Rising above the desire to destroy our enemies…opens us up to present joys
I’ve just read an article about a man in Migori County, Kenya, who has been locked up for 4 years in his own home. In 2016 he developed some disability and the family locked his door, opening it only to give food. His wife left him due to the disability.
I was thinking to myself: that is a tough thing to forgive, and pray for the abusers! Then I thought about the few people around the world who have been reported in the media, to have forgiven the persons who killed their son or daughter. Then there are those people falsely imprisoned for many years and finally released as innocent men. Or parents of abused children who struggle to forgive abusers
It seems unfair and impossible to forgive. Revenge, murder, torture might run through our minds. Part of our worldly (I won’t say human) feelings is that the people who did these things must be punished, deeply wounded, made to suffer, etc. I won’t say human feelings because true humanity is in the image and likeness of God.
The Holy Spirit works in mysterious ways because I also read today my daily piece on St Eugene de Mazenod – Founder of the Oblates – writing to his Mum 26-July-1837.
She was annoyed that her grandson had decided to join religious life and, secondly, that he had chosen to join the Jesuits instead of the Oblates. Eugene says:
“Nothing more natural, my dear mother, than the feelings Louis’ decision had brought on you. I understand your upset, and up to a point I share it; but pardon me for saying they are excessive in your case. After first allowing nature to express itself, one must learn to calm oneself and see things ultimately with the eyes of faith, in a supernatural way.”
The first sentence made me laugh! His mother was very annoyed when St Eugene joined religious life, but once it happened she wanted him to be a Bishop! (See link below for the full daily text about St Eugene’s life.) I included the second sentence because it wonderfully expresses the path that Christ calls us to in today’s Gospel:
“But I say this to you: offer the wicked man no resistance … & … love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; in this way you will be sons of your Father in heaven…”
Sounds good, but very hard to consider it proper!! It basically means forgive them.
I think many people can agree that forgiving others and moving on is more about setting ourselves free, even if it sets the other person free. When we can’t forgive, we usually can’t forget, either: meaning that we constantly think about the issue, getting angry, losing focus on our life and hurting those close to us by our words, our drinking, etc.
So that, by not forgiving we can destroy our own lives. Like many things in life we have to break food down into bite sized pieces so we don’t choke on it.
Let us follow the pattern of Jesus’ way of speaking by suggesting this: for anything less than murder, or less than physical, emotional or sexual abuse, let’s decide to forgive and move on by praying for them: what they did to us is about them, not about us.
They are sick: our prayers are a form of medicine. It means we are doing something positive, and by doing so we rise above the pain of wrong-doing by the other. We remind ourselves that we are good.
If we practice praying for the other, our lives will slowly be transformed by these smaller incidents of hurt that we receive from others. Then, when something really bad happens, we are already well on the way to being able to forgive them.
The Supernatural Way that St Eugene is about seeing each person as our brother, sister, mother or father, rather than strangers. In that sense, although family disputes are common, there is a greater reason to try again: family ties are how we survive in tough times.
I felt like laughing when I read this in today’s reading from St Paul: “Make no mistake about it: if any one of you thinks of himself as wise, in the ordinary sense of the word, then he must learn to be a fool before he really can be wise.”
This wisdom helps define the task we have before us: worldly speaking, it is foolish to pray for your enemies, except that they be destroyed! Perhaps, knowing that what is being asked of us is counter-cultural, might make it a challenge rather than a burden: a challenge to build up our community: ready for the difficulties of tomorrow!
(P.S. I have some helpful reflection material for those who would like some assistance.)
By Gerard Conlan, OMI