7th Sunday Ordinary Time
Fr. Mark Gatto
Preached: February 20, 2022
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” Any Christianity that does not take this teaching seriously is superficial and self serving. In fact, the test of our Christian Faith is not if we go to church on Sunday, but do I love my enemies, have I removed hate from my heart?
This is the non-violent vision of Jesus. It is a way of being in this world, a way of being in relationship with our fellow human beings. It is a way of speaking, a way of disagreeing, a way of fighting for justice that rejects violence. It is a way of facing hatred and division without becoming hatred.
In our world today, division, polarization, hatred are all so prevalent. We see divisions between nations, in the news today we see the situation in Ukraine, but we can look throughout our world and see so many examples of division and opposition between nations. Within our families we see so many cases of division and separations.
Within our church we see real polarization, with one group attacking another. We just have to go on Catholic Twitter to see that. Our challenge is to face all of this without giving in to hatred within ourselves. This non-violent vision is not passive. We face evil, we confront injustice, but never with violence, nor with vengeance.
The greatest obstacle to us embracing Love of our enemies is fear. Thomas Merton said, “fear is the root of all violence.” We need to be aware of our fear, what causes me fear. When I do not recognize fear within myself, then I will simply respond, “I hate you.” We need to say rather, “I am afraid.”
When someone is racist, it is usually rooted in a deep fear of those who are different or of losing some privilege. When countries go to war, it is often rooted in fear, fear of losing something, fear of the other which has often been formed over history. When someone is xenophobic and attacks immigrants or refugees, it is usually rooted in fear of losing something or of those who are different. We need to be aware of what we fear. I need to say, “I am afraid” rather than “I hate you.”
When we are fearful, our response is to strike out, attack, destroy the other. Anger inside of us is usually rooted in deep pain, from hurts within us. Over the years in a parish, I have often spoken to office staff about dealing with angry people. I would tell them not to take it personally and realize that when someone is reacting in such anger it is usually rooted in some deep pain they have within, that might not even be related to the present situation. It is for this reason that Martin Luther King said, “hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
Our mission as the Catholic Church in the world today, our mission as disciples of Jesus today, has to include being instruments of peace. The way we speak, the way we oppose injustice, the way we share our faith, it has to be in a non-violent way. We need to overcome fear, not be guided by fear. Fear is a terrible spiritual director.
We need to be instruments of peace in our families, in our church, on social media, in our world. To be such an instrument of peace we first of all need to find peace within ourselves, we need to struggle to overcome fear and hatred within ourselves.
The God whom Jesus revealed rejects all forms of vengeance and demands no victims. This Kingdom of God means the complete elimination of every form of violence between individuals and nations.
Become instruments of peace, our world desperately needs instruments of peace. The survival of our world and of humanity depends on this.
Perhaps my favourite prayer is known as the Prayer of St. Francis. “Lord, make me an instrument of peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love.” It goes on to say, “grant that I may not so much seek to be understood, as to understand.” We all want to be understood, we want others to understand how I am feeling, what my views are and so on.
But, the way of the Gospel requires that we first of all try to understand the other person first, what they are feeling, what they are thinking, how they may be hurting inside. It is this dying to self that allows us to be an instrument of peace.
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.”
This is the key test of our Catholic Faith. By overcoming fear and hatred within myself, then it is possible for me to become an instrument of peace.