20 February 2011 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time
On 15 December 2010, Sr. Angelita receives the news of the murder of her mother and sister in their house. Her sister worked in a labor union in Mexico. But she doesn’t know who actually killed them. She said that in Mexico, you will never know who kills people. There are many cases that crimes are committed by the police or those they protect.
One of the hardest commandment to live by is to love our enemies. To Jesus, loving our enemies is the mark of the Christian. It would distinguish us from the others. But it is not without difficulty. It is radical and violent to our natural tendencies of self-preservation. It is almost impossible. I really mean the adverb, almost. Because, if it is impossible, then Jesus is unrealistic.
The objective of loving our enemies can be seen in the word Jesus used for ‘love’ – agape. Agape is the love we accord to someone because of their humanity. It is different from eros or philia when love is intimate. Agape is to give the person what is due. It is not expected, therefore, that we love our enemies as we love our closest friends and family. If you were given the grace of loving them like family, then praise be to God!
If we find it almost impossible to love our enemies, what do we do? What do we do when someone betrays us? How do you handle a painful situation? How do you forgive? If you are in Sr. Angelita’s shoes, would you pray for the perpetrators? These are the questions we have to face squarely if we are serious in following Jesus. These are the questions in the mind and heart of Sr. Angelita.
Let me begin with a personal knowledge of God: He is extremely intelligent. So He will not ask us to do the impossible, without giving the grace for us to perform it. In Jesuit circles, we call it ‘the grace of office’ – God will give you the grace you need to do His mission.
So first thing to do is to ask for the grace of forgiveness. Usually, we do not want to ask for this grace because our natural tendency is NOT to pray for them. I know what this mean, it is easier just to ignore them even in prayer; we would feel guilty if we wish them evil. Deep in our hearts, we also know that if evil befalls them, we would rejoice or, to the prim and proper, smirk and say, “That’s God’s punishment” or “That’s what they deserve.”
But Jesus does not want us to ignore them, because He himself prayed for them at the cross. In the very midst of suffering by His enemies, He said, “Lord, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” This same Jesus who gave us the command to love our enemies gives us the grace to obey His command. All we have to do is to ask for it. Do you want to ask for it?
When I was a teacher, I used to bring my class record to prayer. In all honesty, some students you like, some you don’t. Some like you; some also don’t. Nevertheless, you have to treat them as equally as possible. There are students who are unruly. So I would focus on the students whom I find difficult to deal with and then pray for their welfare. Somehow in praying for their good, I began to like and eventually love them. It became easier to understand them and then to treat them well.
This is the second thing we can do. When we want to change a negative attitude toward a person, we pray for their well-being. Somehow their dislikability changes.
The third is something I particularly experience as a priest, but not exclusively for us. When people I don’t understand come to confession, I get another perspective on them. And they seem to be different to me after the Sacrament. When people begin to share their inmost thoughts and personal stories in venues like a prayer group, somehow our negative reaction to them changes. We see them in a different light.
When we are able to do these three things, we would see enemies, not as foes, but as human beings. And thus, love them as agape. We see them as God sees them.
When Ninoy Aquino said, “The Filipino is worth dying for” – he meant all, including those who wished his death. When Jesus died on the cross, He also lived the same thing: all, including those who persecute Him, are worth dying for.