The Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
Dear brothers and sisters,
Today, the Lord Jesus gives us, if you will, our marching orders in the Christian life: “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28). If we do this, then everything he says afterwards will follow. Here in these islands, in the lives of Father Damien and of Mother Marianne, we have two outstanding examples of how to keep Jesus’ command to love our enemies; following them, we, too, can become “children of the Most High” (Luke 6:35).
Contrary to so much of our society’s understanding of love, love does not consist so much in feelings or sentiments, as much as it does in the will and in action. Love is the desire for the good of another person, together with a willingness to bring it about. We see this in the Lord’s further subcommands, if you will, to do things to our enemies: we are to do good to them, we are to bless them, and we are to pray for them; in other words, we love our enemies precisely by doing good to them, by blessing them, and by praying for them. In this, we see that love entails actions to bring about the good, even, and especially, at loss to myself. “In the end, in fact, love alone enables us to live, and love is always also suffering: it matures in suffering and provides the strength to suffer for good without taking oneself into account at the actual moment.”
When the Lord tells says to us, “love your enemies,” he is “proposing his model of life to [us] in radical terms.” Because it seems so unnatural for us to love our enemies - we would much rather revile them, slander them, and gossip about them - we have to ask what it means to love our enemies.
If we take Jesus seriously and give his words careful consideration, we will see that
...Christ's proposal is realistic because it takes into account that in the world there is too much violence, too much injustice, and therefore that this situation cannot be overcome except by countering it with more love, with more goodness. This "more" comes from God: it is his mercy which was made flesh in Jesus and which alone can "tip the balance" of the world from evil to good, starting with that small and decisive "world" which is the human heart.
Is this not what Father Damien and Mother Marianne both set out to do, to tip the balance from evil to good, and is this not, in fact, what they achieved at both Kalawao and at Kalaupapa? Yes, they both sought to love their enemies, such as they were, so that their enemies, too, might become children of the Most High.
When Father Damien arrived at Kalawao in 1873, he found the settlement to be a land of vice and he quickly set about uprooting the sin to plant virtue so that the good could flourish. His actions were not always welcome and he surely thought often about Jesus’ counsel to “do good to those who hate you.” This led him to provide medicines and bandages to the patients, regardless of who they were, and even to build their coffins and dig their graves, all because he loved his enemies and wanted what was good for them.
As news of his mission spread and he made the needs of his mission know, the world responded with great generosity, causing his superiors at the Board of Health and even within his religious community, to become jealous of him. Thinking he sought to make them look bad, they said many uncharitable things about him and to him. And though Father Damien sometimes reacted with justifiable anger, still he remembered to “bless those who curse you,” all because he loved his enemies and wanted what was good for them.
When Mother Marianne and her Sisters arrived at Honolulu in 1883, they were sent to serve at the Kakaako Branch Hospital. For three years, they were refused permission to go to Kalawao because it was deemed women were not made of strong enough stuff to live among the settlement and she remembered to frequently “pray for those who mistreat you,” all because she loved her enemies and wanted what was good for them.
Father Damien and Mother Marianne could have responded to their enemies in any number of ways, in ways that would have perpetuated the violence and the injustice, yet they chose instead to follow Jesus’ radical model of life and transformed that lawless land into a land of love.
Our own enemies may not be as strong or as numerous as theirs, but we surely all have someone with whom it is not easy to get along, someone who always seems to be antagonistic towards us. These two Saints of Hawai’i show us the way forward, they show us how to follow Jesus’ model of life. Indeed, they show us that
Love of one's enemy constitutes the nucleus of the "Christian revolution", a revolution not based on strategies of economic, political or media power: the revolution of love, a love that does not rely ultimately on human resources but is a gift of God which is obtained by trusting solely and unreservedly in his merciful goodness. Here is the newness of the Gospel which silently changes the world! Here is the heroism of the "lowly" who believe in God's love and spread it, even at the cost of their lives.
Let us, then, each look to the example of Father Damien and Mother Marianne and learn from them how to love our enemies and become true children of the Most Hight. Amen.