Matthew 5;38-48. Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time. February 19th, 2017.
When we hear the demands of the Gospel it’s easy to become discouraged. Today’s Gospel is no different. The demands of Holiness, if not looked upon through the lens of love, can seem to be an insurmountable Mountain. We can see a person who appears to be very holy, and think to ourselves, “Oh I could never be like that. I am so far away from what they are.” From there we can say, “I might as well give up.
The fact however is, that there are as many paths to holiness as there are individual souls. One persons path is not another’s. God has tailered a personal path of holiness for each person, for you and for me. And what’s more, He will, through His Holy Church, provide the means for us to travel this personal path of holiness in order to reach that pinnacle of love which is intimate union with Him. There are no exemptions, everyone of us is called to perfection, for nothing is impossible for God.
Every one of us can become as holy as God wants us to be, provided we turn to Him in Love, and have recourse to the Divine Power of His Sacraments—the Sacraments of His Holy Church (I always tell my patients; “If us Catholics realize what we are dealing with in the Sacraments, we could change the world over night)-- the Sacraments of baptism, confirmation, freqent confession, along with the anointing of the sick for those who need it, the Sacrament of Marriage for the married, the Sacrament of Holy Orders for the priest, and especially the Holy Eucharist, which is the Most Blessed of all the Sacraments because it is literally Jesus Himself and His Sacred Heart living and beating full of love for us-for this reason we can say the Holy Eucharist is the Sacrament of Holiness; it is the Power of Divine Love; it is the Sacrament of Love, for It is Love Himself.
Having said all of this let’s return to back to today’s Gospel. The demands of Jesus found here are some of the most difficult to carry out in all of the Scriptures. We can look to the lives of the saints to give us an example of how to live this Gospel, assisted with the grace of the Sacraments. Let’s look at the St. Therese of Lesiuex, for example.
St. Therese the little Flower had in her convent a certain sister whom she did not like and could not stand to be around. However, St. Therese prayed and begged God to grant to her the divine grace to love this annoying sister who was in a sense her “enemy.” Therese went to confession many times to ask forgiveness for her failures in kindness and in order to obtain the supernatural grace she needed to truly love this sister who was unlovable, at least to Therese. When receiving Jesus in Holy Communion she asked Jesus to make her heart like unto His own.
Through all of this, and through of lot of work and self-denial, Jesus granted St. Terese His divine grace to go beyond her feelings and emotions, so that she could choose to love this sister in small and simple ways. For example, Therese would thread the sewing needle for this sister; and in discussions about this sister, Therese always referred to this sister as being better than her.
As a result of Therese’s heroic kindness, assisted by the grace of the Sacraments, this annoying sister actually came to believe that St. Therese was her best friend. In fact, at one point the sister asked St. Therese, “Sister, what is it that attracts you so to me?” This belief of the sister, that she was St. Therese best friend, was the result of St. Therese’s human love being perfected and united to Christ’s own divine love in and through the Sacraments of the Church, and especially, through prayer before the Most Blessed of all Sacraments the Holy Eucharist—it wasn’t a lie or put-on, Therese truly came to love this sister as if she were Jesus Himself.
And so, the example of St. Therese and all of the saints along with all of our readings today offer us plenty to reflect upon in terms of proper Christian attitudes. They offer us a standard of forgiveness to which we may not be accustomed. They offer us a standard of ethical behavior that is opposite of what our society would have us practice.
We would not be surprised to hear Jesus tell us in our Gospel to love our neighbor, or to be charitable to those in need, or even to forgive those around us. But today Jesus says, "Love your enemies," "Do good to those who hate you;" "Bless those who curse you, Pray for those who mistreat you." These certainly are opposed to human nature and are not something that we feel comfortable with. Again, left alone our human nature tends toward aggression; it seeks to get revenge, or to get even. This begins early in childhood.
Even early on, if someone pushes us, our natural reaction and emotional response is to push back. In fact at times human nature tempts us past the point of getting even, to the point of wanting to get ahead. At times it even takes pleasure in hurting others. This is not God’s way however, that is not what Jesus taught, and Jesus makes this very, very clear when he says, "love your enemies." "Do good to those who hate you." Jesus is not talking about any ordinary kind of love here. He is talking about Christian love-Charity—a supernatural love.
Our Western culture tends to romanticize all love in terms of warm emotional feelings for another person or personal gratification. But true Christian charity is what Jesus calls all of His followers to live, it goes beyond feelings and emotions. Formally defined, Christian charity means to will the good of another, no matter what the circumstances. As Jesus put it, it means to act well towards even those who hate us, even to the point of not just praying for them but even suffering for them, suffering for them even to the point of dying for them—loving them with Jesus’ love.
Again, to act well towards those who hate us is not a natural human response. Like St. Therese, we will not have good emotional feelings for the person who wrongs us--if someone puches us in the gut it hurts, of course. However, through an act of our will, assisted by God’s grace, our attitude can be one in which we truly want the best for our persecutor to the point that we ask God to bless them. It doesn’t mean we don’t protect and defend ourselves and others, or that we become a welcome mat for others to step on us; it does mean that even to those who mistreat us, we know that Jesus died for them as well as for us and so we ultimately we are about the business of their conversion and salvation.
St. Stephen the first martyr blessed those who were about to stone Him. And in doing so, he earned the grace of conversion for Saul who was leading the stoning…Saul of course later became St. Paul.) Thousands of Christians in our own time, like St. Stephen, are being persecuted by the enemies of our Holy Mother Church. These modern day martyrs too are dying, not only for their witness to Jesus Christ, but are dying for the very ones who are killing them, their enemies. May we too, love like them, love our enemies, and so be children of our Heavenly Father, perfect in Love, perfect in Charity.
Since we earlier spoke of St. Therese the Little Flower I thought I would end with a beautiful letter from her to her mother superior, which very eloquently speaks of true Charity:
“This year, dear Mother, God has given me the grace to understand what charity is; I understood it before, it is true, but in an imperfect way. I had never fathomed the meaning of these words of Jesus; “the second commandment is LIKE the first: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” I applied myself especially to loving God, and it is in loving Him that I understood my love was not to be expressed only in words, for: “It is not those who says: ‘Lord, Lord! Who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of my Father in heaven.” Jesus has revealed this will several times or I should say on almost every page of His Gospel. But at the Last Supper, when He knew the hearts of His disciples were burning with a more ardent love for Him who had just given Himself to them in the unspeakable mystery of His Eucharist, this sweet Savior wished to give them a new commandment. He said to them with inexpressionable tenderness: “A new commandment I give you that you love one another: THAT AS I HAVE LOVED YOU, YOU ALSO LOVE ONE ANOTHER. By this will all men know that you are my disciple, if you have love for one another.”