The Happy Priest: Love Your Enemies
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CORPUS CHRISTI, TX - (Catholic Online) - It is not difficult to remember all of the terrible situations we have endured in our lifetime. There have always been a few people who have made life very difficult for us. Neighborhoods and school playgrounds are filled with children who pick fights and hurl terrible insults. Both family life and the work place can be places where terrible injustices occur that hurt people deeply.
"You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5: 43 - 46).
Of all of the teachings of Jesus, the mandate to love our enemies is the one most far reaching and difficult to live. Jesus gives us a commandment, not a suggestion. Love for our enemies is not an ideal but rather a way of life. We cannot consider ourselves authentic disciples of Jesus unless we truly live out this commandment.
The four Gospels were originally written in Greek. The Greek language has different words for our English word for love. Each of the Greek words defines a particular meaning and nuance for our word for love. In this Sunday's Gospel narrative, the Greek word agapan is used to describe the kind of love that Jesus is commanding us to live.
Agapan means that no matter what others do to us, we will never allow ourselves to desire anything but their greatest good. Agapan tells us that we will actively go out of our way to be kind to those who are our enemies. The commandment to love our enemies goes deep into our hearts. This commandment of Jesus calls us to live our lives without resentment and hatred for anyone. Whenever someone wrongs us, our natural inclinations may cause us to become impatient, angry and even vengeful. Nevertheless, Jesus commands us to live a totally different way of life. "When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well" (Matthew 5: 39).
As a parish priest I have heard many, many horrible stories about the terrible things that people do to one another. No matter how awful the situation may be, we are always called to forgive. Here is a story that typifies the kind of situations that walk through parish offices around the country.
"On February 6, 1995 our daughter was shot to death by her former boyfriend and father of her youngest child. At that time, the child was one year old. Our daughter was the mother of four young boys that her father and I now raise. We feel blessed but I still have days when anger is at the top of my list of emotions. The issues that our grandsons deal with are tenfold. The father of the two oldest has never consoled them and the seventeen year old is trying to put his life together from scattered pieces. I think he will manage but it is painful for him. The next to the oldest misses his mother so deeply and he is very good about expressing it. He is growing in awareness and self worth and will be fine. We have just learned that the third from the oldest has a different father than the oldest two boys. This came to be a great struggle to explain but we are moving on with this too. The youngest child is so full of words that wake you up and teach you what love is and where it truly comes from. From shattered lives you can find peace, hope, promise and great spiritual growth if you learn not to forget but to forgive and to keep things honest and not hide but work with all aspects of the trauma. You must forgive yourself and know that healing takes individual time and there is no finish line but a path that has twists and turns that may lead you up and down. When you're up, share what you have learned. When you're down, learn what you can" (http://www.forgiving.org).
There is no doubt that many people in our society have suffered tremendously. But, we must not live our lives filled with hate. Jesus calls us to forgive our enemies.
We all know that we are called to love our enemies. But, many of us struggle with how to bring about a spirit of forgiveness. When I counsel those struggling with this problem, I always suggest that we need first to begin with Jesus, gazing upon the Crucified, and listening to his first words from the Cross: "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing." Then continuing to gaze upon the crucifix and repeating those powerful words over and over again, we may ask the Lord to help us to forgive.
Secondly, we should act out our forgiveness. Perhaps a phone call, or letter, or a friendly knock on someone's door will convey forgiveness. For forgiveness requires an act. It is not enough to simply think about it. If the person who has hurt us is deceased, then going to the cemetery and there reading aloud a letter forgiving that person from the heart; burying the letter next to that person's grave provides a means whereby we may act out our forgiveness.
There may be extraordinary situations where we may find it impossible to actually physically forgive an enemy. Maybe it will be dangerous even to approach the person who has become an enemy. Nevertheless, even in these extreme situations, Jesus calls on us to forgive from the heart and never to harbor resentment or hatred toward anyone.
We live in a very difficult world and it is not getting easier. It takes a great person to love everyone and to hate no one. However, this is what Jesus calls us to do. How can any of us raise our hands in worship or wear religious articles and then hate our enemies? How can we receive the God of love into our hearts, only to have that heart blocked by resentment and hatred? How can we kneel down and ask God for forgiveness, and then refuse to forgive an enemy? "For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same?" (Matthew 5: 46 - 47).
This Sunday's Gospel narrative certainly provides us plenty of food for thought. Hopefully we will all make a good examination of conscience and free our hearts from all hatred and resentment.
Father James Farfaglia, the Happy Priest, is the pastor of Saint Helena of the True Cross of Jesus Catholic Church in Corpus Christi, Texas and is a member of the Board of Directors of Human Life International. Father has a hard hitting blog called Illegitimi non carborundum. He has also published a book called Man to Man: A Real Priest Speaks to Real Men about Marriage, Sexuality and Family Life. You can click here for the audio podcast of this Sunday homily. His second book, Get Serious! will be available soon. You can visit Father James on the web at www.FatherJames.org.
Copyright 2019 - Distributed by THE CALIFORNIA NETWORK
Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for January 2019
Young People and the Example of Mary. That young people, especially in Latin America, follow the example of Mary and respond to the call of the Lord to communicate the joy of the Gospel to the world.
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