Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 19, 2017
By Msgr. Bernard Bourgeois
Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18; Psalm 103; 1 Corinthians 3:16-23; Matthew 5:38-48
"You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." (Mt 5:43-44)
These are some of the most challenging words of the Bible! Compared to these verses, the rest of the Christian journey is not too difficult. I can go to Mass, pray, give to others, and in general be kind to those around me. Jesus wants His followers to go beyond what is easy and convenient—He wants us to love and pray for our enemies and those who persecute us. You may or may not have enemies as such; worry not, this reading also applies to you! Undoubtedly you have someone in your life with whom there are at least struggles, obstacles, disappointments, harsh words, long periods of silence, on and so forth. By now you have named that person; keep that name in mind as you read the rest of this column.
The verses chosen as the basis for this column come from the Sermon on the Mount, which is chapters 5-8 of Matthew’s Gospel. Essentially, Jesus challenges His people to go above and beyond anything else they had heard or read. Loving one’s enemies and praying for persecutors jarred those listening to Jesus. This is yet another example of how the message of Jesus challenges His followers to their very core.
Now that you have a person in mind who fits the categories discussed in these verses, let’s see what Jesus wants us to do about it. To begin with, it sounds like doing nothing and allowing situations to fester for years is not an option. Nowhere does Jesus say wait and let nature take its course. And yet, is that not what most of us do in these situations? This type of response only leads to more silence, more misunderstanding, and more distance. Jesus asks us to love and to pray, using the present tense for both verbs. It means now!
Before we can explore loving and praying, we must begin with a desire to do something about the situation, whatever it is. Conscience nags the person to be at peace with loved ones and others. If the person you are thinking about is deceased, offer the person to God in peace. If alive, choose to be at peace with that person. Anger is a choice; forgiveness is a beer choice. Of course, one must do more than think about it! That’s where “loving” and “praying” come into the picture.
Spending time in prayer follows your resolution to do something about your uncomfortable feelings. Realize you will need God’s help in getting through it. Place it all in God’s hands, knowing He alone can fix it. Mention the person’s name in prayer. Ask God to help and inspire you to be open-minded, courageous, and Christian. Seek the grace of knowing you might have been part of the problem that led to the situation. It is possible the other person is correct! That takes humility and self-knowledge to accept.
Jesus also says you must love the person. This shows itself most notably in patience. You are not perfect; the other person shares in human imperfection. It’s helpful to remember that when dealing with others. No matter how many resolutions the human person makes nor the depth of her desire to be a beer person, there will always be the human condition to deal with. Mistakes are made. Hurtful words are used. Tempers fly. Part of one’s prayer is to ask God to help us all to be beer people, which includes having more patience with others and their foibles. Ask the Lord to help you accept the fact that you can’t change others or how they feel. Realize an important fact: you never really know what is going on in another person’s heart and soul. Learn to love people for who they are, not for the person you think they should be. Remember, people love you in spite of your imperfections! At the end of the process, all you can do is try to make peace. You cannot control what the other person feels. If the doesn’t want peace, walk away knowing you have sincerely tried.
Loving one’s neighbor is more than just a pious thought! It includes patience, forgiveness, courage, and truthfulness. Jesus wants His followers to love and pray for those who have caused hurt in their lives. The challenge of Jesus is great!