Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – Fr. Pete Iorio
February 23, 2020 – 11:00AM
The world was given a real live example of unconditional Christlike love on October 2, 2006 in a bucolic town called Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. A tormented man went into a one room school and shot 10 girls and then took his own life. 5 girls died and 5 survived. This took place in an Amish community. The Amish are devout in their Christian faith, believing in a literal interpretation and application of Scripture as the Word of God. What shocked the world was not only the horror of shooting but the response of the community. They loved the shooter by forgiving him. While the Amish community strives to avoid publicity, this tragic event thrust their community in front of a worldwide audience.
In the midst of their grief over this shocking loss, the Amish community didn’t cast blame, they didn’t point fingers, they didn’t hold a press conference with attorneys at their sides. Instead, they reached out with grace and compassion toward the killer’s family.
They also said the decision by the community to forgive the killer and his family was not as simple as it has been seen to be. “It’s not a once and done thing,” said Linda Fisher. “It is a lifelong process.”
As a principle, forgiveness is closely adhered to by the Amish. But it takes a while for each person’s emotions to catch up with such an outward decision, John Fisher said. When he saw the wounded girls fighting for their lives in the hospital, he was angry. But human anger did not win out. He called upon God to put this kind of love into practice. The Amish have chosen to be separated from the world and to live their faith with intentionality. That is how I understand their astounding displays of love in the midst of hatred and tragedy. They are still very human and feel the feelings. They do not let them win. Instead, they practice this love that Jesus teaches about today in the Sermon on the Mount. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. This is not easy to do.
I am reading an excellent book by social scientist Arthur Brooks, a Harvard professor who is a member of Bishop Barron’s Word on Fire. The title of the book is appropriate for today’s Gospel: Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt. I am learning a lot. Hatred is a strong feeling of dislike. Dr. Brooks says that contempt is stronger than hate. Contempt attempts to mock, shame, and permanently exclude from relationships by belittling, humiliating, and ignoring. Contempt says, “You disgust me. You are beneath caring about.” He cites a study that compares what is going on with Palestinians and Israelis with what is now going on in our own country with Republicans and Democrats. In both cases, the two sides think that they are driven by benevolence, while the other side is evil and motivated by hate. Therefore, neither side is willing to negotiate or compromise.
This quote got me: “America has an insatiable craving for insults to the other side. As much as we know we should ignore the nasty columnist, turn off the TV loudmouth, and stop checking our Twitter feeds, we indulge our guilty urge to listen as our biases are confirmed that the other guys are not just wrong, but stupid and evil.”
Your opportunity when treated with contempt is to change at least one heart—yours. Our normal human reaction to bad things is anger. It is part of our human protection system. Reacting out of anger is usually thoughtless and quick. I make a distinction: A Response is different. A response is thoughtful and can be a choice that is measured love. You may not be able to control the actions of others, but you can absolutely control your response. Brooks asserts: You can break the cycle of contempt. You have the power to do that.
Love and warm-heartedness might not change every heart and mind, but they are always worth trying, and they will always make you better off. The book is teaching me about the health and human benefits of this command to love enemies. When we do not love, it destroys us.
Jesus gives us a reason, a motive to love our enemies – do this because this is the way God loves you. I imagine that if you have not experienced God loving you unconditionally, then you really cannot fathom how to do this.
We still live in a world where we accept a tit for tat and an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. That offender deserves their comeuppance. Paybacks and revenge are commonplace. To rise to a higher place of consciousness and godly love is fully the work of the Holy Spirit. Without God, you really cannot put this gospel into practice.
In my own life, I know that it is the flow of the love greater than me that enables me to love my enemies. The natural human reaction is to get offended and then protect myself and to even fight back. BUT when I crucify my ego and unite myself to Christ, I am then able to deny myself, take up my cross, and love the other for who they are and who God made them to be.
What about the last line: So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”?
We get caught up with perfection and think it has to do with spiritual practices. Go to Mass more, pray the rosary every day, read the Bible. The way I understand this perfection as it flows from the sermon on the mount is to be like God who is unconditionally loving towards everyone. The sun shines on the good and the bad and so God’s love falls on every one of his sons and daughters whether they know it or not; whether they want it or not… and this connects to another. Rather than Be Perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect, I read it: Be unconditionally loving just as your Heavenly Father is unconditionally loving. To put this into practice, I also remember another exhortation/teaching from Jesus: do not be afraid. I always go back to that when I feel that I cannot love someone as I should. God give me the grace to love and not be afraid to put that love into practice… Saint John of the cross said: where there is no love, put love and there you will draw out love. Very often, that formula works. And sometimes I do not see the results, but I trust that the benefit of my loving action will come out later, maybe even when God reveals it to me after I pass from this life.
This is a perfect segue into Lent which begins in a few days. Lent is our communal time of striving for conversion as Christians. We have many options for doing this. I am asking all of you who can participate to come to our Lenten parish mission at the end of March. The theme is the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Get out of your head that it is just a devotion that focuses on bad art of Jesus exposing his heart. No! The mission will empower all of us to be infused with this phenomenal unconditional love of Christ and help us to put it into practice in our daily lives and also help us to bring about our conversion and the conversion of this contempt ridden society. Please pray about coming out each of the three nights. You all know the Scripture about Love from St. Paul to the Corinthians. Love is patient…ending with Love never fails…and that is because Christ never fails. And He has made you and me in His Own Image which means to give and receive love.