Thursday in the 23rd Week of Ordinary Time (I)
Memorial of St. John Chrysostom, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
Loving the Enemies Within
Readings: Colossians 3:12-17; Psalms 150:1b-2, 3-4, 5-6; Luke 6:27-38
If love is the one sure standard by which we can gauge the level of our commitment to Christ, then how we treat our enemies is the test of the authenticity of our love. This is perhaps the most difficult aspect of being Christian. Yet, it is also the very thing that should set us apart from sinners. As Jesus says in the gospel today: if you love those who love you, what thanks can you expect? …
Part of the difficulty, at least for me, lies in first identifying one’s enemies. Otherwise, how to love them? Sometimes, the tendency is perhaps to think of one’s enemies in rather extreme terms. So we may think that an enemy must be someone who actually sets out, with malicious motives, to harm us, or those whom we love. Of course, there is no shortage of such people in our world. And yet, isn’t it possible, and even likely, that there will be some of us who have been fortunate enough never to have met someone like that? There are some of us who may never have been cheated, or mugged, or backstabbed, or sabotaged. Even if we were to take as our model the crucified Christ, forgiving his persecutors even as he hangs on the cross, we might think that we have never quite been crucified so terribly, and so never been called upon to forgive our enemies the way he did, and continues to do.
But, even if we don’t have enemies who actually crucify us, are there not people in our lives who nail us to crosses of different kinds: crosses of boredom and monotony, of fatigue and neglect, of misunderstanding and indifference, of ingratitude and lack of support? Even if the thought never quite enters our minds that they may be our enemies, doesn’t it often seem just as challenging to continue loving them, as it does to forgive someone who has actually done us harm?
Indeed, doesn’t it sometimes seem even more difficult to love such people because – unlike those enemies in the strict sense, whom we might see only seldom – they are likely to be people whom we meet regularly. They may even be members of our immediate family, the one sharing the same room, the people living next door, the person seated at the adjacent desk, the parishioner in the next pew, the very ones we are trying to help…
Faced with people such as these, especially people within our own circle, it is truly difficult to continue living up to our vocation as Christians, to continue to bear with one another, to continue to forgive each other, to teach each other and learn from each other... And yet, that is what we are called to do. And that is what St. John Chrysostom, the saint we commemorate today, continued to do, despite being twice exiled by the Emperor for his troubles. And, as we are reminded in the first reading, the way to do this is first to recall that the Lord has forgiven you. Again, even though we did not actually and maliciously nail Christ to the cross, by our sins, we were included among his enemies. Yet he loved us, even unto death, and freed us to become members of his Body. It is in this way, in recalling this experience of being forgiven, that we allow ourselves to be moved with gratitude, and to seek the grace of loving even our enemies.
How are we being called to do this today?