Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you: 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time

This was an interesting week. Of course, in this line of work, they’re all pretty interesting, but still.  Sunday after the 12:15 Mass I met a lady who had just the week before celebrated 70 years of wedded bliss with her husband.  Then on Monday, I drove up to New Castle to support a brother priest who was celebrating his mother’s funeral.  She was 92 years old and she was just a wonderful lady.  Thursday morning I met with a couple about getting their marriage validated; that afternoon I had my normal turn at the hospital, and then I got called to someone’s home to anoint him.  He’s 89, she’s 87; he uses a walker, she gets around with a cane, and yet the house was spotless, and was a shrine to their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  Tomorrow will be their 69th wedding anniversary.  When I asked them what their secret was – I have 15 weddings or so scheduled this year, I need to be able to help these kids – when I asked what their secret was, they just laughed and said there was no secret.  You just work really hard every day at giving everything you have to the other person.  And then yesterday, my cousin’s daughter – so my second cousin – gave birth to her daughter, which I guess is my third cousin?  Second cousin once removed?  I don’t know.  It makes my aunt, my oldest living relative, a great-grandmother, which is a role she relishes but a title she hates (it makes her sound too old, she says.  She is.)

My point in sharing all this is that these are the people I’ve found myself praying for the most over the last week.  And why not?  These are all people that I either know personally and care a great deal for, or are people that I’ve found to have these beautiful souls and to be very inspirational.  It’s easy to pray for them.  Something would be wrong with me if I didn’t.  It doesn’t cost me anything to pray for them.  Jesus is looking for more.

So what does that mean?  I need to pray for the people that annoy me?  Even the people that get their order from the drive-through window and then pull over to make sure it’s exactly correct?  If you care that much, just park and go into the store!  And what about the people that drive the wrong way down Spruce Street?  I need to pray for these people, too?  Well, it would certainly be more beneficial than just yelling at my window, but let’s be clear…Jesus is, in fact, asking for even more.

Love your enemies, He says, and pray for those who persecute you.  That’s asking a tremendous amount.  I don’t even want to think about those people.  And who does?  Remember the friend that you trusted, the one who betrayed you?  The person you told something to secretly that immediately broke that confidence?  The liars?  The bullies?  The ones that judged you?  Those that gossip about you, that slander you, that talk about you behind your back?

Anyone that’s left you hurt, bruised, broken, or scarred.  We all, sadly, have people like that in our lives…and we don’t really care much to think about them, do we?  And yet Jesus tells us to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors.  Because here’s the thing:  somewhere along the line, something had to have happened to them for them to act that way.  They’re as hurt and as broken as you – probably more so.  And while that’s not your fault, and that’s not an excuse, you can do something about it; you can do something to fix it.

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

Pray that God’s grace might come into their hearts.  Pray for their hearts to be healed.  Pray that we can break this cycle of sin that leads to nowhere but unhappiness and destruction.  Pray that they can start to see the good of this world rather than all the negativity.  Pray that they might remember that they are made in the image and likeness of God, a God who has known them and loved them since before time began, a God who looks at them and says yes, this is very good, a God that sent His only begotten Son to die for them, and a God who deeply desires that one day they will be with Him in heaven.  Pray that they know all of those things…and while you make that prayer, know this as well: all of those things are equally true about you.

Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.

Nothing easy about this, that’s for sure.  Even the first step to doing this is hard.  And yet on paper it seems so simple.  Forgive.  St. John Chrysostom once said, “An insult is either sustained of destroyed – not by the disposition of those who insult, but by the disposition of those who bear it.”  What he means by that is that you can’t start to be healed yourself without first forgiving those who have wronged you.  If you’re not healed, you can’t then move onto love and to prayer.  Stop bearing grudges; they’re a load that’s too heavy for you to carry and not in God’s plan for your life anyway.  Forgive.  And move forward.

Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.

In the final moments of His earthly life, as He hung on the cross, bloody, beaten, tortured, abandoned, and in excruciating pain, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them.  They know not what they do.”  He loves His enemies, and he prays for those who persecute Him.  Have you ever found yourself hanging on a cross?  Maybe you’re there now.  Helpless; hopeless; facing injustice, facing cruelty… Jesus shows us the way to respond to all of that with love.  Jesus shows us how to be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect.

Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.

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