by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
In Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, as recorded in Chapter 5 of St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus makes statements that are both startling and amazing.
Verses 43-48 illustrate this point: “Jesus said to his disciples: ‘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 unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers and sisters only, what is unusual about that? Do not pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
In the old television sitcom, “M*A*S*H,” Frank Byrnes, who was portrayed as a clueless egocentric, proclaims: “It’s nice to be nice to the nice!” The Gospel of Jesus is much more than being nice to people who are nice to us. Jesus loved us, even when we were not deserving. Our Lord, in turn, expects us to do the same.
Do you have any enemies — individuals who seek to do harm to you in some way? If you are fortunate enough not to have true enemies, I encourage you to think about the most difficult person in your life.
Who is the person who irritates you the most? It could be a family member, a neighbor, a co-worker, a fellow parishioner, etc.
This is the person that, if they invited you to a social engagement, you would make any excuse to decline. You would prefer to clean closets, rewind your dental floss or prepare your income tax rather than spend time with this difficult person.
Lent is a special season when we strive to follow Jesus more closely and more faithfully. During these remaining days of Lent, I encourage you to pray for a particular enemy or for the most difficult person in your life.
Ask God to bless them and to give you the grace to desire their spiritual and corporal welfare. Ask the Lord to reveal to you if there is anything he desires you to do for this person.
In your prayer, ponder what our faith tells about this difficult person. Recall they are made in the divine image and that Jesus Christ gave his life on Calvary for their salvation. God has placed a high worth on this person, no matter how much they may grate on your nerves.
During these final weeks of Lent, pray and make sacrifices daily, asking God to bless your difficult person. When we pray consistently for another person, it becomes increasingly difficult to be angry with or think poorly of them.
On Easter, pray that they experience in a very special way the joy and hope of the risen Lord.
Between Easter (April 1) and Divine Mercy Sunday (April 8), ask the Lord in your prayer to give you the grace to forgive this person for any past hurts or wounds he or she has caused in your life. Ask for the gift to give mercy.
If your difficult person has abused you in some way in the past, it is probably not prudent to reach out to them. Your goal should be to free yourself from being controlled and poisoned by your anger toward this difficult person. The grace for which you can strive is the ability to forgive the person, no matter what they have done.
Forgiving another person is not the same as forgetting or condoning their bad behavior. It is not minimizing the serious harm they may have done to you or others.
Forgiving frees us from being dominated in the present by another person’s past transgression. It is asking Our Lord for the grace to forgive as he has forgiven us.
If your difficult person has not actually harmed you in a serious manner, but you just find their personality irritating, then ask the Lord if he desires for you to take a risk and reach out to your difficult person.
You might feel called to write an affirming note or make a phone call or actually visit your difficult person. Before doing so, remind yourself there is no reason to believe that your difficult person has changed. If your experience with them is going to be different than in the past, it is because you have changed.
Prayer can do wonders to bring about healing, but often that prayer must be for days, weeks, months and even years. Our first goal needs to be to change our own hearts, to expand our capacity to forgive and to love.
Finding the grace and strength to forgive another person in your heart is one of the best ways we can honor Jesus, who gave his life on Calvary for all of us and who even begged his heavenly Father to forgive his executioners.
If nothing else, we will be prepared to pray the Lord’s Prayer with greater sincerity when we say: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Think about it.