Loving our Enemies as God Does, 23rd Thursday (II), September 11, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Thursday of the 23rd Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Votive Mass for Times of War and Civil Disturbance
September 11, 2014
1 Cor 8:1-7.11-13, Ps 139, Lk 6:27-38

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 


The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel about loving our enemies, doing good to those who hate us, blessing those who curse us, praying for those who mistreat us, turning the other cheek, and giving our tunic (our pants and shirt) to those who take our cloak (jacket) are always challenging. As we mark the 13th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 that killed 2,976 innocent people thirteen years ago, however, and as we ponder President Obama’s words last night that the United States is going to be leading an international coalition to neutralize the ISIS terrorist army that has massacred so many in Iraq, Jesus’ words are even more challenging. We’re supposed to love Al Qaeda and Isis terrorists? We’re supposed to do good to them, bless them, sacrifice for them, and pray for them? Does turning the other cheek mean we should allow them to hijack other airplanes, destroy other buildings full of innocent people, execute other people for not converting to their brand of Islam, and behead other people as spectacles and messages? The context in which we confront Jesus’ message today helps us better to grasp what Jesus is saying and is not saying, which applies not just to how pray and act today but how we’re supposed to live and proclaim this challenging Gospel every day.
  • What Jesus is essentially saying is that God wants us to become like him, to act in accordance with his image and likeness in which we were created. He tells us today that if we live what he challenges us to do today we will be “children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as also your Father is merciful.” He goes on to say that God has given us a standard that he wants us to follow and that if we do “gifts will be given to you, a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing will be poured into your lap.” But he also tells us that “the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.” If we judge others harshly, we will be judged by that standard; if we condemn others, we will be condemned by the same principles, if we refuse to forgive, neither will we be forgiven. God wants us to live and behave like him, but if we refuse and live by the opposite principles, those are the principles with which we’ll be judging and condemning ourselves. We learn from God how to live this Gospel. He loves those who don’t love him and even those who have made themselves his enemies through sin. He blesses those who curse him and blaspheme against him. He gives and gives and gives, and forgives, forgives and forgives. We see this Gospel put into practice in all its clarity on Good Friday, as Jesus prayed to the Father to forgive his executioners, those who were mocking him, and all those whose sins were bringing about his expiatory death, “for they know not what they are doing.” When the soldiers of the High Priest or the Roman guards slapped him on one cheek, Jesus could have easily annihilated them by his power of God, but he didn’t fight back, because he loved those who were harming him and didn’t want to harm them back. When they stripped him of his cloak, he allowed them to strip him of his tunic as well. When they bid him to walk on the road to Calvary, he walked a second mile. In all of this, Jesus tells us, “Come, follow me!” He wants us to be distinguished from all the rest by the way we, as Christians, love everyone like he does, including those who don’t love us. “For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same.” If we want to be loved by others, he says we need to pay it forward: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” In other words, “love others with the same forgiving love with which you would want to be loved by others.” Jesus is calling us to respond to evil with good, to respond to cursing with prayer, to respond to hatred with love. The word for love he uses is agape, not philia (the love between friends) or eros (the love between a husband or wife). Agape means unconquerable benevolence, that no matter what others do to us, we keep loving, we don’t descend to their level of hatred by vengeance, but seek to unite the experience to God and to respond with and like God. He’s not calling us to like our enemies, to hang with them, or to have warm, fuzzy feelings about them. But he is calling us never to stop wishing them well, never to stop doing them going, never to stop praying for them and their conversion from their wicked ways, and never to stop asking God to forgive them for their homicidal and evil ignorance that gets them diabolically to imitate Cain.
  • Part of that unconquerable benevolence involves trying to stop them from doing evil, because we wouldn’t love someone if we enabled them to continue to behave in a way that does harm to others and immeasurably damages their soul. Just like we don’t love an alcoholic by buying him a bottle of Bourbon, so we don’t love terrorists by permitting them to continue to commit atrocities. We intervene. We stop them. But we do so out of love, not vengeance. Jesus in the Gospel calls us to turn or “offer” the other cheek, which is normally misinterpreted to mean that we offer ourselves as a victim to let the other smack the unsmacked side of our face. When we turn our cheek to someone who has slapped us with a backhand, however, we’re actually rotating in such a way that he no longer has access to slapping either of our cheeks. It responds to the violence by affirming our dignity without retaliation. “Turning the other cheek” doesn’t mean we allow the terrorists to continue to victimize us. It actually calls us to stand up to defend our dignity without falling to the terrorists’ own level.
  • The other misinterpretation we have to battle is to think that Jesus is calling us in today’s Gospel to “love our enemies” to the exclusion of loving our family members, friends, and fellow citizens. As Christians, we’re called to love everyone, beginning with our neighbors, with the love of God. And Jesus calls us to love them with the love of a Good Shepherd, willing to lay down our life to protect them, willing to imitate Jesus in his “no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” It’s not enough for us, whether others are entrusted to our care, not to retaliate. We have to protect them, at the same time that we do our best to protect those who want to harm others from doing so. It would be a failure of love of neighbor not to defend them. The principle of legitimate self-defense and the principles underlying the doctrine of just war are based on this two-fold protection. It’s legitimate to render those seeking to wound or kill others unable to commit harm. We should do so with bloodless means if we can, but if those who want to continue to do harm won’t stop at anything to harm others, then, in self-defense, we can render the aggressive permanently incapable of committing harm through the death penalty or through death in war. The intention can never be directly to kill when there would be a way to stop someone or a group otherwise, but if in defending we must render a lethal blow, then that has always been considered licit. And so when a group like Al Qaeda or a terrorist state like ISIS declares war and says that they will stop at nothing to continue their atrocities, governments like our own have no moral choice but to cease to defend those entrusted to them, capturing and imprisoning when we can, and if that won’t suffice, using lethal means against those who won’t stop until death trying to strike lethal blows to the innocent.
  • This is obviously a very fine line that we need to walk between having “unconquerable benevolence” toward those who have made themselves our enemies while also defending ourselves against them without vengeance, without descending to their level, and without naiveté. There are wolves who seek to slaughter and destroy the sheep and those in positions of responsibility have to defend the flocks entrusted to them, but without losing love for those who “because they do not know what they are doing” are so misled that they believe that massacring others is what God himself is asking of them. In order to help us to walk that fine line, Jesus comes to strengthen us from the inside. As we prayed in the Psalm, he probe us, knows us, understands us, scrutinizes us, and form us. We asked him, “See if my way is crooked and lead me in the way of old,” that way that is ever ancient, ever new, that way he himself walked. As we prepare to receive him today, we beg him to lead us from within to love like he loves both our friends and our enemies and to know how to do both when they seem to come into conflict.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
1 cor 8:1b-7, 11-13

Brothers and sisters:
Knowledge inflates with pride, but love builds up.
If anyone supposes he knows something,
he does not yet know as he ought to know.
But if one loves God, one is known by him.
So about the eating of meat sacrificed to idols:
we know that there is no idol in the world,
and that there is no God but one.
Indeed, even though there are so-called gods in heaven and on earth
(there are, to be sure, many “gods” and many “lords”),
yet for us there is
one God, the Father,
from whom all things are and for whom we exist,
and one Lord, Jesus Christ,
through whom all things are and through whom we exist.
But not all have this knowledge.
There are some who have been so used to idolatry up until now
that, when they eat meat sacrificed to idols,
their conscience, which is weak, is defiled.
Thus, through your knowledge, the weak person is brought to destruction,
the brother for whom Christ died.
When you sin in this way against your brothers
and wound their consciences, weak as they are,
you are sinning against Christ.
Therefore, if food causes my brother to sin,
I will never eat meat again,
so that I may not cause my brother to sin.

Responsorial Psalm
ps 139:1b-3, 13-14ab, 23-24

R. (24b) Guide me, Lord, along the everlasting way.
O LORD, you have probed me and you know me;
you know when I sit and when I stand;
you understand my thoughts from afar.
My journeys and my rest you scrutinize,
with all my ways you are familiar.
R. Guide me, Lord, along the everlasting way.
Truly you have formed my inmost being;
you knit me in my mother’s womb.
I give you thanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully made;
wonderful are your works.
R. Guide me, Lord, along the everlasting way.
Probe me, O God, and know my heart;
try me, and know my thoughts;
See if my way is crooked,
and lead me in the way of old.
R. Guide me, Lord, along the everlasting way.

lk 6:27-38

Jesus said to his disciples:
“To you who hear I say, love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you,
pray for those who mistreat you.
To the person who strikes you on one cheek,
offer the other one as well,
and from the person who takes your cloak,
do not withhold even your tunic.
Give to everyone who asks of you,
and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back.
Do to others as you would have them do to you.
For if you love those who love you,
what credit is that to you?
Even sinners love those who love them.
And if you do good to those who do good to you,
what credit is that to you?
Even sinners do the same.
If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment,
what credit is that to you?
Even sinners lend to sinners,
and get back the same amount.
But rather, love your enemies and do good to them,
and lend expecting nothing back;
then your reward will be great
and you will be children of the Most High,
for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.
Be merciful, just as also your Father is merciful.
“Stop judging and you will not be judged.
Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.
Forgive and you will be forgiven.
Give and gifts will be given to you;
a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing,
will be poured into your lap.
For the measure with which you measure
will in return be measured out to you.”