24 February 2024

God loves those who hate us

1st Week of Lent (S)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great, Irving

That we may be children of our heavenly Father, we must love our enemies, pray for them, especially those who persecute us. If there's a teaching in scripture that is more contrary to our animal instinct for self-preservation than this one, I'm not sure what it is. Loving family and friends comes easily. We can even manage to love God and ourselves without too much difficulty. But loving and praying for those who would see us destroyed is not only contrary to our survival it is downright suicidal. If our enemies defeat us b/c they are stronger, smarter, and more numerous, well, that's unfortunate for us but we can at least grasp the idea that we lost b/c our enemies were stronger, smarter, and more numerous. What is beyond comprehension is the idea that we would lose b/c we were too busy loving and praying to fight with all our strength! That's not a battle, it's a retreat, a surrender. And it's suicide. Jesus must be winking at the disciples when he teaches them to love and pray for their enemies. He must've spoken this nonsense in a sarcastic tone. As strange as it might be to hear: no, he's deadly serious and there was no winking. We defeat our enemies by wielding a weapon called Truth. “[The Father] makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” God loves those who hate us. And we must be perfect as He is perfect. 

If we will be the children of our heavenly Father, we must be perfect as He is perfect. God is perfect in His love. He is Love. Love is Who He is and What He does. In every thought we think, every word we speak, and every deed we do, we too must be thinkers, speakers, and doers of love. If we pick and choose whom to love, sort through the options and select this one or that to love but not that one or this one, then we do not love as God loves. The sun shines on both the good and the bad; the rain falls on our friends and our enemies. Jesus asks us, “. . . if you love those who love you, what compensation will you have? Do not [traitors] do the same? And if you greet your brothers and sisters only, what is unusual about that?” In other words, how does loving only those who love you make you a child of the Father? What truth are you living when you only pray for those who pray for you? “Do not the pagans do the same?” Why imitate those who would see us destroyed? Yes, we might die if we love them, but it would not be by suicide.

The key to understanding this difficult teaching is to understand that Jesus is pointing us to our lives beyond this one. Though our mortal lives are immensely important, they are not ultimately important; that is, in the Father's plan for our salvation it is more important that we practice love than it is to merely survive. It is essential to our eternal survival that we practice the love He gives us by loving those He Himself loves. Our enemies hate us. We can fight them with our own hatred, and we might even mortally defeat them. But in fighting them with hatred, we are immortally defeated. We become our own enemy, haters of self and God. Jesus understands our natural instinct for survival, but he pushes us to think and feel beyond the limits of this mortal life and live in the perfection of his Father's love right now. We trust in the loving-goodness of our God. And this is our fundamental strength, our deadliest weapon against the hatred of our enemies. If we bombard them with prayer, then both we and they win the battle against our mutual enemy – Sin and the death it brings.

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21 February 2024

The only sign we need

1st Week of Lent (W)

Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP
St. Albert the Great, Irving

Jesus seems irritated. Maybe “frustrated” is a better word. Apparently, the crowd is clamoring after signs to prove that he is who and what he says he is. We don't know if the crowd is genuinely interested in his claims, or if they are just idly curious or bored. We can assume that they don't believe him. That's usually the case when proof is demanded. Evidence will support or refute his claim. Evidence will settle the issue. But how often is evidence presented; the claim obviously supported; and still acceptance of the claim is not forthcoming? If my mind is made up on some hot button issue (gun control, abortion, capital punishment, the identity of the Messiah), how likely is it that evidence and good argumentation will change my mind? Ideally, my mind is properly ordered to the true, good, and beautiful and can be persuaded to see the true, good, and beautiful wherever it is revealed. But we know all too well that once entrenched into a pattern of thinking, changing one's mind is difficult if not outright impossible. There's always a way to read the evidence to fit my intellectual habits. The crowd wants signs so that they can judge for themselves whether or not Jesus is telling the truth. Unfortunately, signs are not going to help them. Nor will they help us.

Signs won't help us b/c we already believe. Or we say we do. We have already accepted Jesus' claim to be the Messiah and have ordered our lives around being his followers. We aren't always and everywhere perfect followers, but we have fundamentally taken on the mind of Christ and vowed to be Christs in the world. Signs, for us, are pointless. They add nothing to who and what we are. Apparitions, locutions, weeping statues are all well and good, but they are not signs – for us – of Jesus' identity and purpose. If we believe that Jesus is the Messiah and we follow him, then we have a task to complete that's bigger than seeking after signs. We are charged with becoming the signs that the crowd seeks. You and I have agreed to be the signs of God's power in the world. That's His choice and ours. He loves the world through us and in the world we are loved by Him. Thus, we, the Church, are the sacrament by which those in the world encounter divine love. Lenten challenge: go be a sign of divine love. Show the world -- in word and deed -- that Jesus is the Messiah. He died for sinners so that we might live. His empty tomb is the only sign we need.

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