FAMILY NOTES, VIII Sunday in Ordinary Time, February 27, 2022
Dear friends, peace!
THE FULL GOSPEL
We have been hearing Our Lord Jesus in the Gospel of Luke give us a most amazing teaching recently at Sunday Mass: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you...Do to others as you would have them do to you...then...you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked” (Luke 6:27,32,35). Is Jesus exaggerating? Is He, as He often does, using hyperbole? Or, does He mean it? You know as I do that He is giving us the straight truth. He calls us to a radical discipleship. I heard once that the great liberator of the people of India, Gandhi, once admitted he would have become a Christian if he had met a Christian who followed Christ’s teachings. A pity that he didn’t live to see the heroic living out of Jesus’s teaching by Black American Christians in the middle of the twentieth century. I lived in that era. I saw the punishment and persecution and death Black Americans endured as they stood up nonviolently, with love for their persecutors, to secure their rights as American citizens. They challenged the whole nation by their “non-violent resistance to evil”, specifically the evil of segregation with its denial of decent education, access to the normal amenities of public life, and the right to vote and be voted for all of which are enshrined in our founding documents that promise God’s gifts of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to everyone.
As you know, the leader who led this Christian people was Rev. Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. His preaching of Jesus and His way lifted up the heads and hearts of Black Americans and gave them the courage to stand against oppression by practicing the clear advice of their Savior and Lord. They made history. Dr. King made history. He and they changed me. I learned from those Christians how to be one. You know even ‘good Catholics’ can tend to pick and choose which of Christ’s Words they’ll take to heart. I know, I have. But closing one’s heart to the “Full Gospel” rejects Christ’s Lordship over my life. Black Christians did “turn the other cheek,” but not only that, they had the moral courage to “fight the good fight.” A non-violent fight. Their faith and their courage challenged the power of hatred. Certainly, following Christ, love for them was not a feeling, a sentiment. No, their Jesus gave them His kind of love which raised them from being the disenfranchised. They claimed their rightful place, their God given dignity promised all citizens of these United States. Dr. King had studied Gandhi’s use of “non-violent resistance to evil.” It had lifted up India from a colony of Great Britain to a nation in her own right. Both of them were killed. Their deaths were not in vain. At least not for India and America. Not for me. And not for you. Dr. King taught me, at that time a seminarian studying for the priesthood, that my prejudices had to be completely discarded otherwise I could not claim to be a Christian and a Catholic, never mind a priest!! I thank God that I came to adulthood in that moment of history. I thank Him for the gift of repentance which He gave me and my generation of Americans and specifically my generation of Catholics and Catholic priests which moved us to really become “children of the Most High,” (36) imitating God the Father.
Lots of people tell me that they are going to Heaven. I don’t begrudge them their hope; not at all. But I beg to ask if they or I or you or anybody can read the Living Word of the Gospel and blithely think that the “cheap grace” of one’s own opinion can stand up against the Word of God as Scripture offers it to us. We live by faith and trust in God for certain. But faith without love, without good works is “dead,” as James teaches (5:17) and Paul too in I Cor. 13:2. Right up there in importance is the marvelous fact that Our Lord’s call to love our enemies actually reflects the truth that every human is created good by God (see Genesis 1:27 & 31). Both Gandhi and King knew this and taught that even the worst persecutors could be converted. Dr. King frequently insisted to his enemies that the love for them by the Black community would eventually touch their consciences and they would be converted. And I might add, be saved. Here is Jesus again: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you...Do to others as you would have them do to you...then...you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked” (Luke 6:27,32,35).
God bless. JFH