I just read a message today (2/22) about Fr. Mike’s Homily for the 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time (2/20/2011). He says:
Jesus tells us to love our enemies. Let’s compare and contrast that with Valentine’s Day. Six days ago, a store was selling Valentine’s Day cards, but they were not moving, and no one would buy any more cards for another year. So they had a sale, Two For One. Let’s think: one card for the wife (or husband), and the other card for… In a big city like HK, I’m sure some man (or woman) bought two cards. Not everything that passes for romance and tender feelings is genuine love.
When Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” the feeling is totally different. What does it mean to love your enemy?
Suppose I’m on the seashore and I hear someone yell, “Help! Help!” I look over the water and see my worst enemy, the guy who has caused me more injury and more pain than anyone else in the world, drowning. What will I do? Will I jump up and down for joy, clap my hands, and watch him drown as I laugh? Or will I jump into the water to save him? I admit I’m not a good swimmer. Having two people drown instead of only one would not help anybody. If I see a lifesaver, at least I can wade into the water and toss it too him. That might save his life. I’d have mixed feelings. I would pray, “God, I do not enjoy doing this. Saving the life of my enemy is not my idea of a good time. God, is this your idea of a joke? Are you asking me of all people to rescue him? God, I am not laughing. OK, I will rescue him anyway.” That is one example of loving an enemy.
Love is not only a matter of feeling good. Positive feelings and attraction are not the same as love. Pleasant emotions are great, as long as they last. Yet married people tell me the honeymoon does not last forever. Jesus never commanded us to like our enemies, to have warm, fuzzy feelings for our enemy. His command is to love our enemies, and love is first of all a commitment to do good for others, to help them in a way that will be of benefit to them, not necessarily in a way that will be easy and convenient for us. Sometimes it is fun to help people; but other times it is hard work, boring, or even painful. All the commercials, greeting cards and movies about Valentine’s Day focus on good feelings. That is part of the story of love.
I admit it has been a number of years since I last purchased a card for Valentine’s Day. Yet I do not remember seeing a card that had Jesus crucified on the cover, with the words inside, “I love you this much.” Such a card would not go well with a dozen roses or a box of chocolates. Early in his public ministry, Jesus enjoyed a honeymoon period. The crowds loved him and followed him by the thousands. Yet his popularity declined, his enemies increased, and there was nothing romantic or sentimental about Good Friday. So for this Sunday, I’ve picked Preface # 7, a prayer to God the Father that reads, “So great was your love for us that you gave us your Son as our Redeemer. You sent him to be one like ourselves, though free from sin, that you might see and love in us what you see and love in Christ. Your gifts of grace, lost by disobedience, are now restored by the obedience of your Son.” This means that we Christians have as much if not more reason than anyone else in the world to celebrate Valentine’s Day, a birthday, or a wedding anniversary. The love which begins on earth will continue forever in heaven. What prevents us from thanking God? What stops us from sharing the love of God with our enemies?
In the beginning of history, unlimited revenge was the rule. You stab me in the eye, and I’ll split your head open with a stone axe. If that tribe kills 1 of us, we’ll kill 10 of them. So when Moses limited retaliation to only an eye for an eye, just one tooth for one tooth, that was a big step forward. Jesus said, “you have learnt how it was said,” and most people learned the Hebrew Scriptures, and later the New Testament, from hearing. Only a minority were able to read, and since everything written was hand written before invention of the printing press, copies of the Bible were few and far between. People heard the saying, “You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” That first phrase, “love you neighbor,” is in the Bible, but nowhere was it written “hate your enemy,” at least nowhere in the Hebrew Scriptures. People heard that saying, and thought it was in the Bible someone where, when it really wasn’t. Rather than clarify the point, Jesus went to the heart of the matter and urged those who were listening to aim higher, to love enemies and pray for persecutors. Is this easy? Not at all! But there is more to love than a romantic dinner by candlelight and a bottle of wine.
Shortly after I entered the seminary, I met an old alcoholic in poor health. At least he had finally stopped drinking, but he looked 20 years older than he was and he was not long for this world. He was painfully aware he had ruined his health with alcohol. He felt guilty, stupid and scared. He quoted 1Cor 3, “If anybody should destroy the temple of God, God will destroy him.” I went blank. I was at a loss for words. Today I would tell him that God can forgive any sin, and even if we have damaged our life, or someone else’s life, we still have hope in the mercy of God. Later I kicked myself for not being able to think of the right words to say in that situation. Maybe if I had been quick enough to pray to the Holy Spirit, I would have found some words then and there. But it doesn’t do any good to kick ourselves. So I later prayed for him and hope that now, through the mercy of God, he is in a place of light, happiness and peace.
It’s a little late to wish anyone Happy Valentine’s Day, but it’s not too late to love our enemies.
At the same time, there is another message about life:
It’s good to read something positive about love. May we all in love and peace.