We have many challenges on our Lenten journey, but one in particular is the focus of my prayer and work this Lent: the love of our enemies in life.
Jesus' words could not be more clear or compelling:
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect." [Matthew 5:43--48]
I can't recall a time such as now when people tend to be so judgmental and even self-righteous, so quick to accuse, judge and condemn. And often with scant real facts and information. Because of news broadcasts now 24/7 there is little or no fact checking; no in-depth analysis; no context or history given. Rather, everything gets reported as "news" regardless of the basis for the item being reported--and passed on by countless other news outlets.
We have ended up with a climate in which it's the norm to instantly pass judgement on one another, taking in and repeating gossip, sharing someone else's judgment as the truth, no regard for other people who may be harmed. Whatever happened to the norm of giving others the benefit of a doubt until hard evidence proves otherwise?
Witness the hatred which has boiled up across the Middle East and other conflicted parts of the world, and the deep emotions which do not allow for understanding or love to emerge at all.
But Jesus calls us to something far different and much more difficult: we are to love our enemies, pray for those who persecute us. In today's world, to follow Jesus and his Gospel message means to "be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect." That's a really high bar for all of us, and certainly for me.
My daily prayer list includes both loved ones/friends, as well as those who dislike or even hate me. One prayer group involves those suffering from cancer and other illnesses, those who have been sexually abused by clergy and others in our Church, those who can't find a decent job, those in danger of losing their homes, our immigrants who live in the shadows of society.
But another prayer group includes individuals who cannot forgive me for my past hurts or offenses, those in the media who constantly malign me and my motives, attorneys who never focus on context or history in their legal matters, groups which picket me or otherwise object to me, and all those who despise me or even hate me.
If I don't pray for all of these people, then I am not following Jesus' specific discipleship demand.
Jesus' message of love and forgiveness has flooded the world over the centuries, and this message has had the power to change hearts and minds. May his challenge this Lent inspire us to do as he asks.