Charity Toward All
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The law of love - "Love your neighbor as yourself" - is closely connected to the rules that arise from the Fifth commandment. We have seen many striking and violent offenses against this commandment. There are other more common offenses in which persons are not hurt physically but harm is done. Such actions are far from Christian.
Christ preached goodwill toward all, friends and enemies alike. This is what is involved in the injunction: "Love your enemies." It is hard enough not to strike back when we are hurt; it is even harder to respond with love. But how do we know if we love our enemies? Do we have to love them with our feelings? Do I have to feel this love for my enemy? Not necessarily. We will not be held accountable for the absence of such feeling, but we are responsible for goodwill.
I will know whether I love my enemy if I wish him well. We must wish well to everyone; my will, where I wish others well or ill, is the center of my love. I may not like my enemy, but if I wish him well and treat him well, I am fulfilling Christ's words, "Love your enemies."
One thing that gets in the way of goodwill is anger. When we lose our tempers, we say things and do things to get back at others, to hurt them. How terrible, the, the gift of speech can be! We can make it a weapon by yelling at someone, calling someone names, or cursing. All these things come under the Fifth Commandment, which prohibits deliberate injury to another human being in any way.
Closely linked to anger is hatred. To hate someone is to wish evil to someone, or even to wish that he did not exist! It may be conceived in the heat of anger but persist even when the feelings have cooled down because, like love, it is willed, although it is the very opposite of love. This is ill will, a wish that another person be hurt and suffer, perhaps even be killed.
St. John wrote: "Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer" (1 Jn 3:15). Indeed, we can have our neighbor dead and buried in our minds without ever doing anything to him, but because of our hatred we are murderers!
All this can start, perhaps, because we lost our tempers and began to nurture ill will. The danger of anger is that we do things blindly, unaware of the evil in our thoughts, careless of the bitter enmity we may provoke with our stinging words, perhaps stirred even to the point of physical violence. Jesus left no doubt about the sinfulness of anger when he said in the Sermon on the Mount:
You have heard the commandment imposed on your forefathers, "You shall not commit murder; every murderer shall be liable to judgment." What I say to you is: everyone who grows angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; any man who uses abusive language toward his brother shall be answerable. . . (Mt 5:21-22).
When someone has hurt us in some way, we are required to refrain not only from striking back but also from harboring ill feeling toward him. We must do something positive. Jesus says: "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you and pray for those who maltreat you" (Lk 6:27-28). And St. Paul wrote: "Bless your persecutors; bless and do not curse them. Never repay injury with injury" (Rom 12:14-15).
Here is a thought which can take a lot of the sting out of hard words and bad treatment: try offering the pain to God for the salvation of the one who hurts you. No matter how you feel, surely you would like to see your enemy in Heaven someday. In addition, if you get the opportunity, show respect and consideration to your enemy. Suddenly you may see things through the eyes of Jesus. How many times he was insulted! No doubt he felt the pain, like every other man - perhaps even more - but he knew that the souls of those who insulted him were wonderful creations and that no matter how bad they were, they were continually being called to a new life of grace.
Not all anger is wrongful. There is such a thing as just anger; for instance, when Jesus chased the moneylenders from the Temple or when he rebuked hypocrites. Righteous anger can help us to stand up for the right of oppressed persons or come to the defense of those suffering unjust aggression. It may help us to speak up for someone who isn't getting his rights - ourselves or others. Finally, a holy anger may motivate us to fight for a very important cause - like working in the pro-life movement to end the evil of legalized abortion.
There is a special case of bad will which Jesus condemned with utmost severity: Scandal. It is a fully conscious and deliberate bad example or encouragement meant to lead another person into sin. It is probably the worst of all sins because it endangers someone else's eternal destiny. There can be no greater lack of charity. Any sinful act could lead another into sin, but anything said or done with the knowledge that it may weaken the faith or destroy the spiritual life of another is scandal. The person who gives scandal is responsible for all the sins into which others are led. Jesus said:
It would be better for anyone who leads astray one of these little ones who believe in me to be drowned with a millstone around his neck in the depths of the sea (Mt 18:6).
Forgive Us, as We Forgive Others
On the Cross Jesus prayed to his Father to "forgive them, for they know not what they are doing". As followers of Christ we must be willing to forgive those who hurt us. And we must also govern our thoughts and actions so that we do not injure other people physically or spiritually.
Used with the permission of The Ignatius Press 800-799-5534
Index The Catholic Faith
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