Martin Luther King, who fought for the civil rights and the de-segregation of the African-American citizen in the south and other parts of America and who was martyred in 1968 for his cause once said, “a reason why we should love our enemies is that love is the only force that is capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. We can never get rid of our enemy by meeting hate with hate; we can only get rid of our enemy by getting rid of our enmity. By its very nature, hate destroys and tears down; but love, by its very nature love creates and builds up. Love transforms with redemptive power.” (cf. adapted from: Hearts Burning” by Nil Guillemette, St Pauls: 2006: pg. 85.)
Jesus in today’s Gospel is challenging us to go deeper. He is challenging us to go beyond such emotional desires. . . Jesus in today’s Gospel is asking us to become more like His Father’s children where we forgive our enemies . . . love them and pray for those who persecute us. For many of us, especially those of us who have been hurt deeply, Jesus’ words may not sound convincing to us. . . We hear what Jesus is saying to us, but at the same time, we tell ourselves, “I cannot do what Jesus is asking of me because even as I have tried, I have not been very successful . . .”
Some years ago, one of our parishioner, let us call her Therese (not her real name) shared her experiences with me. This is what she shared. “When I got married, my mother-in-law somehow not only never liked me, but hated me. I never knew why. Even though I asked her many times, what have I done wrong, she simply remained silent. I tried to love her as much as I could but nothing seemed to work.
Every night I would light a votive candle on the altar of Our Lady and Jesus and cry. I would tell Jesus . . . ‘Jesus, tell me what wrong have I done to my mother-in-law to make her hate me . . .?’ Although I sense Jesus’ presence and feel His strength . . . He somehow also remained silent to my pleas and cries. I knew that there was no way I could make my mother-in-law love me . . . this went on every day for twenty five years until she got very sick and was bed ridden
I continued to bathe, feed and nursed her illness with as much love and care as I possibly can, but there was still no change in her attitude towards me . . . So, every night, I continued to light my votive candle and cry to Jesus and Our Lady . . . there were many times I wanted to give up . . . and walk out of the house and my marriage . . . however, I couldn’t bring myself to do this as I had a good and loving husband who also could not do much to change his mother’s hatred for me . . . all this went on for another five years . . . Just before my mother-in-law died, she said to me, ‘Therese, I have never loved you all these years, why do you continue to love me?’ Therese answered, ‘Because my Jesus wants me to love you.’ At this, Therese’s mother-in-law wept bitterly and said, ‘I want your Jesus too.’ ” Therese’s mother-in-law received brief instructions about the Catholic faith, and was Baptised just before she died.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, in the last line of today’s Gospel Jesus says to us, “You must therefore be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” In challenging us to become more “perfect like His Father” Jesus is reminding us of the reality of Gen. 1:26 that when God created us, He created us in His image and likeness. This means that God has created each of us with the power and potential to be as “perfect as His Father is perfect.” Therese has shown us that what is seemingly impossible is possible, if we rely on God’s strength to go beyond our hurts and pain and live the life that God wants us to live.
The well-known psychiatrist, Dr Smiley Blanton, once said to his patient, who asked him whether he read the Bible. Dr Blanton replied, “I not only read the Bible, but meditate on it. It is the greatest book on human behaviour ever written. If people followed its teachings, a lot of psychiatrists, like me, would have to close their offices and go fishing.” He added, “When we hate our enemies, we end up hurting ourselves far more than we hurt our enemies. . . Hating people is like burning down our own house to get rid of a rat. The fire of hate compressed within our heart would soon burn fiercer and burst into flames consuming not only our own selves, but also engulf the world.
Some say that the world will end in fire, others say in ice, but after knowing what hate has done so far between races, nations and communities, we can also say that the world could end by hate. We hurt ourselves by contemplating on revenge because, by doing so, we keep our wounds green which otherwise could heal. In any case, can blood be washed with blood, and can injury repair injury? While we have the tendency to seek revenge on those who hurt us, we have to remember that we are also Christians; we are children of God who loves both good and bad without discrimination.
There is a story of a sparrow who fell in love with a white rose. However, the white rose said to the bird, “Unless I am turned into red, I will not be able to love you.” The sparrow felt very sad and tried to search for the means to turn the white rose into red. After some weeks, the sparrow returned as he had found the answer. He embraced the white rose and at the same time, pricked himself with a thorn to let his blood flow over the white rose. His blood continued to flow over the white rose that was gradually being transformed into red. When the white rose finally turned red, the sparrow breathed his last and died.
This story also reminds us of how Jesus too loved us. He shed His blood for all of us . . . including and more so for His enemies . . . in loving us unconditionally Jesus knew that those who deserve His Love least, need it most. So, Jesus in today’s Gospel is proclaiming to you and me, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you . . . be perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect.
As I conclude, let us remind ourselves that as Therese in our real story shows us that it is not impossible to live the Christ-like forgiving love, let us also be reminded that as our world and many of us struggle with the pain of forgiving our enemies and those who have hurt us deeply, God’s Spirit who lives within our hearts is constantly seeking our highest good regardless of how much we may have hurt Him . . . and we become more fully God’s children if we are able to love and forgive as Christ has shown us.
Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.
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