Year A: Homily for 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Theme: “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.’” (Matthew 5:44-45)
By: Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
British writer and Christian apologist G.K. Chesterton has offered us a sardonic springboard for reflection on today’s gospel passage when he wrote, “The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.”
Indeed, it’s those who are closest to us who can most easily get under our skin, rub us the wrong way, irritate a raw nerve, drive us crazy and, in short, become near enemies. How much contemporary humor finds its foundation in this most natural of human dynamics! But there’s also a heavy note of tragic sadness. Let Rachel Macy Stafford reveal it in her article, entitled “The Important Thing About Yelling,” a brief excerpt from which I share:
“I cherish the notes I receive from my children—whether they are scribbled with a Sharpie on a yellow sticky note or written in perfect penmanship on lined paper. But the Mother’s Day poem I received last spring from my first-born daughter left a profound impact. It was the first line of the poem that caused my breath to catch before warm tears slid down my face: [she wrote] ‘The important thing about my mom is she’s always there for me, even when I get in trouble.’
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“You see, it hasn’t always been this way.
“In the midst of my highly distracted life, I started a new practice that was quite different from the way I behaved up until that point. I became a yeller. It wasn’t often, but it was extreme—like an overloaded balloon that suddenly pops and makes everyone in earshot startle with fear.
“So what was it about my then 3-year-old and 6-year-old children that caused me to lose it? It was those normal mishaps and typical kid issues and attitudes that irritated me to the point of losing control. I hated myself in those moments. What had become of me that I needed to scream at two precious little people who I loved more than life?
“Yelling at the people I loved was a direct result of the loss of control I was feeling in my life. Inevitably, I had to fall apart somewhere. So I fell apart behind closed doors in the company of the people who meant the most to me.” (“Huffington Post,” January 3, 2014)
While the author of this article was able eventually to find healing for herself, thereby curtailing the verbal battering of her children, there are so many others who continue to target those nearest and dearest with the arrows of verbal assault. And assuredly it’s not just parents toward their children, nor is it just verbal abuse. It’s often worse. Indeed, when, like the article’s author, the real enemy is oneself, the target of assault is most liable to be the nearest person.
In the gospel passage we hear today, “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.’” (Matthew 5:44-45) And I dare to put words in the mouth of Jesus when I add: For when you pray fervently for those who seem to be enemies and persecutors, something most amazing happens: Enemies and persecutors dissolve, revealing neighbors waiting to be met.
Perhaps G.K. Chesterton wasn’t being sardonic at all. Perhaps he was even chuckling gently to himself when he wrote, “The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.” While Chesterton knew human nature well, he knew even better the transformative power of prayer.
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