Homily for Sunday, February 19, 2017Published:
Today we are commanded by Jesus to love our enemies. The first question that might come to mind in hearing this commandment from Jesus, is one that comes from Scripture itself, for it seems that God himself at times does not follow this commandment, but is said to hate sinners and enemies. As it is written of God in the psalms, You are not a god who delights in evil; no wicked person finds refuge with you. You hate all who do evil. A bloody and fraudulent man the Lord abhors. In answer to this apparent contradiction, St. Thomas Aquinas responded as follows. Two things may be considered in a sinner: their nature and their guilt. According to their nature, which they have from God, they have a capacity for happiness and fulfillment in God. This is a capacity which all human beings share, and forms a commonality and similarity between human beings far greater than that which can exist between human beings and other things. Therefore, we ought to love sinners, out of charity, in respect of their nature. On the other hand, the guilt of sinners (the consequence of their evil deeds) is opposed to God, and is an obstacle to their happiness. Therefore, in respect of their guilt whereby they are opposed to God, all sinners are to be hated, even one’s father or mother or kindred. For it is our duty to hate, in the sinner, their being a sinner, and to love in them, their being a person capable of happiness and fulfillment in God. And this is to love them truly, out of charity, for God’s sake.
Echoing some of the same thoughts, St. Augustine says the following: “You have enemies. For who can live on this earth without them? Take heed to yourselves, love them. In no way can your enemy so hurt you by his violence, as you hurt yourself if you love him not. For he may injure your property, your prospects, your friends, or your family; or at most, if such power be given him, your body. But can he injure your soul, as you can yourself? Reach forward, dearly beloved, I beseech you, to this perfection. Yet let it not seem impossible to you. I know, I have known by experience, that there are people who do love their enemies. If it seem to you impossible, you will not do it. Believe then first that it can be done, and pray that the will of God may be done in you. For what good can your neighbor’s misfortune and ill do you? If he had no ill, he would not even be your enemy. Wish him well then, that he may end his ill, and he will be your enemy no longer.
Ultimately, we know that God himself does in fact live by this commandment, love your enemies. God makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. God proves his love for human beings, in that while we were still enemies, Christ died for us. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. Thus Jesus can say, do likewise, love your enemies, and be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect. And it is precisely in loving your enemies that you will show that you are children of God. On the day when you love only those who love you, and greet only your friends, be convinced that you will be living that day as the pagans and the unbelievers do.
So, it is clear that if we wish to be followers of Christ, we must love our enemies. But acknowledging this as true does not make it easy to do. It is far easier to return evil for evil, to give as good as we get, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. What can we do to avoid acting in retribution and revenge, which can do so much damage to our own souls? First of all, I suggest that we approach the challenge as it truly is, a spiritual battle. Our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the evil spirits in the heavens. We must spiritually prepare ourselves for the struggle. We must be receiving grace, through prayer and sacraments. We should also not neglect to invoke the assistance of the angels and saints. These are things we should be especially attentive to doing when we know we will be around our enemies. It is frankly impossible to love our enemies without being filled with the grace of God. Such an attempt would be like the person who attempts a grueling physical exercise without having eaten sufficiently. All that is left to see is when they will collapse and their effort will fail. In like manner, we must feed ourselves spiritually so that we are strong for the contest.
And as Jesus says, pray for those who persecute you, praying selflessly for them. Pray for the success of their good endeavors; pray that they might live life more abundantly; pray for their beatitude. Among the many prayers lauded by the Church in spiritual trials, the rosary is particularly noteworthy. Praying the rosary for the intentions and good of one’s enemies is an excellent practice. And if we have the opportunity, do good to our enemies. If they are in need, rush to their assistance. Greet them warmly in the marketplace and wish them well. It is a simple truth that when we fill ourselves with good will toward someone, it pushes out ill will.
And do not neglect the power and grace of forgiveness. If by chance, we have sinned against our enemies, ask them for forgiveness. And do this, even if they do not respond in kind. In forgiving, we are commanded to act unilaterally, if need be. If they do ask for forgiveness, forgive them freely. If they do not ask for forgiveness, express forgiveness in one’s heart for them anyway. And repeat the action. Forgiveness can sometimes be an ongoing work, a daily and repeated intention. There is great grace and blessing in engaging in this work of forgiveness, especially if it is difficult.
These things are not easy to do, and sometimes we fail. At those times when we do fail, we should try to learn from our mistakes, so that we do not repeat them. And we should simply try again without growing discouraged. Every day we should begin the task anew, if necessary. Ultimately we can have hope if we never stop seeking God, and trying to love him more. For the more a person grows in love of God, the more a person will love his neighbor, out of charity, for God’s sake, and the more will he put enmities aside. It is similar to how, if we loved a certain man very much, we would love his children even though they were unfriendly towards us. Thus, even if all of our other strategies and efforts fail, if we continue to grow in our love for God, we will arrive at love of our enemies.
In this Eucharist, we pray for the grace to make whatever next step we need to, in order to love our enemies. Amen.
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