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Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

My dear encountered couples:

We are taught how to act towards others. Turn the other cheek, love your enemies, pray for those who make your life miserable. Do more for other people than they require of you. Meet force with kindness. This is the way of God. It is also supposed to be the way for us to live. Become perfect in love as God is perfect.

Quite opposite from normal human tendencies and the way of the world, isn't it? The world teaches: if someone hits you, hit him back; those who oppose your freedom are enemies - fight and get control of them before they get the upper hand; if a person makes your life miserable, get even; don't let anyone force you to do anything - show them who's boss. The world's idea of perfection consists in becoming strong and courageous like Rambo.

So many throughout the history of the world have lived by the world's standards of control over others by power and might and the principle of retaliation. Where has it gotten them? Israel retaliates nearly every time an Arab group does something to them. They still live according to the Old Testament “an eye for an eye.” The result is an invitation to the Arabs for another act of violence: “a tooth for a tooth.” Both sides live in fear and hate. It does not take much thought to discover the philosophy of “getting even” never solves the problem.

Now, Jesus gives the solution. But very few have tried it. Why? Because there are very few real men and women with that kind of courage. Heroic courage is required for you to offer no resistance to injury. Heroic strength is required to get control of yourself when you are seething with anger throughout your body and soul. Strike out and hurt the adversary seems to be the natural tendency.

Jesus says: “love them, pray for them”. “Absurd”, the world says. And maybe you and I often think the same. But never put anything down that Jesus said as absurd until you try it. Very few have done so since Jesus taught from that mountain. But those who did, and those who do, find out eventually that the ways of God are by far the best, in fact, the only solution. The empire of Rome was converted to Christ by the turned cheeks, love, and prayers of the early Christians.

It was certainly not easy for them. It took that heroic courage and strength I mentioned. But now they know it was worth it. Though many suffered, even died, they live now in an extraordinary state of happiness. I guess it takes somewhat of a gambling tendency or ability for a person to really devote his life to living this love of enemies as Jesus teaches.

To respond to one's enemies with care and concern requires a great leap of faith. An immediate favorable result just might not take place. Much time, years even, may be required.

But you will find that responding with sincere care for the offender can disarm him. For if you don't fight back with anything but love, he should eventually become so ashamed of himself that he quits - and hopefully learns to become like you. It is much, much easier to sit in the comfort of your favorite chair or in the quiet of a church, and imagine yourself putting into practice the goodness that Christ teaches.

When someone does this or that to you, you visualize yourself responding like a true Christian. You not only don't retaliate, but you see yourself going out of your way to do the offender a favor. That is much easier to imagine than when an actual offense takes place.

Someone throws an empty beer can on your manicured lawn. Arrest and fine that “SOB” litterer is your feeling. Another person at a shopping center slams their car door against yours - a scratch! Call a cop, this guy will pay for this stupidity! That idiot ahead of you won't turn right on red. Honk your horn and get him out of the way! These are relatively minor incidents. But how do you respond to them?

Well, let’s consider much more serious ones. Your neighbor's Great Dane chews up and kills your little Pekinese. Your response? Shoot that dog! Take the owner to court! A drunken driver runs over your child. Unbearable grief turning to rage demanding punishment takes you over. You'll see to it that that irresponsible fool is taken off the streets and punished for the rest of his life.

How would you respond? How would I? When an actual, distressing situation happens, Jesus tells us what to do. But to respond his way when we are filled with anger takes extreme control, courage, and faith. Is not God unreasonable in his expectations?

Put yourself in the shoes of the offender. You become the litterer, your carelessness dents another's car, your dog kills someone's defenseless pet, your drinking too much once in your life results in the death of a child. Will you demand to be punished? Or will you reach out for understanding and forgiveness, for another chance - for love? Would it not affect you in the depth of your heart if someone you offended treated you with Christ-like gentleness? Would that kindness not move you to become a better, more concerned person for others?

If all the people of the world would only take the gamble and try to live as Christ teaches, we'd all find out how well it works. But all the people won't take that chance. So we won't find out. But you can try it. I don't mean just for a few weeks or a year, but for the rest of your life. You say you are a Catholic. Prove it! Listen to Jesus whom you say you believe in, and give his ways, the ways of God, a chance to prove their value.

As God tried to bring the Jewish people along the path of morality little by little until they would be ready for the perfection of living a life of love, he tries to lead you up the ladder of goodness a step at a time. Begin with minor offenses committed against you. Turn your other cheek, seek no revenge, fight off the tendency to get even, hold no grudges. Try to care for your enemies and persecutors by praying for them, and when you can, help them to find happiness by showing them the value of goodness.

Vengeance destroys! Goodness softens and wins the heart. Which would you rather do? What are you already doing? Jesus has been asking for centuries and still asks today: “Would any of you Christians out there like to try Christianity?”

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