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02/23/20 Seventh Sunday in Ordinary time

In today’s First Reading we’re reminded of one characteristic of holiness, in imitation of the Lord, that boils down into not let anger take hold of the heart. The teaching is framed in the command of the Lord to be holy in imitation of him. The Lord has something to teach us, even in the Old Testament, way before the Incarnation, of how to be holy. He doesn’t say not to get angry. Anger is an emotion you cannot control. He says not to let the anger into your heart. Holiness is not letting something upsetting seep into your heart and, therefore, into your love for the person who is upsetting you. If you need to tell someone that they’ve acted wrongly, it should be in a spirit of fraternal correction. Fraternal correction is helping your brother or sister see the wrong of something they’ve done for their good. Grudges and a desire for revenge are a sign that you have let something upsetting creep into your heart and taint your love toward the person responsible.

In today’s Second Reading Paul reminds us that hatred not only seeks destruction and harm to the person we hate but brings destruction upon us too. God dwells in us as long as we remain in communion with him through living a holy life. In that way, we are his temples. Paul warns those who would destroy these temples out of envy or resentment that if they have God within them, such actions will drive him out of their heart. The glossary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church defines anger as “An emotion which is not in itself wrong, but which, when it is not controlled by reason or hardens into resentment and hate, becomes one of the seven capital sins.” A capital sin is a mortal sin: that means spiritual death. How many movies and television programs have depicted two bitter enemies glaring at each other with disgust and saying, “I’ll see you in Hell!” That thought should chill us to the bone: it is a lose-lose situation.

In a world that’s often focused on vendettas, avenging wrongs, trampled rights, and payback, Our Lord reminds us today of what has been a trademark of Christianity throughout the centuries: turning the other cheek. Meekness is often considered a weakness, but it actually involves a very virtuous effort not to strike, or even dislike, the one who’s struck you, to give your time and possessions when someone doesn’t have a right to them, or to go out of your way beyond what any reasonable person would expect. Our Lord has set the standard. How many blows did he receive? Being God, he didn’t have to sacrifice himself for our salvation. When Adam and Eve sinned God could have left us to the mess they’d made of our lives, just as he could every time we sin and continue to sin. With all that baggage anything we ask, or sometimes demand, of Our Lord is something he is under no obligation whatsoever to fulfill. And yet he does and continues to do so. We often focus on the receiving end of the slights and offenses that he describes in today’s Gospel, but what he also teaches, for example, is how we should not be on the giving end of them either. Even today we have an eloquent testimony in so many Christians suffering persecution and death. When evil stares us in the face, not some nebulous force or Hollywood B movie caricature, but real evil done by real people and to real people, we must combat it for the sake of others, but we must not lose our concern for the people who are on that path to misery and failure by their misdeeds. That is the sign of genuine love, perfect love, like our Heavenly Father’s love. It’s not a love conditioned by the love we expect in return or have received; otherwise, we’d only care about those who care for us. That is the secret to overcoming the damage any lack of love on the part of others may have caused in our lives. Love can triumph if we let it. Society, a difficult family situation, an evil done to us can only conquer our love if we let it.

Immaculée Ilibagiza was born in a small village in Rwanda, Africa. In 1994, when she was home on spring break, the Hutu president of Rwanda was assassinated, and the country was swept by reprisals against the Tutsi’s, her tribe. Armed Hutu men went from house to house, slaughtering every Tutsi they found. Immaculée fled to the local pastor’s house, and to avoid being murdered, she had to hide in a 3 x 4-foot bathroom for 91 days with seven other women.  As she endured this, she also felt anger and resentment destroying her and started praying the rosary: “I said the Lord's Prayer hundreds of times, hoping to forgive the killers who were murdering all around me. It was no use-every time I got to the part asking God to ‘forgive those who trespass against us,’ my mouth went dry. I couldn't say the words because I didn't truly embrace the feeling behind them. My inability to forgive caused me even greater pain than the anguish I felt in being separated from my family, and it was worse than the physical torment of being constantly hunted.” When she finally left that bathroom, she learned that all her family, with the exception of one brother studying abroad, had been murdered. A million people had been massacred. After the genocide, she was shown and led to the man, now in prison, who had murdered her mother and brother. He had been one of her neighbors, and the prison staff was prepared to kill him on her behalf. When she’d been in that bathroom, she had imagined killing the Hutus who had done so much evil. Despite all she had suffered, she simply said, “I forgive you,” and walked away. Through her prayer, she had triumphed over her anger and resentment and found God.

Today’s society is plagued by ways of losing your temper, inspired by the principle of “don’t get mad, get even”: people go postal, get road rage, drop f-bombs, go ballistic, send flame mails, and are branded as trolls online. Our Lord in today’s Gospel tells us the Christian response to people who get on our nerves: “don’t get mad, get praying,” talk to your manager if you’ve got a problem, keep driving calmly and forgive the guy who’s tailgating you, watch your mouth, take a walk and cool off, send that e-mail draft or comment to the trash unpublished. In today’s edgy, irritable society that is a tall order. It’s not something we can accomplish overnight. The best way is to contemplate Christ crucified when we think we’re about to blow. Our Lord didn’t just preach this in today’s Gospel; he lived it. None of us have been mistreated as badly as him, and he bore with it all and forgave everyone who sought it (even desired to forgive those who didn’t). Contemplation is not merely remembering; it is seeing the scene in your mind, with Christ, and not just once. It is through contemplation and grace that we achieve the recollection to help us keep from losing control, and in contemplating Christ crucified little by little, we realize how beautiful charity toward others and despite others is, and how petty we can often be.

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