Lectio Divina: 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A

Cosimo Rosselli -The sermon on the Mount

Love Is a ‘Duty’ and Hate Is Not a ‘Right’

Paris, February 21, 2014 (Zenit.org) Monsignor Francesco Follo

1) To look to the Cross. “Love your enemies”: a realistic command?

Is it really possible to love our enemies, and love them while they manifest their hostility and enmity, their hatred, and their aversion? Is it humanly possible to put into practice this command of Christ? Love for enemies seems madness to common reason. Does that mean that our salvation is in madness? Love for our enemies resembles the hate for ourselves. Does that mean that we get to the beatitude only if we hate ourselves?

Why does Jesus ask us to love our enemies, a task that exceeds human capacities?

“In fact, Christ’s proposal is realistic because it takes into account that in the world there is too much violence, too much injustice, and therefore we can overcome this situation only countering it with more love, more kindness ” (see Benedict XVI).

“It is not easy, but,” Pope Francis said during the Mass celebrated on the morning of Thursday, September 12, in the chapel of Santa Marta, it is possible, “it is enough to contemplate Jesus’ suffering and the suffering humanity and live with Jesus a life hidden in God.”

To understand and to do so we have to take seriously the invitation of the Apostle Paul, “Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 2:5) “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience,bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.(Col 3, 12-13).

In order to love everyone in the love of Christ, including our enemies, the way is to fasten our eyes on Christ on the Cross, and so learn to feel how Jesus felt and to conform our way of thinking, deciding and acting with Jesus’ feelings. If we take this road, we live well and take the right path. In the contemplation of the crucified love, we’ll have the confirmation that Jesus loves us. This love is a great tenderness and a consolation for us; it is a comfort and also a great responsibility day by day. It is love that is given to us and that we cannot get with study or practice: it is a free gift from God that we must responsibly make to bear fruit.

The world – and we in the world – condemns and executes; namely it eliminates every enemy. The world goes to war toward the enemy to the point of his annihilation. But Christ tells us to love our enemies, and His Word is truth. It is reality. This Word of love here and now is fulfilled in us, God’s enemies always busy to eliminate our enemies losing along the way patience, forgiveness and love. We, full of sins, are infinitely loved and beloved by God, rich in mercy.

The Christian is led by the Gospel to see in himself the enemy loved by God and for whom Christ died: this is the basic experience of faith from which the spiritual path that leads to love for the enemy can rise! Paul writes: “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8-10).

Our life lost, is redeemed and fulfilled in His forgiveness. His open arms are even today our refuge and our perfection. We are therefore perfect and complete ​​only in His hidden wounds of love (cf. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux). “It is there that this truth can be contemplated. It is from there that our definition of love must begin. In this contemplation the Christian discovers the path along which his life and love must move.”(Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, 12). Pierced by His mercy we ourselves become His wounds open to the world, a sign of salvation, life and forgiveness for all people. Our daily wounds combined with His wounds are a perfection that saves the world.

2) To look from the Cross.

There, nailed to our cross we are perfect. There where no one greets us, there where the sun hides and the rain runs away, there where the world erases the unrighteous, the children of the heavenly Father give life, freely and because of a loving faith.

There where the world hates, the disciples of the Love, love. Our life is fulfilled on the Cross. We are crucified with Him. “Anyone who wishes to give love must also receive love as a gift. Certainly, as the Lord tells us, one can become a source from which rivers of living water flow (cf. Jn 7:37-38). Yet to become such a source, one must constantly drink anew from the original source, which is Jesus Christ, from whose pierced heart flows the love of God (cf. Jn 19:34)”. (Benedict XVI, Deus caritas Est 7). It is He alive in us that loves every man and comes into us in last place, the servant of this generation to open Heaven to every enemy who by His blood has been turned into a friend. Moreover, every enemy is a brother in the eyes of Christ. As it was for us just a moment ago, or yesterday, or shall be tomorrow.

So we learn to look at the other, at our neighbor not any more just with our eyes and with our good intentions, but we look from the Cross, from the point of view of Jesus Christ.

“His friend is my friend. Going beyond exterior appearances, I perceive in others an interior desire for a sign of love, of concern… Seeing with the eyes of Christ, I can give to others much more than their outward necessities; I can give them the look of love which they crave.” (Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, 18). The eyes of God, who loves all giving to all what they need without distinction of any kind, are Jesus’ eyes laid on this humanity through our own eyes.

There is a beautiful insight of Berdiaeff: “In the beginning God said to Cain: What have you done to your brother Abel? On the last day He will not turn to Cain but to Abel saying “What have you done to your brother Cain?” Abel will not rise for revenge, but to guard Cain. The new earth will be when the victims will take care of their executioners. This is the heart of God “. With his infinite love for us Christ did so for us.

To learn from him we must go to Calvary and watch the Redeemer on the Cross, and then we must get on the cross next to him and look from his point of view. To this love we arrive through a process and through asceticism. Love is not spontaneous: it requires discipline, asceticism, a fight against the instinct of anger and against the temptation of hate. So we will arrive to the responsibility of those who have the courage to exercise fraternal correction denouncing “constructively” the evil committed by others. Love for the enemy must not be mistaken with complicity with the sinner.

Those who do not hold a grudge and do not seek revenge, but correct the brother are in fact also able to forgive. Forgiveness is the mysterious maturity of faith and love for which the offended freely chooses to waive his right against those who has already stepped on his own just rights. The one who forgives sacrifices a legal relationship in favor of a relationship of grace.

For this to be possible, it is essential that next to the command to love our enemies there is prayer for persecutors and intercession for the opponents, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Mt 5:44) If we do not accept each other (and in particular that the other has become our enemy, contradicts us, opposes us and slanders us) in prayer learning to see with the eyes of God in the mystery of his person and of his vocation, we will never get to love him. But it must be clear that the love of the enemy is a matter of deep faith, of “intelligence of the heart,” of inner richness, of love for the Lord, and not simply of good will.

This love, to which God calls us, is a love that does not rely ultimately on human resources but it is the gift of God which is obtained by trusting solely and unreservedly in his merciful goodness.

Here is the newness of the Gospel that changes the world without making any noise. Here is the heroism of the “little ones” who believe in the love of God and spread it even at the cost of their life. Christ is the first in this love for the enemies and the martyrs have imitated Him loving to the end. However, let’s keep in mind that the consecrated life is in this respect a bloodless but daily martyrdom. In the Ordo Virginum people are called to martyrdom without the shedding of blood. They live a life totally dedicated to faithfulness to God and intercession for the sinners that think to be the enemies of Christ, who instead loves them and calls upon them the mercy of the Father. In the concealment of a life simple as that of Our Lady of Nazareth, they show that it is possible to imitate the eminent example of the Mother of Christ in whom God was the protagonist and whose virginity was the expression also physical of her total openness to the plan of God. The vocation of these women is to humbly pray and work to bring peace to the Earth, to reconcile the hostile brothers, to resurrect Abel, and to bring Cain back the love.

Patristic Reading

Saint Augustine of Hippo

Homily 1 on the First Epistle of John ( 1:9)

And in this, says he, we do know Him, if we keep His commandments. (1 John 2:3-4) What commandments? He that says, I know Him, and keeps not His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But still you ask what commandments? But whoso, says he, keeps His word, in him verily is the love of God perfected. (1 John 2:5) Let us see whether this same commandment be not called love. For we were asking, what commandments, and he says, But whoso keeps His word, in him verily is the love of God perfected. Mark the Gospel, whether this be not the commandment: A new commandment, says the Lord, give I unto you, that you love one another. (John 13:34) — In this we know that we are in Him, if in Him we be perfected. Perfected in love, he calls them: what is perfection of love? To love even enemies, and love them for this end, that they may be brethren. For not a carnal love ought ours to be. To wish a man temporal good, is good; but though that fail, let the soul be safe. Do you wish life to any that is your friend? You do well. Do you rejoice at the death of your enemy? You do badly. But haply both to your friend the life you wish him is not for his good, and to your enemy the death you rejoice at has been for his good. It is uncertain whether this present life be profitable to any man or unprofitable: but the life which is with God without doubt is profitable. So love your enemies as to wish them to become your brethren; so love your enemies as that they may be called into your fellowship. For so loved He who, hanging on the cross, said, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. (Luke 23:34) For he did not say, Father let them live long, me indeed they kill, but let them live. He was casting out from them the death which is for ever and ever, by His most merciful prayer, and by His most surpassing might. Many of them believed, and the shedding of the blood of Christ was forgiven them. At first they shed it while they raged; now they drank it while they believed. In this we know that we are in Him, if in Him we be made perfect. Touching the very perfection of love of enemies, the Lord admonishing, says, Be therefore perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48) He, therefore, that says he abides in Him, ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked.(1 John 2:6 ) How, brethren? What does he advise us? He that says he abides in Him, i.e., in Christ, ought himself also so to walk even as He walked. Haply the advice is this, that we should walk on the sea? That be far from us! It is this then that we walk in the way of righteousness. In what way? I have already mentioned it. He was fixed upon the cross, and yet was He walking in this very way: this way is the way of charity, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. If, therefore, you have learned to pray for your enemy, you walk in the way of the Lord.

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8 Responses to Lectio Divina: 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A

  1. Toadspittle says:

    “In fact, Christ’s proposal is realistic because it takes into account that in the world there is too much violence, too much injustice, and therefore we can overcome this situation only countering it with more love, more kindness ” (see Benedict XVI).”

    How then, can we justify the concept of a “Just War”?

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  2. kathleen says:

    Well Toad, others might be able to give you a different explanation for this apparent paradox of justifying the concept of a “Just War”, but this is how I see it…

    There are indeed cases when an attempt to show “more love, more kindness” rather than take up arms against the persecutor is the more Christian response to violence. The heroic witness of the many martyrs throughout the history of the Church have been the seed bringing forth many converts to the Faith that will prove this.
    Then there are times when a force of tremendous evil and aggression, immune to anything good or loving shown to them by their victims, gives a legitimate right to Christians to resist by entering into a “Just War” (which really means a “War of Self-Defense”). “Love and kindness” to our loved ones and compatriots – to defend them from torture and murder of violent aggressors – is also shown in this way.

    You mention Pope Benedict XVI’s words to infer that he would not agree to a “Just War”, but in reality that is not so. I remember hearing him bravely saying (at the Beatification of Bl. Card. J.H. Newman) that Britain took a courageous stand against Nazism during WW2 !! He would hardly have said that if he thought there was never a good reason for a “Just War“.

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  3. Toadspittle says:

    “…But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:39.)”

    …Then what did Christ mean by this? Not what it seems literally to say, apparently.
    Maybe He didn’t express Himself clearly enough.
    Should Jesus have added the words, “…except in self-defence – or when that ‘someone’ is a Muslim terrorist, of course.”?

    (Or maybe I’ve quoted from the wrong Bible. There seem to be dozens of them, I now discover.)

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  4. kathleen says:

    Yes Toad, there are many translations of the Bible, so make sure you get a good one, i.e. a Catholic one! 😉

    I agree the verse from Matthew 5:39, and in Matt 5:9, “blessed are the peacemakers” from the Beatitudes, might lead one to conclude that Christianity is a pacifist religion and that violence is never permitted, but elsewhere Jesus acknowledges the legitimate use of force, telling the Apostles: “let him who has no sword sell his mantle and buy one” (Luke 22:36).
    Naturally one could ask how these passages, that appear contradictory, be reconciled to each other?

    In broad terms, Christians must not love violence. They must promote peace whenever possible and be slow to resort to the use of arms, but they must not be afraid to do so when it is called for. Evil must not be allowed to remain unchecked.

    Paragraph 2309 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

    The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:
    1. the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
    2. all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
    3. there must be serious prospects of success;
    4. the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.
    These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the “just war” doctrine. The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good.

    And if you really want a fuller answer about the doctrine, read this by Colin Donovan (an apologist on EWTN): https://www.ewtn.com/expert/answers/just_war.htm

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  5. Toadspittle says:

    Well, Saint Polycarp (lovely name!) on the other link, doesn’t seem to be defending himself much, does he?
    Not a lot he can do, under those circumstances, really. His hands are tied.

    Naturally – as a bit of a sceptic – I’m more than somewhat suspicious of “…turning the other cheek, ” except in order to produce a pleasing symmetry of welts, possibly.
    So I’m not surprised that Christians signally fail to practice it.
    …But surely they ought to preach it a bit?

    Anyway, freah instructions from Jesus: “…let him who has no sword sell his mantle and buy one.” (Luke 22:36).” So, it will be a pleasure to sell my shabby old Detroit Pistons jacket, and use the cash to buy a nice, shiny sword.
    …To stick into people who disagree with me.

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  6. kathleen says:

    Back to the classroom – you have not understood the lesson! 🙄

    Where’s johnhenry these days? He’s about the only one (besides Bruvver Eccles) who can deal with The Incorrigible Toad.

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  7. Toadspittle says:

    Yes, I miss them, too.
    Who knows where they might be skulking, and glowering, and scowling – rolling their eyes, gnashing their teeth and filing their nails?
    Let’s hope it’s not Hell.

    At least JH tried answers, feebly perhaps, but it’s the thought that counts.
    Eccles..well – he’s Eccles, inee?.

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  8. Toadspittle says:

    I’m filled with guilt, now, Kathleen to have just suggested you don’t try to answer my silly questions.
    You did so manfully (well, womanfully, anyway) at 16.15 today.

    The fact that I’m unconvinced, to put it mildly, is not your fault.

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