Saturday, March 3, 2012

"Love to be real, it must cost—it must hurt—it must empty us of self."

"Spread love everywhere you go: first of all in your own house. Give love to your children, to your wife or husband, to a next door neighbor... Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile, kindness in your warm greeting."--Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Gospel text (Mt 5,43-48):
Jesus said to his disciples:
"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,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?
Do not the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet your brothers and sisters only,
what is unusual about that?
Do not the pagans do the same?
So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect."

Today's Gospel exhorts us to the most perfect love. Love is wanting to do good to others, and here lies our personal fulfillment.

Life in our world has many sorts of enmity. Enmities between a husband and wife on the brink of divorce, bullies and their victims, a person betrayed by a friend, or a child abused by a parent. Enmities between nations at war or adversaries in civil war. Between cheaters and cheated, criminals and victims. Among the wealthy and among the poor, and between rich and poor. Whatever the sort, only two options occur to me as possible for those embroiled in enmity. Let it be, or deal with it. There really isn't any "in between."

Letting an enmity be will likely make it worse. Recrimination will increase. Old hurts will get bruised and new ones will be perpetrated. Grudges and resentments will fester. Violence and bloodshed may even happen. And all this will occur for the enemies on both sides of a divide.

Dealing with the enmity requires both parties to turn their faces to one another and listen. Each needs to acknowledge to the other their own responsibility for the division, and to forgive the hurt and misunderstanding the other has caused -- more or less in that order. When all this takes root -- on both sides -- genuine reconciliation, which consists of deep down mutual forgiveness, becomes a real possibility. But sometimes it will occur only with the grace of God. If that is the case, then both sides will benefit from praying for the grace to reconcile.

For reconciliation to stick, the process needs to grow towards mutual love. This is more than mutual tolerance or respect. Love, in a situation where reconciliation has begun and is maturing will consist of not just words but especially in deeds: public acknowledgement of the dignity and goodness of the other (praise), revering the other in their dignity and goodness, and supporting the other by helping them to heal, reconstruct damaged relationships, and otherwise serving them.

Loving enemies is shocking, prophetic, and evangelistic. When we truly love our enemies, Jesus' death on the cross becomes luminous. When we love our enemies, countless knees bend and tongues proclaim: "Jesus Christ is Lord!" (Phil 2:10-11) By God's grace, love your enemies!

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