The 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 20, 2022
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
In today’s Gospel Jesus makes one of the
most radically challenging demands in Scripture:
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.”
If we’re honest with ourselves, this passage should be very intimidating.
It’s intimidating, first of all, because it seems oxymoronic to say
“love your enemies.”
Plus, it seems an impossible task,
because sometimes it seems we’re surrounded by enemies
who really don’t care if we love them or not.
And all this is complicated by the fact that good-hearted people
really don’t want to think of other people as their enemies.
Some people say that Christians should have “no enemies.”
A nice sentiment, but not very realistic.
Others say, “the power of sin is the real enemy.”
To some extent this is very true and important,
but it doesn’t mean that real persons can’t also be “real” enemies.
As the Catechism teaches:
“In the account of Abel’s murder by his brother Cain,
Scripture reveals the …consequences of original sin,
from the beginning of human history.
Man has become the enemy of his fellow man.”
Jesus Himself takes this position in today’s Gospel, as He says:
“To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well.”
It’s pretty hard for “sin” to slap your cheek, since “sin” has no hands.
Rather, only a person can strike your cheek
–and that person Jesus calls “your enemy.”
Some people don’t like to admit that we all have enemies,
because they think that by calling someone an “enemy”
we take a hostile attitude toward them–a hateful attitude.
But that’s not necessarily true.
After all, what is an enemy?
Is it someone we hate or oppose or want to injure,
or is it someone who hates or opposes us or wants to injure us?
Jesus defines enemies as:
“those who hate you, …those who curse you, …those who mistreat you.”
So we can love our enemy,
even while he remains our enemy because he does not love us.
Which leads us to two key reasons
why we need to recognize an enemy as an enemy.
The first is to protect ourselves and loved ones from being injured by an enemy.
And the second is that to deal with other people effectively
you have to know who they are and what their attitude is toward you:
How can you be in a real relationship with someone
if you refuse to acknowledge who they really are?
So who are our enemies today?
We have to be careful: we can’t be paranoid or irrational;
and we can’t confuse someone who simply disagrees with us,
or looks or sounds different than us with someone who wants to injure us
—they are not our enemies.
Still, we have no problem identifying some of our enemies.
Some are flagrant in their attacks: terrorists are clearly our enemies.
Some are not so flagrant, but are still obvious:
the guy at work who wants your job and will do anything to get it;
the kid in school who mercilessly picks on you, or bullies you.
But there are some enemies we have a harder time recognizing.
Sometimes we don’t recognize them because they don’t seem to affect us
immediately and directly.
For example, those who try to degrade our culture and corrupt our children
with bizarre notions of right and wrong:
moral reprobates who turn TV and the internet into porn shops;
politicians and activists who defend the right to abortion;
and libertines and degenerates,
who promote sexual disorders as normal,
educators who indoctrinate children with lies, confusion and perversions,
and even priests and bishops who abuse our children, lie to us
or corrupt our faith.
But….in all of these cases, Jesus commands us:
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”
This is, indeed, a daunting task.
Yet…at the last Supper Jesus told His apostles:
“Greater love has no man than this,
that a man lay down his life for his friends”.
Jesus lived out this teaching the very next day on the Cross.
But He didn’t die just for His friends, He died also for His enemies
—as St. Paul tells us elsewhere in Scripture:
“while we were enemies we were reconciled to God
by the death of his Son.”
In His death Jesus invites all mankind, including his enemies,
to be not only His friends, but also His brothers and sisters
—and through Him “children of the Most High.”
So the command to love our enemies isn’t built on
blind foolishness, or some sort of perverse divine masochism,
but on the fact that Christ died for us all–friends and enemies—
and invites us to share in His sacrificial love.
So just as He allowed His enemies to not only crucify Him,
but also to curse Him, to strip Him of His clothes and to strike His cheek.
And He tells us in turn:
“bless those who curse you…
when a person takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic…
To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well.”
And just as He looked down from the Cross and said: “Father, forgive them”
He tells us: “Pardon, and you shall be pardoned.”
These are hard demands.
But we have to remember two important things.
First, Jesus is giving examples not legislation.
Jesus doesn’t literally mean that every time someone hits us
we have to let him keep hitting us.
What Christ is demanding in these radical examples
is that all of our actions should be made in the context of love,
even if it means we have to suffer, or sacrifice.
The first response to an enemy should be patience and forbearance,
but sometimes—in love—we have to respond in other ways.
Sometimes love requires standing quietly while our enemies attack us,
as Jesus did when the Romans scourged and mocked Him.
Sometimes love requires walking away from our enemies,
as Jesus did when He walked through the crowd in Nazareth
that was trying to throw Him from the cliff
for saying: “this day the prophecy is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Sometimes love requires us to correct our enemy
as Jesus did when He told the guard who struck Him at His trial:
“if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?”
Sometimes it requires raising our voice in righteous anger
toward our enemies, as Jesus did when he said:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! …
You serpents, you brood of vipers,
how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?”
Sometimes it may even require resorting to violent action,
as Jesus did when He made a whip
and drove the moneychangers from the temple.
To most of us, it seems impossible to love our enemies,
how do you love someone attacking your country,
or mocking your marriage, or corrupting your children.
But as Jesus tells His apostles in another passage:
“With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Think now: by our baptism we have been born again into a new life
which is a participation in the very life of Jesus Himself.
We have become not only His friends or even family, but members of His Body.
And in the Eucharist we are present once again
at the death and resurrection of our Lord,
as He calls us to take our sacrifices made in love
–the times we’ve turned the other cheek,
been patient or even corrected an enemy in love
–and to offer these to be united with His own sacrifice
so that they and we can be transformed
by the love of the Cross,
and we can receive the power to live as Christ
“do[ing] good to those who hate us.”
As St. Paul says in today’s 2nd reading:
“Earthly men are like the man of earth,
heavenly men are like the man of heaven.”
So that even if these things are impossible for us,
nothing is impossible for Jesus Christ in us.
Jesus’ call to “love our enemies” is at one and the same time sublimely beautiful,
and devastatingly hard.
But if the Cross is hard, so also is it beautiful
as the act of perfect love that leads us to the resurrection.
As we now begin to enter into the mystery of the Holy Eucharist
let us ask Jesus to unite us to Himself
that we may have
the wisdom to recognize our enemies,
and the strength to love them.