April 25, 2019

Our Incentive is Joy

Relax.  The orders from Jesus in the Gospel of Luke (6:27-38) are a string of exaggerations designed to shock us. He doesn’t really intend for us to take them literally. We need only be nice and considerate, and civil with most people and everything will be OK.

Why don’t you relax?  We all know very well that Jesus means every single one of these statements, shocking and nearly impossible to implement as they truly are.  

We know him well enough to realize that these teachings are so “Christian,” so incredibly different from conventional wisdom, so radical that they must be divine; they must be filled with Life and designed to fill us with Life too.

Let me ask myself and all of you what we have sent our enemies for Valentine’s Day.  Did we send them a heart-shaped box of chocolates; 12 long-stem red roses; a generous gift certificate? 

Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.  You see my point?  

It could be that some of us have trouble identifying their enemies.  Others aren’t willing to admit having any.  And those among us who have some very specific persons who hate them, they are too busy steering clear of them to try to be reconciled with them or to do good to them.

It is  then important for us, today, to clarify a few points.

The closer we get to Jesus, the more he becomes the center of our life and the object of our love, the more enemies we will get: they are already his enemies.

They are enemies of the truth, of integrity, of the life of innocent preborn babies slated for abortion, of honesty, of the Gospel, of the Church, of the pope, of Catholic teachings, etc…

Today, Jesus shows us how to handle his enemies who have become our enemies now and are added to those who have been already hurting us for other reasons.

In First Samuel (26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23), we are shown that crucial step we must take to deal with our enemies the way proposed by our God. It simply boils down to setting aside our plan for justice, fairness, protection, retribution, and, concomitantly, to raise ourselves and our situation to God’s order and plan of creating one harmonious family for Himself.

King David was given a golden opportunity to put all his troubles behind.  The words of his army officer Abishai sounded religious, almost pious: “God has delivered your enemy into your grasp this day.”  How easy it is, especially when our enemies have tormented us for a long time, to see our man-made deliverance, our own brand of justice as approved by God! Yet, David knew best.  We should know best too!  The Lord had His plan, and according to that plan, Saul was still God’s anointed. God has a plan above our little, immediate, self-serving plans.  Twice David allowed God’s plan to dictate his future life.  What incredible courage and what gutsy faith! 

St. Paul, in his Letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 15:45-49), provides us with the next step to take.  We have been bearing the image of the first man (Adam); we have been “earthly.”  In Christ, we are now called to bear the image of the “second man,” to bear the image of the heavenly one (Jesus).

In Baptism the image of Chris (the last Adam) was implanted in us,.  In heaven, when we shall be like God, we shall bear that image of Christ in all its awesome beauty and glory. The span of time spent on this earth is, therefore, the time we work with the Holy Spirit in dropping our little personal designs, to embrace God’s design. It is the time to polish and re-polish the image of Christ until it shines with the splendor of the Father’s mercy, so that we can heed Jesus’ “impossible” order: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36)  

That is our goal, impossible for sure, yet a goal that we must strive to achieve as much as possible. Almost everything is impossible to us; nothing is impossible to God.

There is an incentive that I discovered in my counseling of people whose lives have been enslaved by resentment, hatred and fear of their enemies.  

That incentive is joy.  

Believe it or not, our efforts to take seriously Jesus’ commands about our enemies; those who hurt us; those who exploit us; ignore us; take us for granted; those who are demanding, manipulative, insensitive toward us, are all designed to bring us happiness. All people who cannot bring themselves to forgive; those who,with ease, pass judgment on others; those who are prone to condemn others, are leading miserable lives; and the miseries are self-inflicted.  

Everlasting happiness will stem from mercy/forgiveness: the one that the Father extends to us; and the one that we extend to each other. Though on this earth, Christian joy is found in silencing those above-mentioned destructive urges while embracing Christ’s radical commands.

It might also be helpful for us to heed Paul’s suggestion found in Philippians 2: 4-5: Each looking out not for his own interest, but also everyone for those of others. Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus.

Indeed, Jesus Christ died also for every single one of my enemies and of your enemies.  He put into practice every aspect of those orders he gave us in today’s gospel passage. He must believe that our desire for true joy will convince us to embrace his attitude toward others, including our enemies. 

For this purpose, because he feels he can count on us, he calls us again to share in the Sacrifice of the Cross: to become with him broken bread for friends and foes, and also to be blood poured with his for those we would rather avoid, ignore, or manipulate to fit our design. 

Jesus senses that our imperfect love for him is already potentially good enough for us to believe that forgiveness, cooperation, reconciliation, mutual acceptance, sincere caring for everyone can reverse the tide.  

This can be done to the point that God’s plan for all His children, those on our side as well as those on the opposite side, can be realized to His glory and to our endless joy.

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Written by
Fr Dino Vanin

REVEREND DINO VANIN, PIME was born in Cendon di Silea, Province of Treviso, Italy in 1946. He entered the PIME Seminary at Treviso at the tender age of eleven. He came to the U.S. in 1968, studying Theology at Darlington Major Seminary in New Jersey. He has an MA in Secondary School Administration from Seton Hall University. Ordained in 1972, he served as an administrator, teacher, rector and principal at the PIME High School Seminary in Newark, Ohio before being sent to the missions of Thailand, where he served for six years. He is currently the Treasurer of the U.S. Region of PIME in Detroit. On December 16, 2018 he was installed as Pastor of San Francesco Catholic Church in Clinton Township, MI. Every week he takes some time off from his parish ministry to do some administrative work at PIME headquarters in Detroit. Due to his increased workload at the parish while continuing as Treasurer of the U. S. Region of PIME and as counselor and spiritual director, he spends any time left doing a little woodworking.

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Written by Fr Dino Vanin