A blessing for every abuse? Nonsense or perfect sense?
“But I say to you who are listening: Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you, and pray for those who slander you. And to him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your coat, do not withhold even your tunic.” (Lk 6:27-29)
THE Roman Catholic Church, no doubt, is engulfed in an often distressing crisis locally and around the world. There are the sex and authority abuse scandals that seem to dog her heels with little respite, for instance. In effect, she, mostly in the persons of her priests and bishops, are at the receiving end of vilification and outright persecution. It is no secret that elements of the media and even political leaderships take turns at fixating the limelight on the abuses, often to the neglect of the greater and more numerous services that she does for mankind. The greater good she is responsible for is often overshadowed by the pall of evil her leaders are accused of, with or without justification. At almost every opportunity the leader of the land gives free rein to his addiction to cursing and threatening the lives and limbs of bishops and priests, sometimes even saying local cemeteries still have more than enough space for their corpses. Hardly anyone remembers his constitutional duty to protect the life, liberty and security of all citizens of the Republic, those of priests and bishops included. The standard reactions from people range from simple shrugs to silent indignation to additional abuse on top of the existing ones.
In most of these the hierarchy responds with silence. Human as they are, bishops and priests also feel enraged when they are unjustly cursed or accused of evils through sweeping generalizations, often running on little more than hearsay or distorted information. But from time to time some priests and bishops also express their frustrations, anger and fears, especially when real threats hound them but get dismissed as “probably made up” or “coming from (priests’ or bishops’) personal enemies” or “enemies of the state” who want to bring down the establishment.
But some bishops and priests expressly share what many consider weird behavior—praying for and blessing those who wish them ill, including the chief executive. “Of course,” some critics are wont to say, “That is expected of you, in the first place. You are people who preach the Gospel that teaches love of enemies, doing good to haters and praying for persecutors. Better walk your talk, or that is added ammunition against you.”
On the other hand, inside or outside the Christian purview, does this counsel of Jesus make sense? I believe it does.
One, it frees us from being at the mercy of playing the game of the persecutor or abuser. If the abuser keeps on abusing, why should we? If he habitually and verbally abuses, do not we fall into a trap of multiplying unnecessary negativity when we respond likewise? Naturally, when we need to defend ourselves or correct a distortion as well expose some fake news, by all means let us. But we can always do so by non-abusive ways.
Two, at the core of every abusive language is hatred. This very antithesis of God’s love that Jesus Christ has revealed in his person and in his acts of suffering, dying and rising from the dead for sinners subtly enters hearts even of Christ’s followers by way of our frail humanity. But nothing contradicts who we are when we let it take the driver’s seat even as we read and listen to the Gospel. Following Jesus’ counsel allows us to refuse the hate or send it packing away, thus sparing our spirits of its deadly poison. That is true, this is not purely a product of human effort. This is why this counsel must send us to the depths of prayer and self-denial with the sine-qua-non help of the Holy Spirit.
Three, responding to abuse or persecution in kind has not been known to author conversion. I would humbly stand corrected if there is a contrary evidence. At least, in our experience, any perceived negative reaction from the hierarchy is mostly, if not always, met with more generous doses of hate language and negative conduct by a source one normally expects rationality or humanity from. If the option of tit for tat engineers a changing of hearts in abusers or persecutors, that would be nothing short of miraculous.
Four, the counsel allows plenty of room for a disciple’s creativity. Although “doing good” and “turning the other cheek” are illustrated by Jesus himself in word and action especially on his way to Calvary, he does not necessarily limit us to what he literally does in the Gospel. There are countless ways of doing good and turning the other cheek, as, for example, from a Maria Goretti forgiving her attacker, to a Pius X giving generous financial aid to a person who made a career out of slandering him, to a Maximillian Kolbe answering Nazi inhumanity with the most human act of offering his life for a stranger, to a Filipino bishop who continues to pray and fast for a political leader who habitually lambasts and threatens his kind. Discipleship, in other words, is not just drudgery; it is an art.
Finally, let us not forget, in the spirit of Lent which is the springtime of the spiritual life, the spiritual benefits. Luke the evangelist tells us that following the counsel entitles us to being counted among the “blessed” instead of the “accursed” because “your reward will be great” (Lk 6:35). And what greater reward would be than to be, in the language of Luke and Matthew the evangelists, “true children of your heavenly Father, who causes his sun to rise on the good and the bad, and causes it to rain on the just and be unjust” (Mt 4:44-45; Lk 6:35). The whole point is to illustrate that the way of the Lord is not the human way: “Therefore, be merciful as your Father is also merciful” (Lk 6:36). For us who live in a country where human imperfection is almost revered as a virtue, where fake news is often more actively promoted than the Good News, the Master words are clear: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).
In a world of vast deserts, it make sense for us to find or provide or, better, become its oases.