Newsletter 20th February 2022
This weekend the Bishop has issued a Pastoral Letter to be read out in place of the Sunday Homily at all Masses celebrated for the Seventh Sunday of the Year. I gather that Bishop Patrick’s letter to us will touch upon the Diocesan Synodal Process.
Looking ahead to later this week, on Tuesday 22nd February – the Feast of The Chair of St Peter, Bishop Patrick will preside at Vespers in the Cathedral of St Barnabas at 7 pm, during which each Deanery will say a little about their Synodal Journey thus far. Each parish has been asked to send representatives to be a part of this evening of prayer and reflection, I have asked Andrew and Vicky Wakley to represent our parish there that evening. I am grateful to them for taking the time to be present there that evening. During the evening the Bishop’s draft Diocesan Synodal Response will be presented.
Today in the Sunday Gospel Reading at Mass we are reminded to be compassionate to one another just as our Father has been compassionate to us.
It’s easy to be kind and loving towards those whom we like, to our family and friends, to those who are good to us. All this comes naturally. But Jesus expects much more of us, his followers. In today’s Gospel he tells us to love our enemies, to be good to those who harm us, to turn the other cheek when they strike us. Is Jesus being starry-eyed and unrealistic? Does his approach work? Let’s first recognise that Jesus doesn’t expect us to like everyone. There will be some people who get on our nerves, and we may have enemies who are determined to harm us.
So how does Jesus expect us to react to aggression? Our instinct is to hit back. Rightly, we think the aggressor must be stopped, otherwise they will think they can get away with harming us and other people. But experience tells us that retaliation tends to escalate. Each of us strikes back with a harder physical or verbal blow. The innocent victim is reduced to the tactics of the guilty aggressor. In the heat of anger, we may well say or do things which we will later regret. Retaliation doesn’t work. Bitter, vengeful thoughts and actions destroy our peace of mind. Deep down we all long for the peace, which can only be achieved through reconciliation.
Christ’s approach does work. He goes much further than the traditional negative formulation of the Golden Rule, which urges us not to do to others what we wouldn’t want to be done to us. Certainly, we must follow that rule. But Jesus expects us to have a positive approach to those who harm us. We must show them love by wishing them well, not evil, by doing them good instead of harm. Surprisingly, such a positive, generous approach can defuse a tense situation and can sometimes turn an enemy into a friend. This way the innocent victim is not reduced to the violent behaviour of their opponent. Christ’s approach is positive and constructive. He’s not starry-eyed.
Elsewhere in the Gospels Jesus tells us that we do have the duty of stopping people from harming others. That not only causes pain to their victims, but also brings out the worst in those who do the damage. It’s for everyone’s good that we should help the aggressor to cease from being disruptive. Love, which wants to bring out the best in our enemies, should move us to correct them.
God’s merciful response to sinners, not other people’s way of reacting to their enemies, must provide the norm for our behaviour. Jesus tells us God is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. We must be compassionate as our heavenly Father is compassionate. His love, even for the sinner, is steadfast and unshakeable. Instead of being brittle, it has the resilience to love the sinner and forgive them. God gives the sinner the mercy they need, rather than the punishment they may deserve.
That’s the kind of love Jesus expects of us. And he gives us the perfect example of what that means. On the cross he asked his heavenly Father to forgive the very people who were responsible for his execution. Jesus certainly practised what he taught us in the Beatitude: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the children of God.’ We will be God’s true children precisely through sharing the work of the Son of God –Christ the Peacemaker.
I often find it helpful myself to remember the petition of the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Forgive us our trespasses as — insofar as — we forgive those who trespass against us.’ We have no right to seek God’s mercy if we are not prepared to forgive those who harm us. Showing mercy is the greatest expression of love, the best way of doing good to those who harm us, and then we will truly be being compassionate just as our Father is compassionate with us.
With prayer and best wishes to you and your families,
Your parish priest and friend,
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