Peter Kreeft: St. Augustine ‘Is a Man for Our Times’

Philosopher Peter Kreeft has published 75 books on the Catholic faith. In his writing and his teaching (he is a professor at Boston College), he often revisits the works of classic philosophers and thinkers, such as Socrates, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine and C.S. Lewis, introducing their inexorable logic to a new generation.

In I Burned for Your Peace: Augustine’s Confessions Unpacked, Kreeft explores timeless questions and leads his readers into a deeper understanding of the saint and his God.

Kreeft spoke recently with the Register about his most recent work, which looks at some of the “big ideas” found in the fifth-century writing of St. Augustine of Hippo.

 

There are so many vital works from Catholic intellectuals throughout the ages — from St. Thomas Aquinas to St. John of the Cross and St. John Paul II. Why do you consider Augustine’s Confessions the most beloved book in the world next to the Bible?

Well, first of all, polls support that. Augustine’s Confessions has been the single most read, reread and quoted post-biblical Christian book ever written. But, secondly, the reason the book is held in such high esteem is Augustine himself.

Historically, Augustine has probably influenced Christians more than anyone else outside of the Bible. Psychologically, he is a complete, compound and compassionate human being. He combines a compassionate heart and a great mind — and he’s a saint! He used the burning light (his mind) and his heart to get through to God. Augustine shows us the errors and truth — the byways, not just the main ways.

I would say that Augustine’s Confessions is actually the single most compelling and attractive and fascinating book ever written by a saint. It is, to the books of the saints, what A Man for All Seasons is to movies about saints — it’s No. 1. And that’s mainly because of the incredible conversation between brilliant thought and genuine love and passion, agony as well as ecstasy. His heart and his head are both at work.

 

What is the chief reason for Augustine’s broad appeal? Why does his message resonate with both Protestants and Catholics, with both men and women?

He’s a mirror. In reading Augustine’s story, we recognize ourselves. He shows us who we are or who we can be — our heads and our hearts; our sins and our virtues; our darkness and our light; our mistakes and our truth. He asks the questions that everyone asks: “How can I possibly conceive God? How can I find him?”

 

Augustine was one of the most prolific writers in the history of Christianity. Why do you consider his Confessions his most important work?

It’s important because it attracts people to a life of sanctity. It’s important because it has helped to shape the public history of Western Civilization — although for that, it’s not as important as City of God, which almost singlehandedly created the Middle Ages. But City of God is about 1,000 pages, so Confessions — with just over 300 pages — is much more accessible.

 

There are many nuggets or truths offered by Augustine in Confessions. Is there a single message that stands above all the others?

If you could state the theme in a single sentence, it would be the sentence on the first page of Confessions, which has been quoted more than any other: “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”

 

Is that message — as profound and as universal as it may be — becoming less and less relevant in a world that seems to focus more each day on itself and less on God?

No, I think exactly the opposite is true: The more lost you are, the more relevant is a road map. So Augustine is a man for our times — not only because he shows us the twistings and turnings of the dark and crooked mind, but because he shows us the way out of sin and debauchery: the way back to God. Augustine is also extremely relevant in the modern world because he was a sex addict [before his conversion].

 

Augustine knew what it was like to push God away — to hold him at bay — while he experienced the attractions of the world. The danger inherent in this is that one may fall too much in love with the world and never know the joy of falling in love with God. What would Augustine say to those today who have fallen too much in love with this world?

The first thing he’d say is: “Be totally honest.” Experience — even the experience of sin — is a teacher. The world promises what it can’t deliver. What it promises is freedom, and what it delivers is addiction and slavery. Whether we’re talking about pride or lust or greed or any of the sins, they’re all addictive.

 

A recent CARA study reveals that children as young as 10 years old are leaving the faith, being drawn into the secular culture. The 500th anniversary of the Reformation is being celebrated around the world. Given that, may I ask you to reflect on your own conversion?

Well, first, I don’t buy that [about children being drawn into the culture]. What I mean is that the facts are there — children and adults are really being drawn away from their faith — but the explanation is wrong. The so-called “war” between science and religion is a fake war, which has absolutely no casualties. There is no study in the Christian world that supports that hypothesis. The real reason that people leave the faith is personal.

As for my own conversion story, I was motivated by facts, by truth. As an undergraduate at Calvin College, I read the Early Church Fathers. My goal had been to persuade myself that I was in the right church; but the continuity, the historical case, the seamless web of Catholic doctrine was overwhelming.

The best professor I had during my years at Calvin College taught philosophy. We became good friends, and I confided to him that I was thinking of becoming a Catholic. It turned out that he had almost converted when he was my age; and he was most sympathetic.

 

You point out that what Augustine confesses is, most fundamentally, God and his grandeur, not just himself and his badness. Isn’t Christianity’s journey a metaphor for the Christian pilgrimage from love of self to love of God, from the city of the world to the city of God?

Yes. What attracts most people to Augustine is the hope of redemption from a life of despair to a life of meaning. He’s not just conventionally confessing his faith in God; the reader senses that he’s truly standing in the presence of that God.

There’s a line in which Augustine says, “Don’t leave — read this book! Have your ear to my heart.” His heart is absolutely, fanatically in love with God. Augustine is like Job: His wildness gets him into a lot of suffering, but his restless heart — that famous line — is the key to the story. He doesn’t give up. He doesn’t substitute a smartphone for a real encounter with God.

 

You offer a template for the reading and appreciation of your book — one that encourages individual thought and consideration on the part of the reader. Have you used this template effectively in any other venue? In a class, perhaps?

Definitely. I’m a bridge builder because great books are written for ordinary people, despite our obstacles. If you can get in dialogue — Augustine is in dialogue with God — it’s an exciting thing, to read this book. Confessions is not just a research tool full of dusty old facts; you encounter a real person.

 

What is your next project? What can we look forward to in the months and years ahead?

Well, first let me also recommend a movie on Augustine put out by Ignatius Press, called Restless Heart. I’m skeptical of most religious movies, but this is truly excellent.

I’ve got a book coming out from Ignatius Press: Ecumenical Pensees: How Protestants and Catholics Can Learn from Each Other Without Compromising.

And at long last, a four-volume History of World Philosophy will be coming out, published by St. Augustine Press.

 

What question have I not asked that you would like to answer? What would you like to say about Augustine that you would like everyone to hear?

One thing I can tell you about my conversion that differs from some people’s experience: Typically, when Jews convert to Christianity, they’ll describe themselves as “completed Jews.” But when I converted, I didn’t become any less evangelical, but more.

When Augustine is depicted in art, he is always shown with a heart on fire in one hand and a Bible in the other. That image aptly describes the urgency of his search for God.

But, most importantly, read Augustine’s book. You’ll fall in love with him; he will change your life.


(c) Kathy Schiffer | Link

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Mercy & Forgiveness

MERCY, LIFE OF THE CHURCH

Triduum for the Feast of St Therese: Day 2, 29 Sep 2016

“There was once a man who was not a very nice person. He mistreated his wife very badly, and he had a son, whom he didn’t treat well. After a few years, he abandoned both of them and disappeared.

The son grew up filled with resentment and hatred for his father. Years later, the father returned one day, telling his son he wanted reconciliation.

The son looked at his father with disgust, and he said that never in his entire life would he want to forgive him. He felt the father had created so much misery for the family, so he wanted the father to feel the same pain and be punished for the rest of his life.

Unknown to the son, one of the reasons his father came to seek reconciliation, was that he was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, and he was starting to have dementia. The son didn’t know this, and the father left, very sad.

After a few years, a family friend told the son that his father was in bad shape and suggested he pay a visit. Very reluctantly, he went to visit his father, who was in an advanced stage of the disease.

When he saw his father, he was filled with a lot of anger and resentment again, but the person sitting in front of him was just smiling. His father couldn’t recognise him or respond much, and just kept smiling.

The son shouted at him, saying he was supposed to feel pain. He berated him for smiling back at him. The old man didn’t react and continued to smile.

Finally, the son broke down. After crying a while, he looked up and said: ‘I’ve had enough of this. I want to move on. Today, I want to tell you, I will forgive you for all the things you’ve done in the past.’

The father didn’t respond and just smiled, but the son suddenly felt a very heavy burden lifted. All that darkness within himself just dissolved.

We realise then that forgiving the father was not so much for the father’s benefit, but it was for the son to set himself free.

Today, we are talking about mercy and the family. Yesterday, Father Simon Pereira spoke about the need to go out and show mercy. But we need to focus on our own families too.

This is very real. Many people who come to us priests for confessions say they cannot forgive a particular person in their families.

What can we learn from the parable of the prodigal son? The father should be very much angry with the wrongdoings of the son, but he focused on healing the relationship.

To bring about mercy within our families, we have to learn to be very sensitive to people around us. This is the first challenge I want you to ponder on.

Such sensitivity doesn’t come naturally to all of us. If you have such a virtue, grow and nurture it. For some of us, we must work more on this, to be more aware of what the other person is going through.

That is the core of the word ‘mercy’, which is from the Latin word ‘misericordia’. It combines two words: ‘miseriae’ means misery, and ‘cor’ or ‘cordis’ means heart.

The meaning of ‘misericordia’ is to be able to go into the heart of the other person, to experience the pain the other is feeling.

Here is where the next challenge comes: To bring about reconciliation.

Many of us have heard this: We have to forgive, but we don’t have to forget. Because the reality is that things have been done.

The forgiveness? It is not something that we feel we want to do. Rather, we make a choice to forgive someone. It is therefore an act of intention. I can still feel annoyed with you, but I can choose to forgive you.

Ask yourself: Can I make this choice?

We are also here tonight, preparing for the feast of St Therese this weekend.

St Therese was someone who truly valued her family and she shared a lot about relationships within families. She also admitted that sometimes, family relationships are not perfect.

She said: ‘True charity consists in bearing with all the defects of our neighbours and our family members, and in not being surprised at their failings, but edified by their smallest virtues. Charity must not remain shut in the depths of the heart, but to enlighten and make joyful, not only to those who are dearest to us, or to me, but to all who are in the house, even those we are not very happy with.’”

– Fr Terence Wee, CSsR


This post is copied from the Facebook page of Church of St. Teresa (Singapore) wherein posts concerning reflections, homily are available aside from parish-related news/events.

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Pope tells faithful to always trust in God’s mercy

Pope Francis on Wednesday told the faithful not to be afraid in times of discouragement, poverty or difficulty because we can rely on God and He will provide solace.

The Pope was speaking to the pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the weekly general audience.

Reflecting on the Gospel passage by Matthew in which  Jesus says: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest”, today – Pope Francis said –  we hear the Lord calling the discouraged, the poor and the little ones to himself, and telling them they can always rely on God.

And he invited all believers – especially those who feel most powerless – to trust in God’s mercy, to open their hearts to Him, even if they feel unworthy, and they will be filled with the joy of forgiveness.

The Pope referred again and again to the Holy Year of Mercy and said pilgrims around the world have been crossing the threshold of a Holy Door of mercy – be it in a hospital, in a prison or anywhere – in the search for conversion, for friendship with Jesus, for the comfort that only He can provide.

He expressed his disapproval for those pastors of the Church who become ‘princes’ and distanced from their people and from the poor. “That – the Pope said: “is not the spirit of Jesus”.

Pointing out that in approaching the Lord’s inexhaustible mercy, we will discover his “easy yoke”: Jesus – he said – who bears the burdens and needs of humanity shows us the way to salvation; by participating in his sufferings and by learning from his service to the poor, we come to know the will of God for us.

So, Pope Francis concluded:

“When we are tired or despondent, let us not be afraid, let us come to Christ, trust in him, rest in him and joyously serve him.

http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2016/09/14/pope_tells_faithful_to_always_trust_in_gods_mercy/1257982

Healing Mercy for Diabolical Suffering

KATHLEEN BECKMAN

“The Church’s Greatest Need”

On November 15, 1972, Pope Paul VI, in his general audience said, “What are the Church’s greatest needs at the present time? Don’t be surprised at our answer and don’t write it off as simplistic or even superstitious: one of the Church’s greatest needs is to be defended against the evil we call the Devil.” This quote is situated at the start of chapter eight in God’s Healing Mercy book wherein we consider how rays of divine mercy help people with diabolical suffering.

More recently Pope Francis preached, ““We are all tempted because the law of our Christian life is a struggle. That’s because the Prince of this world, Satan, doesn’t want our holiness, he doesn’t want us to follow Christ. Maybe some of you might say: ‘But Father, how old fashioned you are to speak about the devil in the 21st century!’ But look out because the devil is present! The devil is here… even in the 21st century! And we mustn’t be naïve, right? We must learn from the Gospel how to fight against Satan” (Pope Francis homily in Santa Marta residence, 2014-04-11).

Christ underwent the devil’s temptations in the desert to teach us how to resist demonic seductions. It is necessary to “fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim. 6:12). We are not dealing with magic, phantasm, or abstract negative energy when we speak about demons, the devil, Satan or Lucifer. The Catechism (2851) teaches, “Evil is not an abstraction, but refers to a person, Satan, the evil one, the angel who opposes God’s plan and his work of salvation.” The ministry of the Chief Exorcist continues for us.

In the mystery of God’s infinite wisdom, Satan is allowed to operate in the world within the boundaries set by the sovereign Holy Trinity. Christians are put to the test and called to be soldiers for Christ, as Paul wrote to Timothy, “Take your share of suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:3). The devil tempts so that he may ruin; God tests so that He may crown, to paraphrase St. Ambrose of Milan.

Divine Mercy: “Restored to Value”

In the encyclical Dives in Misericordia, Pope John Paul II, wrote, “Mercy—as Christ presented it in the parable of the prodigal son—has the interior form of the love that in the New Testament is called agape. This love is able to reach down to every prodigal son, to every human misery, and above all to every form of moral misery, to sin. When this happens, the person who is the object of mercy does not feel humiliated, but rather found again and ‘restored to value.’ The father first and foremost expresses to him his joy that he has been ‘found again’ and that he has ‘returned to life’ (no.6). This articulates divine mercy operative in the Church’s healing, deliverance and exorcism ministry. Divine Mercy heals at the deep level of human dignity.

When Christ allows us to be tried like His servant Job, He gives the grace to defeat our foe—in and through Him. I heard a lecture by a prominent priest exorcist who said, “Even diabolical possession can be a school of holiness.” While demonic possession is extremely rare, many suffer diabolical oppression and obsession and everyone suffers diabolical temptations. Here we will consider common temptation.

Lesson: St. Faustina Battles Satan

Why does the God of mercy ordain a spiritual battle for His people on earth? Christ’s words to St. Faustina lend understanding: “But, child, you are not yet in your homeland; so go, fortified by My grace, and fight for My kingdom in human souls; fights as a king’s child would; and remember the days of your exile will pass quickly, and with them the possibility of earning merit for heaven. I expect from you, My child, a great number of souls who will glorify My mercy from all eternity” (no. 1489).

Christ taught St. Faustina a powerful principle. A great number of souls will eternally glorify divine mercy because they experience mercy as David did in the defeat of Goliath (cf. 1 Sam. 17). David could only defeat Goliath because God was with him. We will come to understand: “Little children, you are from God, and have conquered them; for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4). The prince of the world is Satan. Thus, we have the full armor of God (Ephesians 6) and entrust ourselves to the mercy of our victorious Savior. Divine mercy provides us (Church militant) with solicitous angels and intercessor saints. At our disposal is the Church’s arsenal of sacramental weapons and there is nothing novel here—only proven tools of spiritual warfare.

The Enemy’s ordinary activity is to ruin souls through persistent temptations. Demons strategize for the soul’s eternal damnation but they cannot violate our free will; they seduce but cannot force. The decision and responsibility is ours. St. Faustina’s spiritual diary illustrates this:

When I went, in my thoughts, to the chapel, my spirit was plunged into even greater darkness. Total discouragement came over me. Then I heard Satan’s voice: “See how contradictory everything is that Jesus gives to you: He tells you to found a convent, and then He gives you sickness; He tells you to set about establishing this Feast of Mercy while the whole world does not at all want such a feast. Why do you pray for this feast? It is so inopportune.” My soul remained silent and, by an act of the will, continued to pray without entering into conversation with the Spirit of Darkness. Nonetheless, such an extraordinary disgust with life came over that I had to make a great act of the will to consent to go on living. (Diary of St. Faustina, Divine Mercy in My Soul, no. 1497)

The devil exerts darkness, discouragement, lies, doubt and disgust of life. He (lies) tempts St. Faustina to go against God’s will. He tries to thwart her mission. He sows seeds of doubt to undermine the truth of what she’s hearing from the Lord. What does she do? “I make a great act of the will.” This is required—we choose against the temptation. St. Faustina endures the terrible trial valiantly by the grace of God.

St. Faustina’s diary entry continues:

The tempter went on: “Why should you bother about other souls? You ought to be praying only for yourself. As for sinners, they will be converted without your prayers. I see that you are suffering very much at this moment. I’m going to give you a piece of advice on which your happiness will depend: Never speak about God’s mercy and, in particular, do not encourage sinners to trust in God’s mercy, because they deserve a just punishment. …You see, to live as good nun, it is sufficient to live like all the others. Why expose yourself to so many difficulties?” (Diary of St. Faustina, Divine Mercy in My Soul, no. 1497)

Satan continues to tempt St. Faustina from praying for others. He wants her to focus on herself—a common demonic strategy. He tempts her to cease speaking about divine mercy because he is threatened by God’s mercy since he is legalistic. He mentions “just punishment” since, left only to justice, more souls will go to hell—that’s his goal.

Satan wants her “to live like all the others”—another common demonic strategy—compare yourself to others and go along with the more common flow. He suggests do not “expose yourself to so many difficulties” since he wants her to choose the way of least resistance.

Here we learn how St. Faustina reacted to the diabolical oppression:

I remained silent, and by an act of the will I dwelt in God, although a moan escaped from my heart. Finally, the tempter went away and I, exhausted, fell asleep immediately. In the morning, right after receiving Holy Communion, I went immediately to my cell and falling on my knees, I renewed my act of submission in all things to the will of God, “Jesus, I ask You, give me the strength for battle. Let it be done to me according to your most holy will. (Diary of St. Faustina, Divine Mercy in My Soul, no. 1498)

St. Faustina teaches: “I renewed my act of submission in all things to the will of God.” When the devil sees that his efforts cause us to turn to Christ with trust, surrender and dependence, he flees. Trust is a spiritual weapon—the twin to the shield of faith mentioned in the armor of God (cf. Ephs. 6:16).

In the next Diary entry, St. Faustina saw Jesus who said, “…Satan gained nothing by tempting you, because you did not enter into conversation with him. Continue to act in this way. You gave me great glory today by fighting so faithfully. Let it be confirmed and engraved on your heart that I am always with you even if you don’t feel My presence at the time of battle” (no. 1499). By resisting the devil and trusting God, St. Faustina won victory over evil. We can do the same.

St. John Chrysostom’s Deliverance Prayer

O Eternal God, You who have redeemed the race of men from the captivity of the Devil, deliver me, Your servant, from all the workings of unclean spirits. Command the evil and impure spirits and demons to depart from the soul and body of Your servant and not to remain nor hide in me. Let them be banished from me, the creation of Your hands, in Your own holy name, and that of Your only-begotten Son, and of Your life-creating Spirit, so that, after being cleaned from all demonic influence, I may live godly, justly, and righteously and may be counted worthy to receive the Holy Mysteries of Your only-begotten Son and our God, with whom You are blessed and glorified, together with the all-holy and good and life-creating Spirit, now and forever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Author’s note: This article contains excerpts from God’s Healing Mercy, which is available in ebook and paperback from Sophia Institute Press.   

image: Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, Folio 166r / Wikimedia Commons

OUR REAL NEIGHBOURS ARE THE HELPLESS STRANGERS AND ESPECIALLY OUR ENEMIES

SCRIPTURE READINGS:  JONAH 1:1-2:1, 11; LUKE 10:25-37

We are told in the gospel that the scribe wanted “to disconcert Jesus” and so engaged in an intellectual religious debate with Jesus regarding His attitude to non-Jews.  In response to the question of what one must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus referred to the Law of Moses which is simply this: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind and your neighbour as yourself.”  Of course, the answer of Jesus is well known to every Jew, not least to the scribe who was a professional lawyer of the Torah.

Yet, the fact remains that the Jews knew that deep in their hearts they had not totally fulfilled this commandment, especially the last segment of the commandment.  The problem lies in the fact that for the Jews, their religion and nationalistic pride restricted them from reaching out beyond their own kind.  As far as the Jews were concerned, non-Jews were unclean and pagans had no hope for salvation.   We can understand that such a mentality existed during the time when the book of Jonah was written.  In the first reading, Jonah disobeyed God because just like his fellow Hebrews, they could not accept that God wanted the salvation of pagans.  Thus, Jonah left for Tarshish deliberately, hoping that God would punish the pagans for their wickedness.  He had no pity, compassion or love for them.  He only wished their destruction.  The irony of it all is that by wanting them to be exterminated, the sailors in the boat sacrificed him to save themselves saying, “’O Lord, do not let us perish for taking this man’s life; do not hold us guilty of innocent blood; for you, Lord, have acted as you thought right.’ And taking hold of Jonah they threw him into the sea; and the sea grew calm again.

Within this context, we can understand why the lawyer was “anxious to justify himself”.  He questioned Jesus further, “And who is my neighbour?”  It should be noted that this scribe wanted to engage in an intellectual discourse with Jesus by posing this question in such a way that was directed towards others.  The question was not “Am I a neighbour to others?”, but rather, “Who is my neighbour?”  Yes, the scribe was not really interested in examining himself, but rather in proving that his alienating attitude towards pagans and non-Jews was justified, namely, that non-Jews and sinners do not deserve our love and mercy.

Of course Jesus could see the self-righteousness of the scribe.  He knew clearly that ‘neighbours’ for the Jews could only refer to fellow Jews.  Thus, instead of responding in an academic manner, He discussed the problem existentially by relating the parable of the Good Samaritan.  At the end of the story, Jesus challenged him to rethink and adjust his mindset by asking him, “Which of these three, do you think, proved himself a neighbour to the man who fell into the brigands’ hands?”  Take note of the response of the scribe.  He said, “The one who took pity on him”.  He did not say explicitly that it was the Samaritan traveller, because it would be too difficult for him to admit that the one who really proved himself to be a neighbour was his enemy!

We too are just like the scribe.  We ask questions in order to justify ourselves.  We do not really want to know the truth about ourselves.  For like the scribe, we restrict our neighbours to our loved ones, our friends, those whom we like and those whom we can get something back in return.  We do not go beyond our circle of friends.  This was the attitude of the priest and the Levite in the story.  They were more concerned about their self-interest, their salvation, by not getting themselves ritually contaminated by either a dead man or worse still, by a non-Jew!  Similarly when our love is restricted to our loved ones and friends, such love is not truly divine love since to love our loved ones is not just for their sakes but ours.  Love for friends has mutual benefits unlike our love for strangers and those who cannot repay us in any way.   Helping those who do not even know that we help them is a true participation in God’s love, as Jesus tells us in the gospel, “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others … But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you”. (Mt 6:2-4)

But the point of the parable goes beyond even just helping those who cannot repay us but like the Samaritan who reached out to one who was not simply a stranger, but an enemy.  He took the risk of helping the injured man by bandaging his wounds and bringing him to an inn to recuperate at his expense without hoping for anything in return; perhaps even risking misunderstanding and condemnation. This Samaritan was moved simply by compassion and love.  If that was the case for the Samaritan, then our neighbours should rightfully include strangers, those who are helpless, our enemies and those whom we can get nothing back in recompense.

Jesus says to love only those who love us is to behave like pagans, for they love only in this manner. He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”. (Mt 5:43-48)

Indeed, it is easy to love those who love us.  The fact of life is that we care and love those who love us more.  But if we fail to be a neighbour to our enemies and those who do not like us, then we have not really loved. Jesus did not only teach us but in His very own life, He also died for us whilst we were still sinners.  “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:6-8)

It does not suffice to simply know who our neighbour is, as we are called to be a neighbour to others.  Yes, the command of Jesus is direct, “Go, and do the same yourself … and life is yours.”  Be a neighbour to the poor, the unloved and your enemies!  This is truly loving God and loving oneself.  Without a true love for our enemies and the helpless, we cannot truly claim to have the heart of God.  For this same reason too, we cannot inherit eternal life since the life of God and His compassion to all human beings, and even all creatures, is not in us.  If we are unable to go beyond our pagan love for others today because we do not have the heart of God, then we must turn once again to Jonah.  We are told that God sent a fish to swallow Jonah and he was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights before the fish vomited him onto the shore.  Following this experience, the rest of the Jonah story tells us how he returned to Nineveh to preach conversion and repentance to the people.

Of course, we are not told in today’s scripture reading what made him change his mind and obey the call of God.  This is because almost the entire second chapter has been omitted due to a space constraint.  In chapter two, we are told how Jonah reflected on his life, his ingratitude and the love and mercy of God for him when he was in the belly of the fish.  It was through prayer and recollection that he came to realize how great a sinner he was and how God has loved him in spite of his unworthiness.  It was in the belly that he experienced the merciful and universal salvific love of God.  Once he realized that God loves us all in spite of our sinfulness and that He wants the salvation of all, including the pagans and not the Hebrews alone, he decided to prophesy to the Ninevites.

We too must spend time in prayer and recollection so that we will become more conscious of our sinfulness and the lack of love in our lives.  We must recognize that if God loves us, then we are called to love others in return, especially those whom we consider undeserving of our love, such as our enemies or difficult people in our lives.  When we realize that God also wants these people to come to the knowledge of the truth and experience His love, we would gladly become His messengers of love, be a neighbour, and a good Samaritan to them, without having any thought of reward or appreciation.  Such a heart would necessarily mean that we have the life of God in us, now and hereafter, since all human beings and all creatures are our friends and we are one with them in love and unity.


Written by The Most Rev William Goh
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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