“You have heard that it was said, you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44)
Given the events of this past weekend, this Scripture verse is going to be hard for all of us to swallow. The horrendous massacre that happened in Orlando has everyone talking. Some are talking calmly and urging all of us to remain calm and rational. However, there are even more voice which are angry and advocating notions which are anything but rational. The politicians who are running for office are using this as a way to further their political campaign. Others are using this incident as a way to justify carrying concealed weapons. Gun control advocates are using the massacre to urge our politicians to enact stronger laws that will keep guns out of the hands of deranged killers.
My own response to this tragedy can best be summed up in the words of Jesus from today’s Gospel reading. I say that even though I realize that it is nigh unto impossible for most of us to do what Jesus asks of us. How can we love those who perpetrate such crimes? At the same time, I know deep in my heart that violence begets violence. The only way to stop the violence is to break the chain, to replace violence with love. I don’t deny that it is extremely difficult if not impossible, but we must try.
I will also admit that I found the pairing of this Gospel reading with the reading from the First Book of Kings to be very interesting. Ahab was a thoroughly evil king. His absolute power had corrupted him absolutely. Yet God tells Elijah that Ahab’s sins are forgiven because of an outward show of repentance. Was he really repentant? Probably not. However, he performed a gesture that gets God’s attention and wins him a share of God’s mercy. If God can forgive Ahab, then God can forgive anyone.
In 1964, a book by Louis Evely entitled That Man is You offered a series of meditations which are deeply moving. In one particular chapter, he describes the waiting line outside the “pearly gates” of heaven. People in line are conversing about their lives and about the reward that they hope to enjoy as a result of their good deeds. At one point, a person who was a known sinner appeared in the line. The others began to comment on their incredulity that this person was in the line for heaven. Slowly the incredulity turns to anger and then to absolute condemnation of the man who is simply waiting in line with them. As they begin to curse and scream, claiming that such a sinner could not possibly be admitted into heaven with them, the jaws of Hell suddenly open and swallow all who had found it impossible to forgive the sinner. Their lack of love for the sinner had condemned them even though they had lived obedient lives themselves.
I have never forgotten that meditation. Like anyone else, I have difficulty forgiving people who have injured me. However, that meditation keeps nagging at me. I hope that by the time I am standing before the gates of heaven, I will have found the will to forgive.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator