There are a lot of lessons in today’s gospel. It would be helpful to reread it sometime today, to make sure it all sinks in. Our gospel is from Luke, chapter 6.
Everyday in the news we hear or read about nations in various parts of the world who are in conflict. There are wars and threats of wars. Conflicts over land, oil, and power. There are bombings, ethnic cleansing, political oppression, torture, and on and on.
I would like you to imagine for a moment that the Pope calls the leaders of all these nations to meet in one place and come up with a whole new program for peace. And, as a resource, he gives them chapter six of Luke’s gospel.
After days and days of intense discussion, the leaders hold a press conference to tell the world their new strategies. One leader says, “From now on, our nation will love our enemies and do good to those who hate us.”
Another leader says, “Our people will bless those who curse us and we will pray for those who maltreat us.”
Another leader says, “When someone slaps us on the one cheek, we will turn and give him the other.”
Another leader says, “We will do to others what we would like them to do to us.”
A leader of a rich nation says, “We will lend without expecting repayment.”
Another leader says, “We will be compassionate.
Another, “We will not condemn.”
Another, “We will not judge.”
Another, “We will pardon.”
And the Pope says, “Ah, I tell you what. I promise you that blessings shall be given to you all, good measure pressed down, shaken together, running over. You will prosper. For the measure you measure with will be measured back to you.”
People will say to me, “Aw, Father, what you are imagining is not practical. The real world doesn’t work that way.” And I say, “Is the other strategy working?” In the long history of the human race, one lesson is loud and clear. Violence breeds violence.
In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” Jesus has the only formula that can work.
G. K. Chesterton once said, “People say that Christianity has been tried and found wanting. I say Christianity has been foundhard, and not tried.” Chesterton realized that at the heart of Christianity is forgiveness and the love of enemies. That has been fund hard and not tried.
Love of enemies is not built into our DNA. It must be learned. This love is not a feeling, but a choice, an act of the will. It may well be impossible to feel emotional liking for an enemy. It is not impossible to pray for them and act in a loving way.
Remember the Centurion at the foot of the cross? He had just finished taking part in the crucifixion of Jesus. But something was happening on him. St. Mark tells us, “On seeing the manner of his (Jesus’) death, the centurion proclaimed, ‘Truly this man was the Son of God.’” The centurion became a convert on Calvary. He came to believe. Why? What was it that he saw? He had seen many men crucified before. What he had not seen was someone hanging on a cross, dying, and crying out, “Father forgive them…”
Why don’t more people believe in God? Maybe it is because they don’t see God’s followers forgiving.
So where do we begin? Thomas Merton had this insight. He said, “The beginning of the fight against hatred, the basic Christian answer …is not the commandment to love, but what must necessarily come before in order to make the commandment bearable and comprehensible. It is a prior commandment to believe. The root of Christian love is…. the faith that one is loved.” The faith that one is loved…
That is why we Passionists preach Christ Crucified, so that people come to know and feel that they are loved.
Gandhi said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is theattribute of the strong.” When we forgive it is because the strength of God is residing in us. We are compassionate as our heavenly Father is compassionate. We gather together at Mass to express our thanks.