “Love your enemies,” is a radical rejection of violence. It’s a very high ideal, and very difficult—but it makes sense.  G. K. Chesterton once said: “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found hard and left untried.”

 As Christians, we are on the side of non-violence.  However this is not an option for weakness and passivity.  Opting for non-violence, means believing more strongly in the power of truth, justice and love, than in the power of war, weapons and hatred.  A person who is truly non-violent, who is incapable of violence, is the person who is fearless.  We must try to respond to the worst behavior with our best.  We must try to imitate the generosity of Christ, in our readiness to forgive, not to exact vengeance, or to bear a grudge against another.  Unless we do so, we are no better than those that have wreaked hatred upon us.

Emmet Fox, A popular Protestant preacher during the Depression, once explained reconciliation this way: “Forgiveness is a necessary first step. By not forgiving we are tied to the thing [we] hate. The person perhaps in the whole world whom you most dislike is the very one to whom you are attaching yourself by a hook that is stronger than steel. Is this what you wish?”  I think we all know the answer.  We need to detach ourselves from that "hook."  Only then can we begin to heal, love and pray for those who have deeply hurt us.

Retaliation

One cannot study much history without becoming at least somewhat sickened, not only by the crimes of the wicked, but by the punishments  good people have inflicted upon others.  “A community is infinitely more brutalized by the habitual employment of punishment than it is by the occasional occurrence of crime” (Oscar Wilde.)  If the light becomes darkness, what hope is there for the world?  Our pain and hurt can so easily turn into rage, with the result that we inflict upon others the very injuries inflicted on us.  Hatred consumes our energy so thoroughly that everything else is driven out, corroding us, and warping our soul.  

It seems that most revolutionaries profess an almost insurmountable desire to destroy their enemies.  So Jesus' command to “Love your enemies,” must be one of the most revolutionary statements ever made!  Most of us find it difficult enough to love our friends—let alone love our enemies….   All of us, at one time or another have had someone we considered our enemy (or at least had a person we certainly disliked.)  It may well be because of something they said or did to us.  But there is a deeper reason:  they bring out the worst in us!  Enemies expose a side of our personality we usually manage to keep hidden from our friends—a dark side of our nature we would rather not confront, let alone have on display for the world to see.  An enemy stirs up ugliness from our innermost selves.  This is the real reason for our hatred.  

 It’s important to realize that to love one’s enemy is not, in the first place, to do him “good.”  Rather, it is to allow him to be different; to be himself; and not try to turn him into a copy of ourselves in order to be able to love him….  We are not expected to “feel love” for our enemy.  Love is not a “feeling,” after all—it is an act of the will.  We can make a decision to love someone even though we do not have feelings of love for that person….  Once again, it comes down to a matter of our attitude—over which we have ultimate control!  To love an enemy most assuredly goes against our human nature.  Only by searching our innermost connection with God, in prayerful meditation, can we summon the strength to love in the way Christ asks us to do.  The perfection Christ has asked us to emulate—that of the heavenly Father—is the sublime perfection of love.  We must realize that a perfect God must have an inexhaustible love His children--all of us.  He must love us not because we are good…but because He is good.

 An Anecdote

When our 16thPresident, Abraham Lincoln, was seeking election, a man named Edward Stanton never lost an opportunity to vilify him.  Yet, when Lincoln won, he selected Stanton for the post of Secretary of War in his cabinet.  Asked why he did such a thing, Lincoln replied: I considered him to be the best man for the job.”  Lincoln was proven correct—Stanton gave him loyal service, helping Lincoln organize the massive military resources of the North and guide the Union to victory.  (Later, he organized the manhunt for Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth.)  Asked why he didn’t destroy his enemy, Lincoln replied: “Do I not destroy my enemy when I make him my friend?”

A Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, You said to Your disciples: “Love your enemies; pray for those who persecute you. In this way you will show that you are true children of your Father in heaven.”  Help us to be merciful and forgiving toward those who make life difficult for us, that we may come to enjoy the peace and unity of Your kingdom, where You live, forever and ever. Amen.  

May God Richly Bless You!

“Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things pare pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report,

If there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”  (Philippians 4:8)

Blessed Be The Lord.docx

Blessed Be The Lord.mp3

Edited by Father Michael
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