The readings from the Church’s lectionary for the past two days were from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. They both deal with loving our enemies and a “peaceful resistance,” even generosity, toward those who do evil toward us. Now, these two groups are not always the same. Sometimes we have “enemies” who have not done anything evil. Sometimes we don’t even know our enemies personally so how can we truly hate them? And sometimes we are viewed as an enemy and we don’t know why…
As a woman who has been praying for someone who I’m pretty sure hates me, I am here to tell you that, while I do not believe I’m evil or did anything evil, this person does not see it that way. Sad, but true. Not saying I’m perfect, but I’ve never intentionally caused anyone pain. Even though this person tried really hard to ruin my life or certainly reputation, it was revealed to me that I needed to pray for this individual. And not just pray, but fast, as well. I’m still doing both.
As I began to pray that I would be protected from harm when the hateful barrage began, it slowly came to me, as I reflected prayerfully on why this person was so angry with me and hated every kindness I had extended toward them, that I should fast and pray to genuinely help this individual. This wasn’t about me at all. I truly do not believe that this person is my enemy, though I am probably regarded as an enemy. I have no idea what made this person so willing to lash out bitterly, i.e. persecute, others. But there it is.
And so, in my prayers to figure out what I could do, how I could respond in a productive, loving way, God showed me that I should pray and fast for the healing of this person’s heart and soul and a deliverance from past evils that may have been inflicted that drove this person to the point of persecuting others. And with those two actions, I also had to forgive.
I share all this to say that praying for this person and fasting were NOT easy – at first. It was surprising, though, how quickly the anger I felt toward the individual turned to concern and compassion. And how I realized I just wanted this person to be relieved of these negative and destructive impulses and intentions that seemed to have taken hold. Forgiveness came easily at that point. I want this person, just as I want everyone, to know and love God. That’s the best life and makes for the best ever after life.
In short, I believe I am starting to love with the “love with which God loves.” This is a phrase I learned in reading an essay written by Father Stephen Torraco when I was studying theology a while back. And what I came to learn from this and other things I’ve read since, is that we cannot love like that without Divine assistance. We must allow God’s love to enter in to our hearts and souls so it is HIS love we give to everyone we meet – friend, foe, or stranger.
It takes a desire to be reconciled and a desire for the good of the other to truly be able to pray for our ‘enemies,’ or those who consider us their enemies and so persecute us. I’ve learned we cannot do that on our own. So I will continue my prayers and fasting from various things that help sharpen my focus on what I’m determined to do and on the person for whom I am doing it. It’s exciting to think that I’ve started down this path. I stumble and fall frequently, but I will not give up. And each day my relationship with God goes deeper. I can’t even explain how. It’s a peace that is new to me and it is such a consolation. I can’t concern myself with how long this will go on. I just know, with God’s help, I won’t stop. I’m in this for the duration. And, as I stated earlier, I am keenly aware of my own imperfections. They are many! I acknowledge all my weaknesses and faults, I ask forgiveness from the Lord and then I get on with it. If I pray and fast for years, that will totally be because of my own frail faith or weak will; I accept that truth, as well.
In John 17:26 Jesus prays to His Father, “…that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them.” And that’s the love Father Torraco writes about, as well. That same love of God toward His Son dwells in us if we will surrender ourselves to Him. Powerful stuff. And thrilling to contemplate!
I recall in reading Corrie ten Boom’s book, The Hiding Place, she tells the story of a young man she fell in love with who married another. She felt he had deceived her in thinking that he loved her, too. Or perhaps he did, but he married someone else. Her family was invited to the wedding and she told her father she did not think she could go. It would be too painful and, besides, she was terribly angry with this young man. Her dad told her to let Christ love this fellow through her, to let it be the love of Jesus flowing through her that would be bestowed upon him. Of course she could not love him or forgive him, but God could if she would only allow the Lord who dwelt in her to reach out to her beloved in whom she was so bitterly disappointed.
What a humbling example for the rest of us. There is such humility and obedience on the part of Corrie who did let Jesus work through her to love and even forgive this man who had broken her heart. With Jesus as our perfect example of humility and obedience, we should not be surprised with what He can do when we allow Him into our lives and within us. God is love, remember? Let Love in and be amazed at your ability to forgive, to want the best for others, no matter how they’ve slighted you.
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[a] 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[a] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. – (Matthew 5:38-48 New International Version)
I end today with the words of Bishop Robert Barron on the subject, who very succinctly summarizes my thoughts today. (You want to talk about humbling! He says in a few sentences what takes me paragraphs!) “Are we able to get to this state through willing it, through earnest practice? Of course not! That’s why love is referred to as a theological virtue. It is the sheerest participation in the divine life, and it can only come from God.” Amen.