Love your enemies.
Intellectually this Gospel is an utterly simple concept, one that requires no explanation on my part for you to understand what Jesus is teaching us or what he is expecting of us: Love your enemies, turn the other cheek, walk the extra mile, pray for those who persecute you. And we’ve known this message from the youngest ages, too: don’t be mean, play nice with the other kids, apologize and make up. But for as simple and direct as this message is, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that each and every one of us in this room have failed to live up to it, have failed to love our enemies. Heck, I’m pretty sure I’ve failed in to live this out today! Who would have guessed that something so simple and so fundamental to Christianity would be something that is so easy to stumble and falter on?
I kept reflecting on that this past week and thinking about my life and the many conversations I have had with people about their own struggles. I think what it comes down to more than anything else, is the ancient and deadly sin of anger. It’s hard to love our enemies because usually we are angry at them. A friend who betrays us, a boss who criticizes us, a stranger that insults us… when we are attacked in any way it ignites that defensive hostility and without even realizing it we start walking down the road of retribution and revenge. Even worse, the more we get hurt the more we start to have that anger on its own; we anticipate the hurt, and just seeing or interacting with a particular person sets us off in the pits of our stomach and puts our nerves on edge before they even do something. Now I want to be very clear on something. The feeling of anger alone is not sinful because I think it’s fair to say that emotions are not something we can completely control. The feeling of anger is not sinful… it’s dwelling on the feeling and acting on the feeling that we enter the realm of sin. When the feeling of anger causes us to be angry, that becomes sin.
So if any of this resonates with you and you agree that in your life anger is something that makes loving your enemies a challenging command… what can we do to lessen it? I have two suggestions for you from this Gospel. First – especially if your anger is centered on a particular person – pray for them. When the feeling of anger subsides and you are at peace again later in the day, make a sincere effort to pray for them. Not about what they did or how you have been hurt… just pray for them with no agenda other than for them to know Christ in their life. Doing that is going to help you to set the anger aside and free yourself from it… it’s going to help you to stop dwelling on the feeling of anger. The second suggestion is push yourself to be extra charitable, extra helpful when you notice some feelings of anger. Towards that person or situation if you can, but even just in general. Make the choice when you feel anger to act without it.
I guess most of all… never give up on yourself. Never accept that your particular struggles and failings cannot be overcome. It takes time and a lot of small, little changes to become the perfect disciple that Jesus challenges us to be. But by listening to him we can all get there, one little act of repentance at a time.
Homilies are meant to be heard, not read… and part of the Eucharistic liturgy, not words that stand alone. Please remember that no homily is written with this blog in mind.