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  • Writer's pictureFather Puddleglum

7th Sunday in Ordinary Time - A

Radical love. Charity even for one’s enemies is the hallmark characteristic of Christianity. You see such a radical love exemplified in the life and words of St. Maria Goretti. She lived out the command of our Lord to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” She is a model for us all.

St. Maria Goretti was born in 1890 to a poor Italian farming family. She was known to be a kind, sweet, and charming girl who loved her Catholic faith. One day while she was alone a neighbor, 18 year old Alessandro Serenelli, made advances towards her and tried to force himself on her. Maria refused to submit telling Alessandro that it would be a sin and that she would rather die than submit. An angered Alessandro proceeded to stab her fourteen times. Alessandro ran away – although he was quickly apprehended after Maria’s family returned to their house. The surgeon was unable to help Maria and she died the next day. Shortly before Maria died she said that she forgave Alessandro and that she wanted to see him in Heaven with her.

Our Lord’s command to love our enemies is not an easy one. Our natural reaction towards our enemies and those who hurt us is to shun them, to turn away in disdain and harbor a grudge. And yet this radical love is neither a suggestion nor a recommendation. It is a commandment from our Lord.

Our world is filled with anger and condemnation. There are entire websites dedicated to touting stories of lousy people who got their comeuppance. Posts from such channels and pages garner millions of views on social media. Internet mobs are quick to descend on people deemed irredeemable criminals against society. This impulse exists on both sides of the political divide and even beyond politics. Our age grows increasingly unmerciful. This leads to two distortions.

The first is that forgiving one’s enemies makes one weak, or is a betrayal of what you believe. This view holds that to show any mercy, to offer any compromise, or even see any good in one’s enemies is to betray truth. But that itself is untrue!

The second error stems from the first. Assuming it is impossible to love one’s enemies, then the only way to follow the Lord’s command is to pretend there aren’t any enemies at all. Under this error, condemning the error and evils committed by people is seen as being identical to condemning and hating the people themselves.

But what the Lord calls us to is a much more reasonable, albeit more difficult path. We have to both acknowledge that we have enemies and love them at the same time!

St. Thomas Aquinas says that to love is to will the good of another. If we will, if we choose what is good for another then we exercise love. Love is a choice, an action and not a feeling.

Love must never be separated from truth, truth who is a person: Jesus Christ. Pope Benedict XVI says that “without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way. In a culture without truth, this is the fatal risk facing love” (Caritas in Veritate, 3). Only once we realize the truth of who Jesus is as our Savior, only once we realize who we are, that we are loved and desired by God, are we able to properly love. This union between God and man is the ultimate good that we must choose for others. This is love. When we love someone, we are willing and choosing that they be brought closer to Jesus.

Jesus passionately desires that all souls be saved and united to him forever! As horrible as all the evil we see in the world is, it is nothing compared to the evil of a soul which was meant for God being separated from him forever. If we only understood this, our desire for justice itself would make us desire the redemption of our enemies. After all, we hold that all injustice stems from an offense against God. But what greater tragedy can God suffer than to be deprived of the love of a soul which he created to love him? Therefore, the more we put God at the center of our worldview, the more we will desire souls to return to him, even the souls of our enemies.

Desiring the salvation of our enemies is what reconciles both love and truth. Yes, it might be true that they have done great evil and hurt us or others and offended God. In fact, trying to pretend that isn’t the case will only make it harder for them to come back. But it is also true that God wants them to repent and return to him. We are commanded to want that as well, and for that reason we love our enemies.

When it comes to loving our enemies it doesn’t mean having warm feelings of affection towards them. It means desiring their salvation, that they be close to Jesus. Just like Maria Goretti, it means desiring that they be in Heaven one day.

We need to examine our lives and ask if we love and pray for our enemies. I have found that those who pray for their enemies – if they do at all – tend to make that category of “enemy” as broad, vague, and non-specific as possible. We often pray for distant enemies who have no immediate connection to us such as politicians and world leaders. And this is a very good thing which we ought to continue. But do we pray for our friends who have lied to us, talked behind our back, betrayed us? Do we pray for our estranged family members who have said hurtful or spiteful things to us? Do you pray for your father or mother who have hurt you? Do you pray for your ex-husband or ex-wife? Make no mistake. This is a tall order. This is a challenge. But it is still the command of our Lord.

The hurt our enemies have caused might linger in our hearts but we can still choose to love them; we can still will their good and desire that they be in Heaven one day. Again, to love in spite of the pain others have cause is not a natural love. It is a supernatural love that cannot be done apart from the help of God, a God who cried out in His agony “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.” Only when we are rooted in Jesus, only when we see ourselves and other in the reflection of who He is, will we be able to love our enemies and be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. Without such a connection to Jesus even Maria Goretti could not love Alessandro.

While in prison, Alessandro eventually converted and devoted his life to prayer and penance. He even reconciled with Maria’s mother who also forgave Alessandro. When we love our enemies, when we choose the path of mercy rather than revenge and retaliation, we act as doorways of the healing love of God into a broken and hurting world. Will we accept the invitation to this radical charity, this supernatural love?


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