Friday, July 8, 2016

Do you love your enemies?

There is an Irish "blessing" that goes like this:
May those who love us love us.
And those that don't love us,
May God turn their hearts.
And if He doesn't turn their hearts,
May he turn their ankles,
So we'll know them by their limping.
A lot of times our prayers are like that. People hurt us, or hurt others, and we either pray for the victims, or we pray for justice, that the perpetrators get their comeuppance. Now, there is not necessarily anything wrong with praying for justice - many of the Psalms are like that. From Psalm 109:
May his days be few;
    may another seize his goods!
May his children be fatherless,
    and his wife a widow! 
May his children wander about and beg;
    may they be driven out of the ruins they inhabit! 
May the creditor seize all that he has;
    may strangers plunder the fruits of his toil! 
Let there be none to extend kindness to him,
    nor any to pity his fatherless children! 
May his posterity be cut off;
    may his name be blotted out in the second generation! 
May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the Lord,
    and let not the sin of his mother be blotted out! 
Let them be before the Lord continually;
    and may his memory be cut off from the earth! 
For he did not remember to show kindness,
    but pursued the poor and needy
    and the brokenhearted to their death. 
He loved to curse; let curses come on him!
    He did not like blessing; may it be far from him!
We are hurt - we are outraged. We want justice without mercy.

But God has a better way. Jesus said, in Luke 6:27-36:
“But I say to you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from him who takes away your cloak do not withhold your coat as well. Give to every one who begs from you; and of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again. And as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.
 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
In this year of mercy I've been cognizant of our duty to extend mercy to those who wrong us. I've read (by solid Catholic catechists) that we have to forgive everyone (since we are commanded to), and also that we don't have to forgive the unrepentant (since God does not). Who is right? We pray every day (you do pray this every day, don't you?) in the Our Father "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." So, do we want God to forgive us when we are unrepentant, or perhaps not as repentant as we should be?

There is a principle in computer science called the robustness principle (aka Postel's law) that goes like this "be conservative in what you do, be liberal in what you accept from others." It is a good principle to use in life. Be conservative in treating others - be as harmless as possible. On the other hand, be willing to accept poor treatment, and forgive.

Note - I'm not saying that those who break the law should not be tried and punished, nor am I saying that we should ignore evil or be doormats for anyone who would abuse us. On the contrary, we should always protect ourselves and others, and part of that is, as a society we should enforce laws. I'm talking about our inward attitude or forgiveness, not some "get out of jail free" card - truly loving those who have done evil.

An easy principle to state, but a hard one to implement. Consider the recent shootings in Dallas. As someone who is not directly involved you may think it relatively easy to forgive Micah Johnson, and whoever else was possibly involved. Yet, do you truly wish to bless him? Do you pray that he is burning (justly) in hell, or that he turned to Jesus as he saw that explosive coming at him, and is now awaiting entry into heaven? Not that easy to bless those who curse you is it?

But let's make it personal. Consider the person who belittled you on Facebook, and made you feel horrible. The person who cut you off in traffic, who took away your job, who betrayed you. Will you pray that they repent? Will you pray that God makes them become nice people? Or will you truly pray that they be blessed, even as they curse you. Will you pray that good things come to them and that they receive a reward in heaven? Would you volunteer to do their time in purgatory? Because if you wouldn't you might be doing your own time in purgatory because of them.

Is it just that they go unpunished, and maybe even rewarded, for having done evil? No, but we should trust God to balance mercy and justice. This is a very hard concept, and one I will continue to meditate on in this year of mercy.


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