Sunday’s Gospel has probably the two most difficult commands that face we human beings: we are to let go of desire for retribution and revenge upon those who hurt us, and we are to love our enemy and do good to him or her. Buddhism and Christianity are the only two world religions in which non-violent reaction to violence is a major tenet. But this is far far easier said than done.
There’s a few things I’ve learned over the years about my own need for striking back at those who have hurt me.
One: G. K. Chesterton once wrote: “The Bible tells us to love our neighbors and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people.” Isn’t it true that the people you know also have the most power to hurt you? I mean, I consider Osama Bin Laden an enemy, but he doesn’t inspire the same kind of raw feeling that would be within me were a family member or close friend to hurt me by word, action, or lack of action. Forgiving one’s enemies and turning the other cheek literally has to start at home.
Two: if I nourish feelings of wanting vengeance, and allow them to grow and fester, the only person it’s hurting is me. Chances are very good the perpetrator could care less. The more that anger grows within me, the less I am able to see the blessing in my life, and the less life-giving I am able to be for others. Which means, of course, that the Evil One has won.
Three: If I categorize someone as an enemy, chances are good that s/he sees me as an enemy too. The other person could be afraid of me because he senses I am afraid of him. Y’see, when you are afraid of someone, you’re gonna manifest it somehow in a very unloving way. And then, feeling that unlove, the other person is going to react the same way. That person could fear me because he finds nothing in me of God’s mercy, patience, and kindness. He’ll react, and then of course I react, then he reacts again, and on and on it goes.
Four: I love those outdoor signs that churches use. Here’s a good one: It’s always root-to-fruit in the kingdom of God. The roots of our hearts determine the fruit of our behavior. Always. My violence and rage and anger towards another says more about me than it does the other. It may very well be that the other person has said something that I need to look at within myself. But of course, it’s far easier to lash out than to thoughtfully consider whether there might be some element of truth in what the other said. Think, for example, of a family confronting an alcoholic.
God grant us the grace to be a loving, forgiving, compassionate and understanding people.
Love deeply, laugh often, pray faithfully!
Fr Herb, C.S.C.