As Catholics who believe what Jesus said that the Bread and Wine become His actual body and blood in the Eucharist at Mass – that He becomes as real and present in the Host we receive as He was 2,000 years ago – we often identify the struggle that this belief caused people right from the outset. When we look at the Gospel of John, chapter 6 and note that people argued with Jesus about what He was saying and that with Jesus’ insistence that they needed to eat the flesh of the son of man that “…many of his disciples drew back and no longer walked with Him” (John 6: 66) It was that hard to believe, conceive of, it was a breaking point that St. John even captures this abandoning by “many.”
Thanks so much for stopping by to read my homily for the SEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME -February 20, 2022, for sharing it on your social media posts and your feedback and comments… I’m also grateful for all those who’ve asked for the audio version and share them as well at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE. May the Lord be glorified in your reading and sharing Sincerely in Christ – Father Jim
What brings that to mind is that sitting with this gospel, I wonder if people find this teaching even harder to believe, conceive of. “Love your enemies,” Jesus says. The seeming impossibility of the command is jarring, isn’t it? So often when Jesus preaches and teaches using parables they often have some lack of clarity or at least plausible deniability for us as listeners as we try to take it in and apply it to our own lives. But there are no parables and nothing confusing when he says “do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”
Loving our enemies. Seriously. Who comes to mind when you think of that word – “enemies?” It can kind of run the gamut from people we’ve never personally met to someone we might have called our best friend. What do I mean? A few examples come to mind:
I’ve been watching the Showtime drama “Homeland” that was filmed about 15 years ago. It’s basically about the War on Terrorism that started in the wake of the September 11th attacks. It’s amazing the power of entertainment and arts in general how they are able to really tap into people’s memories and even bring back very powerful feelings and emotions. The anger and rage I felt (feel?) towards those who attacked our country and caused such pain and loss for friends and parishioners… that 21 years later has not gone away… I’m called to love them?
I’ve shared in the past that I have a list of daily intentions that I pray for. And some years ago the Lord had put on my heart that I needed to name and pray for “enemies” or “people who’ve hurt me/or those I love” or “people I wildly disagree with and frustrate me” or more generically and simply “people I hate.” It might be a bit shocking or disappointing to hear that a priest says there are people he hates. I agree – which is why I felt the Lord directing me that I needed to be more intentional about rooting that out. That when there’s someone that generates that type of emotional response – and knowing what Jesus says in this teaching, I have a responsibility to confront it. So I have a list. One name that I’ll share is the former Archbishop of Newark, the disgraced since laicized Theodore McCarrick. The misery that he inflicted on so many individuals through his sexual abuse, his abuse of power and position, his manipulations… the disgrace that he brought to the Church… the hurt, the loss of trust and faith this has caused for countless people… and yes, the personal hurt I felt (feel), not having suffered (thankfully) the worst of his behaviors but definitely knowing that I experienced pain through simply trusting him as a spiritual father from high school through being ordained by him, feeling duped when the avalanche of details a few came out a few years ago about what he had done, his ongoing denials, the people who covered for him… “Pray for those who mistreat you” – yeah like I said he’s on the list, but in my heart of hearts, it doesn’t seem like he’s moving off that list any time soon.
I’ve also had friends who I no longer consider such. People with who I shared some personal parts of myself. That there was vulnerability, there were sacrifices made, there were weaknesses exposed, and genuine love and care offered as there would be in any genuine friendship. But where those things were taken advantage of, where those things were manipulated, where I was taken advantage of or manipulated that it’s not only destroyed a friendship but left unresolved anger there that has them categorized as an “enemy” in my heart and mind. “To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well?” I can’t even look at them, Lord.
It’s painful to think about the people who we categorize as enemies, let alone hearing Jesus calling us into this seemingly impossible task of loving them. From over 22 years of being a priest, I know that I’m not alone in that.
But I think part of the problem we have is in how we kind of allow our minds to run with all these different scenarios. As if to say “loving our enemies” requires us to be defenseless to evil actions by people. Or that Jesus is advocating our pretending we don’t mind being taken advantage of or even worse, enabling bad behavior. Indeed, there are some who try to use this passage to create co-conspirators to crimes, or to entrap people into abusive relationships, all of which, we really need to be clear about, is not at all what Jesus intends.
This is why this first reading from the Old Testament, from the First Book of Samuel, is so helpful. David had already been anointed by Samuel, at God’s direction, to be the next King of Israel. The current King, Saul, had started off alright. David had looked to Saul like a son to his father, to be mentored by him. And Saul initially welcomed this. When David kills Goliath and removes that menacing threat from the people – Saul was happy to have David around. When David assists Saul in leading their armies to important victories, that was incredibly helpful. Well, more than helpful, David actually was far superior in leading the troops than Saul was. And that’s when it all started to turn. Before too long, jealousy, envy take hold in Saul’s mind and heart. Soon Saul became paranoid and allowed those evil thoughts to consume him to the point that he was trying to kill David – and everyone knew it. It was unjust. It was unreasonable. It was unprovoked. David hadn’t done anything wrong… in fact that only fueled Saul’s irrationality (which is often the case, when we are in a state of sin, we tend to become more and more illogical as we try to rationalize our twisted logic) That’s the back story to today’s reading. So here David comes upon Saul – he and some of his closest allies with him, they are all defenseless, deep in a sound sleep. It’s like God himself had cleared the way for David to take Saul out – which is basically what his friend says to him. We heard: “Abishai whispered to David ‘God has delivered your enemy into your grasp this day.’” This good fortune… the fact that people knew what was going on here was wrong – every sense of human logic would seem to justify David killing Saul. But he doesn’t. Not because he was scared of Saul or his allies, remember he killed Goliath with a slingshot and a rock. He doesn’t do that, because David, being an ancestor to Jesus, is providentially enlightened by the Holy Spirit into this Gospel teaching of Love of enemies. David makes it clear to Saul that, he was in his grasp, and that he didn’t do the very act that Saul was trying to do to him. Saul is humbled by this undeserved mercy (at least initially). He reaches back to David and invites him back into his household, back into his company and friendship. David basically says “thanks, but no thanks.” That’s the important thing we need to remember here. That we see this balance of yes love of enemy with practical wisdom. David recognizes that the relationship has been ruptured – Saul has allowed his mind and heart to be guided by evil and hasn’t demonstrated a complete change of heart. So Saul doesn’t deserve the same type of trust and admiration David had for him before.
Love doesn’t make David deny what’s happened that caused the hurt.
Love doesn’t make David lower his defenses and become vulnerable to Saul the next time the elder King becomes Jealous and irrational again.
Love enabled David to deal with a horrible situation.
Love prevents David from becoming the thing that hurt, the thing that threatened, the thing he hated.
Love spoke to the hearts of all those who witnessed and heard what was happening about what it means to be “the Lord’s anointed” – the attitudes, the behaviors that are expected.
This is the Love that Jesus is calling those who will come and follow Him, especially each of us who have been anointed in the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation becoming God’s beloved sons and daughters. And it’s hard, hard work that doesn’t have a time frame attached to it.
From my own experience and examples – what love of enemies has shown me: +I’m still confounded by the evil that consumes the hearts of terrorists who are so possessed by radical extremism and hatred they are willing to die in order to bring death. But Jesus’ call to love my enemies – forces me not to get lost in those emotions that want revenge, reminds me of the fragility of human hearts and spirits. That if we’re not aligned with Jesus Christ, with Him who is Love incarnate, we are open to all kinds of demonic manipulations. That even the seemingly most just of causes can be exploited for some horrific behavior.
+I recognize that Theodore McCarrick needs to be brought to account for what he’s done, that being dismissed as a priest was far from harsh, but a needed step of justice. I’m still at a loss as to what I would say to him if I were to encounter him right now, having nowhere suffered the more horrific things that so many others have. Those wounds are still far from healed. But about a year ago when a 400+ page report was issued about McCarrick, and I spent the better part of a full day reading the entire thing, the explanation, the accountability, or whatever it was I was looking for – perhaps the closure – it wasn’t found there in the testimonies, the allegations, the finger-pointing, the depravity, and the mess. I just found myself tired and drained and more saddened than I was before I read it. It was then that I remembered Jesus’ call to love my enemies and recognize that healing from those wounds is only possible from Christ… which is why I have to pray for someone I really don’t want to. Recognizing I can’t just keep wallowing in that anger towards this one man and those who failed at holding him accountable. But that I have to entrust my helplessness at what is just an awful mess and entrust it to the God who constantly makes something new in the midst of them.
+and I see how this call to love of enemies does have the power to move and change human hearts and can result in something miraculous. One “former friend” – who I had felt pretty hurt and then angry towards, and then some mutual friends whether intentionally or not added some dura flame logs to the “fire” – it really seemed to grow in bitterness as time went on. I had tried to kind of isolate myself from them and avoid talking about them at all, as a way of not making things worse, but it seemed like it was. When they did come to mind or conversation, I would try to dismiss them, and inevitably felt sadder and angrier. It wasn’t until I sincerely started to pray for them and acknowledge that they had actually become an enemy and allowed myself to be vulnerable in my prayer to acknowledge the loss of a friend, that something amazing happened. I recognized I was at fault too. Some of the things I had done wrong, the hurtful things that I committed that in the heat of the moment that I didn’t even realize I had done contributed to things getting to this place. When that really registered and clicked, I knew I needed to own and apologize for them. Which unexpectedly resulted in a reconciliation I never imagined possible.
It’s easy for this Gospel passage to be dismissed as impossible. To hear Jesus’ words as an ideal that is unrealistic to achieve. For His teaching to be manipulated into providing license for bad behavior to go unchecked. If we treat it that way, we can find ourselves like those disciples who no longer walked with Jesus at his teaching about the Eucharist. Instead, Jesus invites us to humble ourselves and to admit how hard this is. To let go of our impulse to hold onto the hurts and the pains that justify our hatred for someone else. To go against our instincts that recoil at doing anything but seek revenge on those we’ve deemed an enemy. To not bring our expectations of what may or has to happen with these difficult relationships and complex feelings that we navigate. Instead, to sincerely and genuinely let Him, and His love enter in. Letting Him guide and direct, challenge, and heal us not just into loving an enemy – but more importantly forming us into being His faithful disciples.