FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 7th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, February 24, 2019:
Like most people, I can never forget the tragic events of September 11th, 2001. Of course we were all stunned to witness the violent attacks on our country. For me, personally, I was still a new priest at the time of the attacks. I had not yet been ordained for a full year. And, I remember in the aftermath of the attack, how much of a moment of faith it was for our nation, and especially for the parish where I was stationed. We immediately began holding special Masses and prayer services and just kept the doors of the church open. People came in droves to draw near to God in those days. But, perhaps the most poignant memory of that moment for me was the day after, September 12th, 2001. I was preparing for Mass for that day and begging God in prayer for the right words for his hurting people. And, as I opened up Scripture to look at the readings for Mass that day, my jaw dropped, and my heart sank. What words had God given to comfort our wounded hearts the day after the worst attack on American soil? “To you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”
I don’t know if there was ever a more difficult day to hear those words from Jesus. I also know, however, it was the most important day I ever heard them or preached on them. In the midst of the aftermath of a day before, precisely at the moment when our minds were angry and our hearts wanted to turn to vengeance, God’s Holy Word instead said, “I know that this is horrible. I know that this moment is difficult. But, do not allow it to change who I created you to be. Remember who you are.” It is quite simply, a moment that I will never forget – one of the most formative moments in my life, in fact.
Today, 18 years later, these words of Jesus still need to be spoken to our hearts. Thankfully we have not seen another day as bad as that one and pray that we won’t, but Jesus message to love our enemies is one that we regularly need to be reminded of. It offers us a message that is the antidote to what we hear every day. Our world is full of voices that encourage us to vilify others, seek revenge, and be the aggressor. Are we really meant to love our enemies, turn the other cheek, give without expecting repayment, refuse to pass judgment on people, pray for those who are unkind to us? Of course we are – it is the defining characteristic of those who follow Christ.
With this bold command to love our enemies, Jesus is trying to get us to move – in heart and mind and soul – away from the way of the world and into the Way of the Kingdom. Leviticus said it best today, “Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy. You shall not bear hatred for your brother or sister in your heart…Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus is calling us to see that we waste so much energy holding on to past hurts, trying to settle old scores, even handing down grudges from one generation to the next. How many of us are angry with someone because of the way they treated us, something they said to us, or something they said about us – a day ago, a week ago, a month ago, how about years ago? This is not what we are called to. We aren’t called to anger, judgment and resentment. We are called to love – always, everywhere, everyone, with no conditions or exceptions. And not a superficial kind of love; not a huggy-feely love, not an all-accepting generic love that fails to ask anything of us or the other. Jesus inaugurates a new kind of love – one that is so profound, so deep that it leads Him all the way to the Cross for us; a love so powerful that it is transformative of not only us as individuals, but even of the whole world. Jesus hanging on that cross – specifically for you, for me – is the greatest symbol of love that has ever existed. He didn’t do that merely for some unknown person eons ago. He did that for you because He loves you.
Jesus wants us to do in the world what He did for us - to outdo violence toward us with generosity, goodness, kindness, mercy and compassion. I overwhelm any evil with our constant acts of goodness. The insight and brilliance of Jesus is to recognize that the only real antidote to the violence and evil in our world is the love, forgiveness and mercy of God – as expressed in the world by you and by me; expressed not just when nothing is happening, when all is calm – but expressed when everything is on the line.
I often like to say that there are no asterisks in the Bible. After Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” There isn’t an asterisk that says, “See below: Unless your enemy is really, really mean; or really, really, deserves it.” Our Lord and Savior says simply, “Love, and bless and pray.” This Christian heroism does not merely respond to evil in the world, but transforms it – through Christ – into goodness and holiness. But it takes real courage to practice it.
A priest was preaching on the theme of “Love your enemies.” In the midst of the homily, he asked how many parishioners were willing to forgive their enemies. Everyone raised their hand except one elderly lady in the front row. “Mrs. Jones, you are not willing to forgive your enemies?” the priest asked. “I don't have any,” she said. Surprised, the priest said, “That is very unusual. Can I ask how old you are?” “One hundred and two,” she responded. The priest said, “Please tell me how you have lived for 102 years and not have an enemy in the world.” The sweet lady, smiled, and said, “Oh, Father, I’ve had plenty of enemies. It’s just that, by now, I’ve outlived them all!”
Today, Jesus challenges us once again to be radically different than the world. To love even the most difficult in our midst; to love even our enemies. Love, give, pray, forgive – even just a little more; and together we will transform the world. And so, I ask you today, how many of you are willing to love your enemies?
May the Lord give you peace.