Love Your Enemies: Two Dangers

greco_christ-traders-temple

Love your enemies.

The Lord has commanded us to love our enemies. Seems like we face at least two dangers when it comes to obeying this command. [Spanish]

1. What if I’m such a coward that I don’t have any enemies? How can I do good to those who hate me, if nobody hates me, because I don’t stand for anything?

When our Lord Jesus walked the earth, many people loved Him. And many people hated Him. He had friends. And He had enemies. How did the Christ of God make His enemies?

Remember when He drove the money-changers from the Temple? It made His disciples think of a verse from Psalm 69. Zeal for your house will consume me.

The zeal of Jesus Christ. He made bitter enemies because: Zeal for true religion consumed Him. He would stop at nothing to keep open the path of humble and honest communion with God. He showed untiring patience and tender gentleness. But He also showed fiery contempt for anyone who would block the path of true religion.

He loves every soul. But the honesty and humility that a soul needs, in order to live in friendship with God—that kind of honesty and humility does not come naturally to us sinners. We are much more inclined to proud hypocrisy. Christ made enemies precisely by denouncing that proud hypocrisy.

The_Head_of_Christ_by_Warner_Sallman_1941So “love your enemies” means: make some enemies. If I don’t have any courage or any zeal for God, I will inevitably wind up a party to something corrupt. I will just “get along” to the point where I lose myself. I will become a crippled nothing, languishing in the half-realization that I have betrayed my conscience. For short-term peace. So many times that I hardly know how to examine my conscience anymore.

The Lord said: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth… I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” Following Christ’s path of principled consistency divides us from others. We can’t make friends with sin or with any kind of spiritual mediocrity.

Ok. But there’s another danger, when it comes to Jesus’ command that we love our enemies. Mistaking friend–or even potential friend–for enemy. In other words, “love your enemies” also means: Whatever you do, do not define yourself by what you hate.

Yes, hopefully we hate sin. Hopefully we hate ignorance and malice. But our hatred of evil doesn’t make us who we are. Our love for God, and for His people, makes us who we are. And that requires that I constantly grow as a person, allowing God to expand my soul.

By sending His Son to live among us, and die at our hands, and conquer death for us, God has extended His loving hand to every human being. He wills to save sinners, not condemn them. God wills only goodness and life for His creatures.

When we follow the path that Christ followed, the path of universal love—even loving our enemies—then we grow. We expand ourselves. And, by God’s grace, sometimes we turn enemies into friends.

So while we must hate sin and evil, none of us grow by hating. We grow by loving holiness and knowledge, loving the beautiful goodness of God, and loving my neighbor for God’s sake.

This, of course, requires enormous humility. And careful prudence. Let me listen carefully to what everyone says, waiting till last to speak myself. Let me try to find a way to give everyone the benefit of the doubt.

And let me remember always that I am certainly every bit as obstinate and difficult as the person who annoys me the most. Let me be patient with everyone, as I hope everyone will be patient with me. Which means being patient with myself, too, of course.

Love your enemies. I think we imagine this is enormously difficult. But it’s actually considerably harder than that.

I must have the courage to reject any compromise that betrays God’s love, otherwise I won’t have the right enemies in the first place. But I must also have the humility to acknowledge: I have an awful lot to learn about God’s love.

No way we pull this off, both zeal and humility. At the same time. Unless we receive heavenly aid.

But that’s why we frequent the church. That’s why we go to confession and to Mass.

Help us, Lord, to make the right enemies. Then give us the humility to love them enough to turn them into Your friends.

Racial Harmony in Christ

Virginia State Capitol

Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep. Blessed are you who are now weeping, for your will laugh. (Luke 6:25, 21)

God made one human race. We all descend from one original mother and father, Adam and Eve. Because our First Parents fell from grace, we inherit human flesh in a state of sin. So we find ourselves estranged from each other, broken down into clans and tribes and races. [Spanish]

God united us again by sending His Son, the new Adam. Christ can and does overcome all the divisions that separate one people and nation from another, by reminding us of the true unity of all mankind, which we find inside ourselves. He died to reconcile every human soul with our Creator. By His light, we can see other people for who they truly are—brothers and sisters, children of the one heavenly Father, with whom we share the destiny of eternal life.

During the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries, other ideas wrought havoc with our sense of human fraternity. A lot of people lost sight of the unity of the human race. People here on this very land of Virginia trafficked in human slavery, justifying themselves with the idea that having white skin made you superior to dark-skinned people.

This way of thinking extended well into the last century. Governors, judges, even U.S. presidents, took it for granted. And now, suddenly we Virginians have to face again an excruciatingly ugly and painful aspect of this history. A phenomenon that plagued our state, and much of the country, for over a century. White men masquerading as black men, in order to mock and demean the entire race.

To Kill a Mockingbird Jem Scout DillNow, I for one am not exactly shocked, when it comes to the governor himself. After all, he had just gotten through defending the idea of snuffing out the life of a child at the point of birth. We already knew that the governor hardly has a “moral compass.”

But I want to explain what stuns and hurts me so much. I imagine that it has stunned and hurt a lot of us, especially those among us who remember the 1970’s, those of us who remember what the Civil Rights Movement accomplished.

Everyone read To Kill a Mockingbird? Do you remember the scene in the courthouse, when the children had snuck in, to watch the conclusion of the trial? Little Dill begins to realize that the judge and jury will not give Tom justice, simply because Tom is black.

Dill is just an eight-year-old boy. He doesn’t understand any of it well enough to express his insight in words. He just starts crying. The reality of racism confronts his idealistic and innocent mind for the first time. All he can do is cry.

In the 1970’s, thanks to the heroic courage of many people who gave their lives for it, we found ourselves there, as a country. We looked at the crushing racism that ran through our whole history. We looked at it pretty squarely and honestly. And we wept.

Not just blacks. Not just whites. We wept together. Dr. King had said what we needed to hear, in order for us to regret it all, together.

He was a churchman. He was a preacher. He shone the light of Christ’s truth. We have a common destiny, the one human family. Racial injustice harms the souls of the privileged while it crushes the un-privileged. We have to chase the dream together: sons and daughters of former slaves, and sons and daughters of former slave owners, sitting down together at the table of brotherhood.

So many things about blackface offend. But maybe one thing, above all: the smallness of it. The petty mockery, from behind a mask.

We can be bigger than that. We can communicate as equals, without pretenses. We can live together with true mutual respect.

But I think that we face truly grave danger right now. Without the grace of Jesus Christ, the human race stands united in only one thing. Sin.

We’re not born knowing how to communicate, and build trust, and expand our own souls by sharing the experiences of others. We have to learn how to do that—learn how to do it, from Jesus Christ. We need His grace, His peace, His strength. His love. He loved His enemies. He prayed for the cruel, Jew-hating Roman racists who crucified Him.

Without the love of Jesus Christ, this state, and probably this whole country, will only descend further into the chaos of mutual recrimination.

But He is with us. We can learn from Him. We can have a table of brotherhood. We do have one. We gather around it every time we celebrate Holy Mass.

The Virginia state house may be in a meltdown. The federal government may be in a meltdown. The holy Roman Catholic Church may be in a meltdown.

But we have hope. With Jesus, and with each other. The dream of a unified human race lives, right under the roof of every parish church.

Merciful Like Chrysostom Says Easter Is

St John Chrysostom in St PatricksSt. John Chrysostom died 1611 years ago tomorrow. He was a Syrian. He suffered at the hands of hostile secular rulers. He suffered at the hands of jealous fellow clerics. He lived an endless love affair with Christ, with learning, and with his flock. He bequeathed to us an all-but-bottomless treasury of Christian love, rendered in writing.

At Holy Mass today, we heard the Lord Jesus command us: “Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful.

How?

One way to answer that question might be to meditate on another question: To whom does Easter belong? Here is St. John Chrysostom’s answer to that question:

Are there any who are devout lovers of God? Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival! Are there any who are grateful servants? Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord! Are there any weary with fasting? Let them now receive their wages!

If any have toiled from the first hour, let them receive their due reward; if any have come after the third hour, let him with gratitude join in the Feast! And he that arrived after the sixth hour, let him not doubt, for he too shall sustain no loss. And if any delayed until the ninth hour, let him not hesitate, but let him come too. And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour, let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first. He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, as well as to him that toiled from the first….

Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord! First and last alike receive your reward; rich and poor, rejoice together! Sober and slothful, celebrate the day! You that have kept the fast, and you that have not, rejoice today for the Table is richly laden! Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one. Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith. Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again; for forgiveness has risen from the grave.

Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free. He has destroyed it by enduring it. He destroyed Hell when He descended into it…

Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead; for Christ having risen from the dead, is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

Sermon on the Plain and the World Passing Away

twin-towers

In the gospel reading at Holy Mass today, we read “Blessed are the poor…  Blessed are those who hunger…  Blessed are those who weep…”  Sounds like the…  Beatitudes.

The Beatitudes come at the beginning of the Sermon on the…  Mount?!  In the gospel according to…  Matthew?!

But today we read from the gospel according to Luke.

And the verses before today’s passage indicate that “Jesus came down and stood on a stretch of level ground.”

It’s the beginning of the Sermon on the Plain.

If you think I am making that up, I could see why you would.  But it’s a thing, a legit thing.  Christ’s Sermon on the Plain, recounted in St. Luke’s gospel–just like His Sermon on the Mount is recounted in St. Matthew’s.

Seems to me that St. Paul reflects Christ’s message in the passage from I Corinthians that we also read at today’s Mass.  St. Paul recommends that we Christians abstain from marriage and sex, as he recommends that we abstain from all inordinate attachment to the things of this world.

Not because marriage or weeping or rejoicing or buying or living in this world all involve pure evil—no.  Rather because the world in its present form is…  passing away.

On Sunday we will mark the 15th anniversary of 9/11.  The old Twin Towers always meant a lot to me, and I have read a bit about the mechanics of their construction and destruction.

During the design phase in the late 1960’s, they did a detailed study about the potential impact of a plane accidentally crashing into one of the buildings because of fog or a storm.  It never occurred to anyone then that terrorists would intentionally fly planes into the Twin Towers.  No one imagined such malevolence.

I’m not an engineer, of course.  But as I was reading about how they designed the Twin Towers, I thought to myself: it might be interesting to read that study about what would happen if a plane flew into one of the buildings by accident.

But you can’t read it.  The airplane-impact study from the sixties was itself lost forever on September 11, 2001.  There were only two copies, and, of course, they were in the buildings.

The world as we know it is passing away.  Blessed are those whose hearts belong to God.

The Way

Tenth Station
Tenth Station

Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? (Luke 6:39)

The Lord forms us in our mothers’ wombs in order to march forward through time, to a goal. And none of us can see that goal. Even us independent Americans need a guide. Because we cannot see heaven. We are all blind people when it comes to our ultimate goal.

God Incarnate has become our guide; Jesus Christ has opened the way before us. When we enter a church, the Lord guides us by His own Presence in the Blessed Sacrament, and by His Word. But, whenever we enter a church, let’s take notice of the visual representation of the way to heaven, which the Lord Himself walked. All Catholic churches have the fourteen Stations of the Cross emblazoned on their walls.

When we visit the stations, we see…

1. The love of Christ for the Father.

2. His love for our souls.

3. The humility with which Jesus acted to fulfill both those loves.

Christ had fiery moments; He had angry moments–all perfectly virtuous. But one particular “Hour” of His life demonstrates the deepest parts of Himself–the Hour of His Passion. During that Hour, He showed us His ineffable humility.

Stations of the Cross

The Measurer

The measure with which you measure will in turn be measured out to you. Luke 6:38

One God reigns. One Christ has offered the perfect sacrifice to atone for all human evil. One Holy Spirit binds all of mankind in a single destiny of eternal love. One just Judge will dispose all things rightly at the final account.

scales_of_justiceA Christian knows that death is not the worst thing. Death certainly ain’t good. We would rather not have to deal with it. Nor do we particularly like parting with our comfort and convenience. But worse than anything, worse even than death is: damnation. Worse by far than death: sin.

President has referred to the terrorist militants as ‘nihilists.’ Maybe that’s true. Genuine nihilism means believing that there really is no measure for our actions. There is no judgment. There is simply doing. Conscience is nothing but irrational, superstitious timidity.

Everything within us rebels at such a conception of things. No. Someone measures. Someone sees, knows; someone with a greater mind, greater penetration, and a genuinely comprehensive plan for everything. He has our measure. Moral and immoral are truly different. Right and wrong are truly different—not just in our cowardly minds, but in the scale that balances all things.

The measure of all things transcend our minds, of course—if it didn’t, then we really could be the ultimate measurers. But we know perfectly well that we are not. Our neighbors teach us that every day. My own point-of-view takes in such a small part of the landscape. Only one mind can conceive the entire pilgrim journey of Mother Earth and everything moving on her.

Nonetheless, the great Measurer has opened the door for us, so we can see into the unfathomable righteousness of His judgment. Continue reading “The Measurer”

Minding the Immigrants and Refugees

Blessed are you who suffer, who hunger, who mourn. Luke 6

Sermon_on_the_Mount_Fra_AngelicoTackling the profound mystery of these statements requires much more wisdom than I possess. But one thing leaps right off the page, even for an obtuse person like myself.

The Lord Jesus thought about the suffering people, the hungry people, the people in mourning. And He spent time with them and talked with them.

Inhuman cruelty can and does sneak up while we have our noses buried in our smartphones.

Like our neighbors who have to live without the basic benefits of citizenship—benefits we take for granted. Like looking to police officers for help. Like having our children apply for scholarships to go to college. Like having some recourse if we are exploited in the workplace, or abused, or fired unjustly, or cheated in a business transaction. Like having the possibility of defending our rights and claims in a court of law.

Right here in the beautiful counties of our parish cluster, we have plenty of neighbors who do not enjoy these basic prerogatives. We know from interacting with them that they themselves are no lawbreakers. What kind of country has this become, when the arrival of thousands of innocent children at our border becomes a reason not to treat Latin Americans more fairly? The children came armed with their perfect innocence and desperation, and our reaction is: Well, now we know we need to build higher walls and deport more people?

obama-prayingOr, while we fiddle with getting our Netflix subscriptions, another inhuman cruelty sneaks up: a jihad that enforces its will with a reign of terror that would have made the Nazi high command blush. Somehow a million+ refugees from Islamic State, with no roof over their heads, no schools, no businesses, no churches—snuck up on us somehow.

Those who suffer and mourn, who hunger and thirst. The Lord Jesus paid attention to them. If the books of the four holy gospels smell of one thing, they smell of the poor and the desperate. Christ had them on His mind. He has them on His mind. If they are not on our minds, then we are not sharing in the mind of Christ.

A decade ago we launched a war against Saddam Hussein. We fought the war in an earnest manner, I guess, basically. But we fought it for a false reason.

Now the groaning of all the Syrian and Iraqi refugees gives us a compelling and just reason to launch a war. But, to my mind, we seem a million miles away from being prepared to fight it in an earnest manner, a just manner. The legitimate reason for taking up arms is totally out-of-focus—namely, addressing the wrongs done to the countless innocents. And we appear to be incapable of learning this simple lesson of history: We cannot engineer our will from the air. That does not work; it just makes things worse and more complicated, and innocent people die. “Boots on the ground” is a stupid euphemism for actually fighting a war.

Are we justified in attacking the Islamic State? Is the Pope Catholic? Are we justified in imagining totally unrealistic scenarios in which we don’t have to fight the war, but just have to drop bombs from a convenient distance? No way.

May God help the leaders of the world to do what is right and just, in an honest way. Our job is to keep the suffering in mind, and pray like mad.

Trying Not to Misinterpret Christ

First: On Sunday we will read, among other things, the Parable of the Lost Coin. I learned something a few years ago that helped me understand it. Click HERE.

pancakes syrup

Love your enemies. (Luke 6:27)

Many people misinterpret this divine commandment like this: Christ preaches a sublime, otherworldly way of looking at things. Everyone knows both that this is the most beautiful doctrine ever and that in actual fact no one can follow it.

Because, in the real world, things get messy. God, of course, knows that. So we need Christ’s teaching to try to keep our ideals elevated. But then in the rough and tumble of actual events, we need a more practical approach. Christ meant to give us spiritual goals, for private cultivation.

The pivot point upon which this misinterpretation rests, I think, is this: When we get right down to it, what are the most fundamental facts?

No Signal staticHow about:

You have to fight to survive. Enemies lurk around most corners, and they have countless tricks up their dark sleeves. Beauty dies and fades away. Chaos overtakes order. The only place where anything noble can really dwell is in my own head, or in the heads of my like-minded friends, to whom I cling for dear life against the cold winds.

Christ teaches us, though, that these are not the fundamental facts. We don’t know from cold winds really. Because we cannot even conceive of the nothingness that would overtake us–were it not for the real fundamental fact.

The fundamental fact actually is: Everything exists because of the love of God. Why is there a today, when there could not be one? Reality could be a tv with a “No Signal” message bouncing around the screen forever. That could be it.

But it’s not.

Things exist, like pancakes and guitars. Today exists. For one reason: Because God is waiting, with infinitely patient love, for us to turn to Him, love Him, praise Him.

Every day He makes for that one reason. As far as He is concerned, what happened yesterday really doesn’t matter. Yesterday wouldn’t have existed if He hadn’t made it, to be sure. But He made it to be a today, not a yesterday. And now that yesterday is a yesterday, God is prepared to forget all about it. That, in fact, is why He made today. Yesterday was not perfect, so forget it. Today can be better. Today we can love. Today we can live in the truth.

That’s why it exists. That is the most fundamental fact. There is one decisive difference between planet Earth, equipped with leaves, a moon, spaghetti and people smiling with white teeth—one difference between this and nothing, between this and the eternal “No Signal” message—one difference. Eternal, omnipotent love.

Loving our enemies does not mean living in a dreamworld, a fantasy, a counterfactual delusion. No. Not loving our enemies means living in a dreamworld, a fantasy, a counterfactual delusion. When we wake up to the fundamental fact, we love our enemies. Because it is immediately apparent that any other approach is really quite pointless.

Invincible Patience

The Most High is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. (Luke 6:35)

Now, we have to ask the Lord exactly how He means this statement. We know that, when all is said and done, the ungrateful and the wicked will suffer eternal punishment. Although such punishment certainly qualifies as just, it would be a stretcher for us to propose that condemning the wicked to hell counts as ‘kind.’

So, we must ask: How exactly is the Most High kind to the ungrateful and the wicked?

This question touches us personally, because, to be honest, we must count ourselves among the ungrateful and the wicked. Have I shown God the gratitude that He deserves to get from me? Hardly. Have I escaped wickedness altogether? Have to take the Fifth on that one.

So we have a vested interest in grasping how the Most High is kind to the ungrateful and wicked people, like us. In the end, God will judge with justice. But, in the meantime, what does He do?

At Holy Mass today, we commemorate St. John Chrysostom. He lived his long and hard life with, as the Collect puts it, “invincible patience.” His eloquent preaching gained him a wide following. And it led to his bitter exile from the realm. He bore it all patiently.

How did he manage to do that? Bear it all with invincible patience? The good Lord gave John Chrysostom some of His own divine patience.

The Most High is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. As Christ also said, the heavenly Father makes the sun shine and the rain fall on the just and the unjust alike. All the plants grow together until harvest time, weeds as well as wheat. As St. Peter put it, the Lord’s patience is directed to our salvation.

To every living human being, the Most High kindly gives the greatest of all possible gifts. He gives us right here, right now. Right here, right now: the perfect venue for us to express our gratitude to Him and love Him like good little children.

As long as we have a right here right now, we can be grateful and good. He gives and gives and gives us moments in which to repent of all our many evils. He keeps us all alive a great deal longer than we deserve. If the door shuts in our faces when everything is said and done, we have no one to blame but ourselves. Even the damned in hell have to admit that the mercy of the Lord endures forever. Let’s not waste a precious second that the Lord patiently gives us. Every last one of them makes for a perfect opportunity for us to love Him.

Seeing Eye

learSelf-knowledge eludes us.

In “King Lear,” Regan remarked about her father:

He hath ever but slenderly known himself. (Act I, Scene 1)

Regan said this after Lear disowned Cordelia, the daughter who loved him the most, in a fit of rage.

Cordelia had refused to pay Lear lavish compliments like her sisters. “I love your majesty according to my bond; nor more nor less.”

“He hath ever but slenderly known himself.”

st basilOur eyes cannot see themselves.

In commenting on Luke 6:41, Saint Basil pointed this out.

In truth, self-knowledge seems the most important of all.

For the eye, looking at outward things, fails to exercise the sight upon itself.

Our understanding also, though very quick in apprehending the the sin of another, is slow to perceive its own defects.

Accusing oneself of sin is painful and difficult. It is also the most liberating thing we can do.

Once we have accused ourselves of sin, we can cry out to God for mercy. He will forgive.