Thursday, February 20, 2014

Homily: The Seventh Sunday of the Year: 2014

Love your enemies

The problem with the Gospel this Sunday is that it seems utterly unrealistic, given the way people are, the way you and I are: Love your enemies. It is not hard to see that this is not going happen and to come up with reasons why this is not going to happen.

Cardinal Newman came up with a list, which is pretty much everybody’s list:

1)      I cannot trust him, he is a dangerous man.
2)     He is likely to do me spiritual harm.
3)     The sight of him is a temptation.
4)     I would be a hypocrite.,
5)     I ought to protest him.

The last points to the real difficulty: if we love our enemies we are aiding and abetting evil. Do not resist one who is evil, Jesus says. It is not just a matter of can we do it but should we do it. Am I really loving my neighbor if I do not stop the enemy who is hitting my neighbor over the head with a board? I might have to use a board myself to do so.

Of course when we think of enemies it is usually criminals, terrorists, and combatants in a war. But Jesus is not setting governmental policy. 

No doubt the Sermon on the Mount has been an inspiration for social justice. But the Christian religion is personal, as they say, not in the sense that it is individualistic --  after all it is the religion of the Church -- but in the sense that it has do with persons: three Persons in the first place, our relationship to those three Persons, and our relationship to other persons.  

 Jesus is talking about the neighbor who is my enemy, the guy at work, the fellow on the next pew, not to mention family and friends. It would be a great deal simpler if all that was involved was passing some laws or setting some policies. But the venue of the Sermon on the Mount is the the heart,  which Jeremiah generously described, 'deceitful above all things and desperately corrupt: who can understand it?' 

The person who Jesus is talking about is himself. The heart he is talking about is his Sacred Heart

The three instances Jesus gives of not resisting evil are exactly what happens to him in his passion: if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if anyone would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.

He was struck on the cheek in the high priest’s judgment hall; he was forced by the soldiers to make the journey to Golgotha; he was stripped of his garments. And he said, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

When Jesus tells us to love our enemies it is not just a rather elaborate way of telling us to be nice, to appreciate diversity, to treat everyone equally; it is a rather simple and straight forward way of telling us 'imitate me.'

There have always been and there still are Christians who undergo such physical injustices. Mostly our encounters with our enemies are much more tame, even if we manage to turn them into ‘the greatest story that has ever been told.’ I really can’t stand him. She never pulls her own weight. You know how he is. You can’t count on him. This person hates me, that person can’t be counted on. She hurt my feelings. What he said to me can never be forgiven.

We imagine that the martyrs have the real advantage: their suffering so closely modeled after the suffering of Jesus. But actually we have the real advantage and not just because we get off lightly. We have the advantage because our failures to love our enemies are usually so silly and absurd.

Silly, petty and crude as they may be, the remedy is the same for all. We are to see our enemies in the light of the Cross and Passion of Jesus. What justifies the demand that we love our enemies and what makes that possible is that scene on Good Friday.  St. Teresa of Avila said that every affront to our feelings, every attack of an enemy, every evil real or imaginary should be juxtaposed in our minds with the passion of Christ. Ecce Homo! Behold the Man!

The heart of the Crucified must become my heart.

When we are insulted from malice or simple stupidity, we must think of that other slap on the cheek, the cheek of God himself. When we are cheated or robbed, we must think of the Man who lost his cloak in a crap game. When unreasonable demands are made upon us, we must follow Jesus to Calvary. There is the school, the only school of love and there is the only thing that stands between us and the evil of the world.

Thanks as always to Fr. Ronald Knox

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