Skip to content

Saturday, first week of Lent

February 19, 2005

Blessed Saturday!

Deuteronomy 26:16-19 (you have chosen God and He has chosen you, for holiness)
Psalm 119:1-8 “Happy are they who follow the law of the Lord”
+Matthew 5:43-48 (love your enemies as God loves His)

Yesterday we looked at handling anger. Today’s readings go the next step, by examining the way we treat those who rouse our anger: our enemies (we’re talking about human opposition here, not our ultimate, spiritual enemies).

First we are reminded that God has chosen us and we have chosen Him, and that obedience to His commands is part and parcel of this choosing. Breaking God’s commandment, by its very nature, is separating ourselves from God, rejecting our choice of Him. Sin makes us even more unlike God than we already are (which only highlights the monstrosity of the devil’s lie when he told Eve that sin would make her “like gods” -see Genesis 3:5).

Jesus tells us that we are to be like God, perfect as He is perfect. In this case He specifically says we are to be like God in our treatment of our enemies, doing good to them and praying for them. There are a number of layers to this. St. Augustine points out that doing good to our enemies doesn’t necessarily mean doing what our enemies want. “For not every one who spares is a friend, nor every one who chastises an enemy; it is better to love with severity, than to use lenity wherewith to deceive [see Proverbs 27:6]” (Augustine, Epistle, 93, 2). The writer of the letter to the Hebrews assures us that God chastises those He loves (Hebrews 12:5-6). This means that loving our enemies doesn’t exclude correcting them. However, that correction must be done for their eternal good, not our itch for revenge. Unless we’re directly responsible for their training (as their parents, for instance), it’s often safer to leave the correcting to someone else lest we be fooled by our own revenge-tainted motives.

Loving our enemies means doing what’s best for them, which ultimately means doing whatever will help them get to Heaven. It does not mean condoning or facilitating their sin, which will separate them from Heaven, but it does include meeting basic human needs for kindness and physical necessities.

For those who worry that doing good to our enemies will perpetuate their evil, Pseudo-Chrysostom and St. Augustine both point out that earthly goods don’t really benefit evil people. Evil people turn good things to their own destruction by their evil lives. Nor do earthly losses really harm the righteous. The righteous turn earthly losses into an increase of humility and other heavenly treasures by accepting their losses for love of God and offering them up in union with Jesus’ Passion. St. Francis was a good example of this. “If you took away his food, he fasted. If you took away his lodging, he found perfect joy in the cold and snow. If you abused him and told him he was no good, he agreed with you. If you took away his life, he became a martyr. The world could not force him to compromise.” -Fr. Michael Scanlan, TOR, Let the Fire Fall.

As people who are called to holiness, like St. Francis, we are called to turn the very harm our enemies intend into spiritual treasure, not only for ourselves, but also for our enemies. Even as a fast adds emphasis to our prayer, accepting other forms of suffering for love of God does too. When we offer up the suffering our enemies inflict on us, joining it to prayer for their souls, we participate in God’s ultimate response to evil. We participate in redemption–in bringing good out of evil. After all, the ultimate way to prevent evil is to bring people to salvation, to have them fall in love with the Source of all goodness so that they will desire holiness and reject wickedness on their own. Then they stop being enemies! Our prayer, offered up with the sufferings our enemies provide us, can be turned to this ultimate good: their salvation. This is much more rewarding than any earthly revenge we might come up with, which would only perpetuate the cycle of evil. Besides, it makes us more like God, which was our goal in the first place!

This mentality, this way of responding to enemies doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time to sink in, time to become part of the way we approach life (especially angering situations, which are typically bad times for trying to think straight!). One mental exercise I’ve found helpful in helping that process along is to say to myself, “This is for my benefit,” whenever I encounter something I don’t like. I don’t have to understand how or why. I just have to trust God to mean what He said. “Now we know for those who love God, all things work together unto good” (Romans 8:28). All things, not just the things I like, are for my benefit. God would not have permitted this to happen unless it was ultimately for my good. That means I don’t have to defend myself against it. Rather, I need to cooperate with God as He brings good out of it for me. It’s very freeing. As I practise this with little things, it becomes easier to remember when more serious issues arise.

May we learn to participate in God’s work of redemption by turning our suffering into spiritual treasure.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: