Feb 22, 2014

7th Sunday: Love without boundaries

"But I say to you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute . . ."
Sunday Word: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/022314.cfm

(Listen to video above from Jesus of Nazareth)

Lev 19: 1-2, 17-18
1 Cor 3: 16-23
Mt 5: 38-48

Anger management classes are very beneficial to those who have trouble containing their negative emotions – the uncontrolled urge to lash out verbally or in the worst cases, to inflict physical harm.  While most of us loose our cool now and then, for those who simply cannot check their temper, there are practical steps that can be taken.

Some say, “Count to 10.” That’s actually not bad advice because it offers an opportunity to step back and take a breath before we say or do something we would greatly regret. 

Regular exercise or any form of physical activity is a great stress reliever.  Learning to not take things personally or so seriously all of the time is also a wonderful way to grow emotionally and frankly become more pleasant to be around. 

But, with all the practical steps, would anyone say: Love those who give you no reason to love them.  Rather than seeking punishment that equals the crime, offer forgiveness and no further resistance to injury. Love your enemy.

Our gut will answer, that’s foolish.  Should we not resist evil?  Don’t we have a right to defend ourselves? Why should I love the one who does harm to me? If my home is broken in to or my loved ones harmed, why would I not seek some form of justice? To all of these questions we would want a reasonable answer of “yes.”

Yet, Jesus’ teaching from the Sermon on the Mount, our Gospels for the last few Sundays, and this Sunday in particular, present us with both an ethical and moral challenge.  If we simply take them literally, they make Jesus sound over the top to say the least.  Is he really advising us to be doormats or wimpy sissys? Of course not. He certainly wasn’t in the face of opposition. 

But, there is a transforming element about heroic love. This is not love for your enemies in the sense of having warm and fuzzy feelings about them.  Our natural response, which essentially is primal in our development, is to defend ourselves against further harm.  That may mean some form of retaliation in order to stop the aggressor.

But, as followers of Jesus, as Christian men and women, our task is to transform the world around us.  To live by higher moral principles which present an alternative way to live based upon mercy, compassion, forgiveness, reconciliation and charity after the example of Jesus’ himself. To love our enemy is to be like God. To seek no harm to them based upon “an eye for an eye” but rather to hope for their conversion to a better way of life.  The point of punishment is not to inflict harm but to bring about a change in behavior.  The power of charity in the face of hostility is to be like God who seeks the conversion of all that he touches and to bring us back on the mark.   

Fr. Robert Barron, well-known Catholic speaker, speaks about “divinization.” Jesus is inviting us into his life, the Father’s way of loving.  He is calling the human race to be transformed into a new relationship with God and with each other. To be like God is to be perfect, “. . . just as your heavenly Father is perfect” as we hear at the end of our Gospel this Sunday.

But, the human heart does not naturally offer love and forgiveness.  We are not perfect people but we do have the capability of acting in a heroic way.  Virtue is something that we must practice and as hatred is easily spread everywhere so too must love have no limits.

To be perfect as our heavenly Father is to rise above our natural inclination to seek revenge, demand justice, write someone off as hopeless, turn the cold shoulder or hand them the silent treatment, avoid them all together, or plot some sort of harm to be inflicted on them in retaliation. 

If I seek the higher, not easy path, that Jesus offers, through his grace I can become divinized or transformed or “holy” as “the Lord your God” is holy, as we hear in our first reading this Sunday from Leviticus. 

And the further part is that such heroic love has the power to transform not just “me” but also the aggressor through the example I give.  Isn’t this a better way to live? St. Paul reminds us that the greatest of all virtues is love.  Not a love filled with gushy feelings but a love that is used as a weapon of grace in response to hatred.

Can this be national policy between warring countries?  Most would probably think that foolish since the level of hostility, unforgiveness, deception, suspicion, greed, selfishness, and self-interest is so strong. Sadly, we must defend ourselves through brute force at times but should never be the first to fire.  That’s another discussion indeed.

So, the application of Jesus’ teaching must be made one person at a time; one married couple at a time; one family at a time; values imbued into business policies and practices one at a time; one institution of education at a time; one parish at a time, and so on.  May God’s grace, always available to us, not be waiting in the wings for us to begin our God-like behavior. For our sharing in the Holy Eucharist is a sharing in the life of the One who made the ultimate sacrifice of self-sacrificing love for the good of humanity.  
Grant, we pray, almighty God,
that, always pondering spiritual things,
we may carry out in both word and deed,
that which is pleasing to you.
(Collect: Roman Missal)