DO GOOD TO THOSE WHO HATE YOU, PRAY FOR THOSE WHO PERSECUTE YOU.Jesus set a high standard indeed for his followers. He realized, of course, that what he required of his disciples was more than human. He sums up his teaching in this connection with the lapidary phrase that we are all familiar with: BE PERFECT AS YOUR HEAVENLY FATHER IS PERFECT. The Lord, then, defines perfection in terms of selfless and strong love. The love he defines has nothing of natural attraction or sensual satisfaction as its basis; the contrary is the case: those who create the greatest obstacles to our happiness are to be included in the kind of love he has in mind. This love he conceives in terms of acts of kindness and of prayer. Nothing is said about affection or mutual attachment. This love resides in the will, and seems to require a very deliberate and determined commitment rather than a melting sensibility. In short, it has nothing in common with the kind of sensuous love that is so much spoken of and in evidence so widely in the media today in our country.
Fortunately, Jesus also spoke on other occasions and in a different context about other characteristics of the charity that he preached and practiced. The love that he fostered and taught his followers to practice did not exclude by any means those whom we find congenial, attractive for qualities of mind and soul, and possessing the charm of virtue and grace. Nor does it exclude the bonds of nature, and family; on the contrary, we must show a special concern for those who have such claims upon us. But the charity that Jesus practiced and taught does not limit itself to such naturally congenial persons; nor is it founded primarily upon those qualities or conditions that we experience as attractive and engaging. Jesus himself had special ties among his small group of apostles; with one of them he felt a more intimate affinity of mind and heart.
Yet at no time did he allow such attractiveness to deflect him from his single-minded dedication to the Father's will. Nor did he confine his preaching, teaching and prayer only to those whose manner and personality were agreeable. He displayed a particular concern for the marginal, for those considered unlovable, and did not fail to reach out even to those who resisted, opposed and even persecuted him. The love that he revealed, then, is many-layered. Charity elevates and purifies human love in that it has as its motive and purpose the good of the other, not self-satisfaction. If we are to respond to the Lord's commandment to do good to those who hate us, we must cultivate this higher, more exacting kind of love in our daily life. Only those who have learned to love in truth can display that self-giving strength of dedication that knows how to go beyond self-interest and is capable of forgiving injury. The love that is truly from God knows how to conquer all resentment, overlook injustices done to oneself and even forgive deliberate ill will.
May the Lord Jesus in this Eucharistic sacrament instill in each of us this morning such true and strong love. May we always cultivate such love in our relations with one another. Then can we reasonably hope that by his grace we will prove steadfast in time of trial and remain firm in our purpose even when we treat with those who are difficult, unjust or ill-disposed to us. This alone is the love that makes us worthy to be children of God and heirs with Christ of the heavenly kingdom.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
© Abbey of the Genesee
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