Do you have enemies? I thought for some time and fortunately, I think I don't! So when I hear Jesus say, “Love your enemies”, I am tempted to exempt myself from this commandment. But can I? Jesus has set the extreme situation for us. If He has asked us to love even our enemies, who else then in our lives are we exempted from loving truly? Those non-enemies who I still find annoying and disappointing, … those, who by their action or non-action make me feel the underlying wound of unlove. I don’t need to fight these people in battle but they cause me unpleasant feelings within that I need to struggle with. How do I forget myself and love anyway? How do we bear witness to Christ in all situations to all people so that “…all will know that (we) are (His) disciples” Jn 13:35 and thus, evangelize? Tall order for me! How about you?
During one of my retreats, I found myself one day struggling a great deal with my anger towards a particular person who I found very self-centered, unreliable and therefore, someone I could not trust. Living with such a person was life-depleting and bearing the feelings she triggered in me was tiring. Yet, I was called to love her. I spent a long time complaining to Jesus about her, telling Him how ridiculously impossible it was to love her. After all, she was not going to change. My unspoken condition for loving her was that she needed to change and be better.
But Jesus made it very clear for us to understand in Lk 6:32,
“If you love those who love you, what credit can you expect? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit can you expect? For even sinners do that much.”
Throughout my complaining to Jesus, reasoning out with Him, even to the point of talking a walk to the beach to ease the tension within, He remained silent. I asked, “Why are You so quiet after I have said so much? Can You say something to help me out of this anger?” I was staring out at sea on the tiny island of Cheung Chau, frustrated at my frustration, and He replied, “Love needs no justification.” Immediately, I shut up. Because I understood. Jesus needs no reason to love us. He loves because He chooses to. That’s it. I'm called to do likewise.
When I cooled down after that, I learned that I cannot love a difficult person without first forgiving her for her wrongs. And the way to forgiveness is to place my own wrongs before me. How have I also been self-centered, unreliable, untrustworthy? When I examined this person’s flaws in my own self, I realized I had failed too in the same way. And just as God loves me in my sinfulness, no one needs to be perfect for me to love them.
Our sins pit us as God’s enemies. Yet, instead of justifiably striking us down, Jesus on the cross even went so far as to give us His mother, who, did not hold it against us for the cruel death of her Son but embraced humanity as her children. Can we ever justify our failure to love anyone, however painful and difficult that may be?
Love needs no justification.
Forgive by first placing my own sins before me.
We are soon approaching Holy Week and in preparation for this, the Church is invited this week especially to penitence. Let us take time to examine our conscience more thoroughly, and enter more deeply into the awareness of how we have hurt Jesus and our relationship with Him. How He has continued to love us despite our failure to return His love. Our depth of sorrow transforms into the depth of joy and refreshment experienced when the priest gives the absolution and we know that our relationship with Jesus has been reset once again.
"So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” Lk 7:47
By ourselves experiencing the compassionate mercy of God, we can then be compassionate and merciful towards others, so that all will know that we are Christ’s disciples.
Allocutio for Our Lady of Victories Presidium - 4 April 2017