Feb 18, 2017

Seventh Sunday on Ordinary Time


There is a telling story told of Saint Mother Teresa. She had just rescued from the streets of Calcutta, a neglected and starving young Hindu girl. Holding her hand, she led her into a local shop. Going up to the counter Mother Teresa politely asked if she could have some bread. The angry shopkeeper, who was not Christian, scoffed at her, and then spat in her face.  Mother Teresa looked up and simply said, "Thank you sir for that gift. Now, what about something also for the child?" After some time of tense silence, the shopkeeper gave Mother Teresa a large basket of bread for her to take to the orphanage to feed the hungry.

"Love your enemies", Christ command us.  Even though we often take advantage of His mercy and generosity, and even abuse His gifts to us, God's patience with us is never worn thin to the point that He looks upon us with hostility. He never will reach the point of frustration with you and me that He labels any of us as His enemies, regardless of our offense.
"Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect", Christ tells us. This is what should distinguish us as Christians from anyone else - our ability to love our enemies, to pray for them, to help them gently on the road to salvation and to do so, creating the right environment where, in time, enemies can become friends, and in particular, friends of God.
Is this not the attitude of Christ to us, giving us opportunity upon opportunity to be more open and receptive to the influence of His friendship? So, if we count ourselves friends of Christ, and should also find ourselves suffering because of the wounds inflicted by someone else, rather than fighting back in anger, we instead should be more troubled that our enemy would be damned to hell without the opportunity for repentance. For this reason, in the Christian standard of faith and living, there is never room for revenge or getting even, even under a false premise of trying to teach someone a lesson.
Knowing what we are made of and the environment we often find ourselves living in, naturally it is very difficult for us to always respond with love and patience in a world so marked by sin and division. But Christ did not simply ask us to love our enemies.  Sometimes, we can feel we do not have the emotional and spiritual strength to do so. That's probably why He also asked us to pray for them - even to pray to God on their behalf. Doing so, without them even aware, we give them more than they think they deserve from us.
Consider how Christ himself was spat upon, struck and punched in the face, not just once, but many times by His enemies, who even whipped Him to pieces.  He could have responded with His divine power and obliterated them in an instant. No. Instead He literally took it as a man.  When they threw weight of the cross on His back and forced him to carry it, He did so without complaint. So much so, His enemies, no doubt amazed, took it off His shoulders and forced it on a passerby to carry for Him. When Christ was being nailed to the cross and slowly crucified to death, He could have cursed His enemies with the vengeance of God. But instead, He prayed for them and asked that his Father forgive them their sins. And as He died, one of the executioners, was compelled to make an act of faith in God.
Loving our enemies is not easy. But, if we preserve in friendship with God, and are never afraid to return to Him again and again, even in our own sinfulness asking for forgiveness of our sins, we can be assured of the grace of God's patience.  "Learn from me" Christ assures us - the perseverance needed to carry our daily crosses and the courage to love and pray for those who might oppose or threaten harm upon us in any way. This is the road to perfection we boldly and courageously take - following Christ who leads the way and says to us, "Follow me".

He Ascended into Heaven

Not so long ago, I had the opportunity, a privilege, to offer the graveside prayers at our Catholic cemetery in San Diego. Founded in 19...