Tuesday June 15, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (1 Kings 21:17-29) Gospel (St. Matthew 5:43-48)
Our Lord in the Gospel reading, which is part of the Sermon on the Mount as Our Lord teaches His disciples the way that He expects for them to live their lives, lays out for us again a very difficult thing, that is, that we are to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors. This, again, is not something which is going to come naturally to us. When someone presents themselves to us as an enemy, what is natural is that we do not like them and we do not want anything to do with them. Yet, Our Lord is telling us that we have to rise to a new level. If we are going to be followers of Christ, Who is God, then we have to love our enemies just as He did. Now that does not mean they are going to love us in return, but what it means is that we have to pray for them, we have to practice charity towards them. If we saw someone whom we would consider an enemy having a problem, we should help that person rather than sitting back snickering and thinking, “It’s a good thing this happened. They deserve it, after all; look what they’ve done to me!” We need especially to have the right interior disposition toward that person.
There is a saint who tells us that our love for God is only as great as the love for the person in this world whom we love the least. So when you think about it that way and then you hear, Love your enemies, you say, “Well, maybe there are a few people whom I really do not love much at all.” That, the saints tell us, is how much we love God. If we see it from that kind of a perspective, then it is incumbent upon us – if we truly want to love God – to seek to love our enemies. Remember what Saint John told us: How can we claim to love God whom we do not see if we do not love those whom we can see?
Now love does not mean having gushy feelings; it does not mean warm fuzzy things. It means true charity, seeking the good of the other, wanting the best for the other. That is what we have to be about. The Lord is calling us precisely to this.
We look, for instance, at the first reading and we can see how all of this works. You have Ahab, who at that point was the worst king Israel ever had (It did get worse, but at this point he was the worst one), and instead of just completely destroying him as he worshiped idols and so on, God sends Elijah, whom Ahab proclaims straight out as his enemy. Elijah does not say, “You jerk! Here’s what’s going to happen to you, and you deserve it after all!” Rather he simply explains the situation. When Ahab accepts the truth and turns his heart and repents, God is willing to forgive him. That did not erase the effect of his sin, but the fact of the matter is that God’s mercy is such that here is someone who has even fallen into the worship of false gods and led the people of Israel into the worship of false gods and the Lord was still tolerant and merciful. It does not mean that He liked or approved of the worship of false gods in any way, shape, or form, but that He was willing still to forgive.
All we have to do is look at our own lives. If, at the moment we committed the worst mortal sin we have ever committed, God zapped us with a lightning bolt and wiped us out, well, more than likely none of us would be here right now, nor would we have the opportunity to go to heaven if that happened. So God in His mercy loved us, as Saint Paul said, even when we were enemies because we were steeped in sin and we had our hearts turned away from Him. And if that is the way God is and we are children of our heavenly Father, it is the way that we have to be. It is in loving our enemies that we are going to be able to bring about the greatest of conversions, the greatest first and foremost being our own conversion and then that of others.
So that is something we really need to take to prayer, to look at our attitude toward others, our disposition of heart toward others, and the Christian charity that we have toward others. Not those whom we call our friends and who like us a lot, because that is pretty easy, but those whom we consider our enemies. Just bring that to prayer with the thought in the back of your mind: “The measure I love this person with is the same measure that I love God.”
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.