We are still having technical difficulties with the video version of the homily, so here is the text.
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 love our enemies.
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.
There is an interesting story that comes to us from Spain.
It just so happens that a father and son got into an argument. The son ran away, and the father set off to find him. He searched for months, but he could not find him.
Finally, in a last frantic endeavor to find him, the father put an ad in a Madrid newspaper. The ad read: Dear Paco, meet me in front of this newspaper office at noon on Saturday. All is forgiven. I love you. Your Father.
On Saturday 800 Pacos showed up, looking for forgiveness and love from their fathers.
There is no doubt that many people in our society have suffered tremendously. But, we must never hate. Jesus calls us to forgive our enemies.
We all know that we are called to love our enemies. Many of us struggle with how to bring about how to do it.
When I counsel those struggling with this problem, I always suggest that we need first to begin with Jesus and listen 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 can ask the Lord to help us to forgive.
Secondly, we should act out our forgiveness. Perhaps a phone call, or a letter, or a friendly knock on someone’s door will convey forgiveness. Forgiveness requires an act. It is not enough to simply think about it.
If the person who has hurt us is deceased, go to the cemetery and read aloud a letter forgiving that person from the heart. Bury the letter next to that person’s grave. Forgiveness is an act.
My dear friends, not too long ago I was told a very beautiful story about a Catholic bishop and a priest. The bishop had a custom of visiting every parish once a year to review the sacramental records in every parish office. The annual visits from the bishop usually only lasted about 15 minutes and the review was conducted very businesslike.
One year, the priest stood by quietly as the bishop meticulously reviewed the sacramental records of the parish. As the annual review came to an end, the priest said to the bishop: “Why don’t we put these books down and discuss something much more important.” The bishop asked what could be more important than the annual review of the sacramental records. The priest answered: “Why don’t we discuss why we despise one another so much?” They spoke together for an hour and a half.
My dear friends, 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.
Henri Nouwen once wrote: “There is probably no prayer as powerful as the prayer for our enemies. But it is also the most difficult prayer since it is most contrary to our impulses. This explains why some saints consider prayer for our enemies the main criterion of holiness” (Compassion, p. 109).
This Sunday’s Gospel narrative is challenging indeed. However, what the world needs now more than ever are real Christians.
Do you need to forgive someone? Are you ready to forgive that person?