In the Gospel this Sunday, Jesus tells us we must love our enemies, and then he shows us what love of our enemies should look like.
This love does not come naturally to us; it is the opposite of how we are likely to respond.
When someone hurts us, our first thought may be our need for justice. Justice is important, but with the help of God’s grace, we can develop a desire to deepen our relationship with God and ask his guidance when we are confronted with difficult issues.
Perhaps our first step is to ask: Have I been able to forgive those who have hurt me in any way? We cannot love someone whom we cannot forgive. Forgiveness is fundamental to our relationship with God and one another. It is so important that it is included in the only prayer our Lord has given us. We say,
Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
In other words, God will forgive us in the same way we forgive others.
There is nothing we are allowed to not forgive. Think of the terrible things people do to one another; every offense must be forgiven.
There will be no complete healing of the pain until the offender has been forgiven.
What It Means to Forgive
If we forgive someone, does it mean that what they did was okay? No. The offender is accountable to God for what they did; when we forgive, we refuse to carry the burden of their sin.
Of course, if someone commits a crime against us, we work within the justice system. However, if we want to experience the peace of Christ, our forgiveness does not depend on receiving justice. We can only receive the peace of Christ in relationship with him. Jesus is our example. He experienced a terrible injustice on our behalf, but forgave his executioners and us who share their guilt.
We have more examples, too. Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr, forgave his persecutors as they were stoning him to death. Hundreds of other saints have shown us how to forgive injustices more serious than anything we will ever experience, with the help of God’s grace.
When We Don’t Forgive
Over thirty years ago, when my wife Mary Jane and I were visiting people door-to-door throughout our parish boundaries, we met a women whose son had been murdered by an associate who had died a short time after the murder. Even though her son’s murderer was dead, the woman would not forgive him. She told us that before all this happened, she had been in good health, but now she was homebound with debilitating asthma. She knew that her condition was related to her inability to forgive her son’s killer and still could not bring herself to forgive him.
This is a graphic example of how unforgiveness makes us a slave of the one who hurt us, even if that person is no longer alive.
In addition to possibly affecting our health, unforgiveness can cause us to become a bitter, negative person, which leads to unhappiness for us and the people we love.
If you have a deep hurt that you have not been able to forgive, ask God for the grace to at least have the desire to forgive because you know that God wants to liberate you from the burden you are carrying. Continue to pray for that grace until you begin to experience some peace. We must be purified of all bitterness, resentment and unforgiveness before we can enter into heaven.
Hope In Severe Trial
I read the true story of Archbishop Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan from Vietnam who was arrested by the Communists and imprisoned for nine years. In the beginning, he was filled with bitterness because of the injustice he had experienced. After a while, he realized that his bitterness was not going to change his situation; he decided to find a way to bring something positive to his dilemma.
He began to collect small pieces of paper and write down all the prayers, Scriptures, and positive things he could remember. He also collected pieces of bread and grapes to squeeze into juice so that he could celebrate Mass. Other prisoners would come to him at night secretly for prayer and worship. His presence there brought hope to the other prisoners. He also wrote several books while in prison on pieces of paper, one of them is called, The Road of Hope, a Gospel from prison. He chose to turn his bad experience into a testimony of faith.
We have all heard the expression, “Out of bad comes good.” That does not happen by accident; in most cases, it is a choice. That’s why Jesus says, “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) If we turn to him when we are experiencing trials, he will give us the grace to turn bad into good while we keep our eyes on him and persevere in prayer.
Sunday’s Gospel concludes with the words, “For the measure with which you measure will in turn be measured out to you.” (Luke 6:38) During his unjust imprisonment, Bishop Van Thuan made a decision to use his priesthood for the benefit of those imprisoned with him, and to draw on his faith to evangelize them and others on the outside through his writings. He measured his situation, and instead of allowing it to defeat him, he used his priesthood and his gifts for the service of Christ and his Church. In turn, this service was measured back to him. He said:
It is not enough to simply not hate. It is not enough to merely love others, or merely to help others. Only when love and action work in harmony is our love enough.
After he was released from prison, he was expelled from Vietnam. He went to Rome, where he became a preacher to the papal household and was named Cardinal by Pope St. John Paul II. He died on September 16, 2002, and the Roman Catholic Church began the process of his beatification on September 16, 2005.
It Is Possible for Everyone
What God asks of us, we can only do in relationship with him and with the help of his grace. This relationship is possible for anyone who desires it and wants to be faithful to what he has revealed to us through the Scriptures and the Church. We need to turn our lives toward him through a disciplined prayer life, by living the sacramental life, and by having a desire to discover God’s will for our life. If this is the measure with which we measure out our lives to God, it will be measured back to us with peace, hope, and eternal life.
At Pilgrim Center of Hope, we’re here to help you live your daily journey in hope. Let us journey with you. Visit PilgrimCenterOfHope.org. If you are in the San Antonio area, call us about our Meet the Master series of Saturday morning reflections: 210-521-3377.
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