Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Loving enemies

There wouldn't seem to be too many ways you could correlate today's first reading (about a church collection!) with the Gospel on loving enemies. When I first read them for my meditation, it seemed to me that I needed to make a choice about which text to focus on. And I have to admit, I was also extremely distracted by an image I had seen last night on Facebook. (I have the kind of mind that never lets go of an image, so I am pretty careful about what crosses my retinas; last night I hit the "hide" button too late.) The item was one of those "old news" bits that always seems to be current news, dated by the last time someone posted or shared it. The actual news item was from December. It was authentic. (I had to check.)

Last December in Syria, a Christian man (a taxi-driver and soon-to-be father) was beheaded because his brother was overheard complaining that the rebels [the anti-Assad side, fractious as it is] were acting like bandits. For this, the complainer's brother was murdered and his body fed to dogs.

That, then, is what kept running through my mind as I read the first reading (St Paul's exhortation that the Corinthians follow the good example of the people in Philippi -- and ultimately of Christ himself) and the Gospel ("love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you....be perfect as the Heavenly Father").

Paul pointing to Christ's example.
According to my favorite Pauline scholar, Michael Gorman, the first reading contains, in nugget form, the heart of the Gospel as Paul preached it: "Being rich, Christ became poor for your sake, so that you might become rich by his poverty." You might be more familiar with the way he expressed the same pivotal reality in his letter to the generous Philippians (whom he was exhorting to a new kind of generosity): "Have among yourselves the same mind that is also yours in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God...emptied himself and took the form of a slave." Paul wanted the Corinthians, and us, to model ourselves on that "form of God," the God who "makes his sun shine on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust."

In the light of the atrocity I was exposed to (and how many that do not reach our ears or eyes?), this command is all the more timely. These are not vague, namby-pamby enemies we're talking about here; not petty injustices or subtle forms of social exclusion. These are "to the death" enemies; the very definition of the word "enemy". And Jesus tells us to "love them, pray for them"; empty yourself and take the form of a slave for them; die for them. Pope Francis is recalling each of us to this central Christian "ethos" which is both a mindset ("have this mind among you which is yours in Christ Jesus") and a way of life; a way of seeing as well as a way of behaving.

Jesus wants his followers to manifest God's indiscriminate goodness precisely in the situations that most mask and distort his presence; to transubstantiate the situation [this is our priesthood] and make it a place where, though "sin abounded, grace abounds all the more." That's just what happened on Calvary.

And "you know the gracious act of Our Lord Jesus Christ."

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

So incredibly difficult to do. Just when I think I have put particular memories of events behind me, forgiven, up it pops in my consciousness, together with all those feelings of ill will for the other. Two steps forward, one step backwards, and so the effort begins anew. I offer it up in prayer, telling Jesus I hope what he has planned is worth all this earthly effort, and in my self-righteous indignation I think I can hear a faint chuckle from far away. - Jean

Sr Anne Flanagan said...

My Mom loved what a priest-friend of the family used to recommend: the prayer, "Heal my memory." And I read recently the advice to ask the Lord to show me which mystery of his own life most closely corresponds to this experience, so that I have the possibility of living this in communion with him. (I want to try this from now on!)

Sr Anne Flanagan said...

My Mom loved what a priest-friend of the family used to recommend: the prayer, "Heal my memory." And I read recently the advice to ask the Lord to show me which mystery of his own life most closely corresponds to this experience, so that I have the possibility of living this in communion with him. (I want to try this from now on!)

Anonymous said...

Sr. Anne, this is good advice, and I think I'll give it a try. I've also read that each time we remember an event from the past our mind changes the recollection somewhat, so that we never completely resolve our memory of the conflict. It's a good practice to allow what took place in the past to remain in the past, not to allow our minds to resurrect the event and spoil our present. The older I get the more aware I am of my personality flaws, though I don't believe I was any less flawed when younger. - Jean