There was a beautiful story that I read this week, speaking about the significance of the Love of God towards his people. It comes from the writings of St. Silouan of Mt Athos, who tells the life story of St. Paisius the Great, who was a monk priest from the 5thcentury.He spent his entire life teaching others how to love God…showing them how to pray, how to worship, and how to bring others towards Christ.
But there was one particular disciple of St. Paisius that eventually succomed to the temptation of the devil, and went and did something unthinkable. He rejected his spiritual father. He divorced the Church. He ran away from Christianity completely, and then went and married a Jewish Woman.
Of course, as any loving father would be, St. Paisius was heartbroken. Imagine spending your life investing in someone else’s spiritual life, only to see him reject everything that is truly important in the world. This rocked St. Paisius to the core, so he went and did the one thing that we should all do whenever we are in pain…he began to pray.
In his prayer, St. Paisius asked God for only one thing…over and over again: “O Lord, please forgive him. Please forgive him.” Not once did he complain about all of his invested time being wasted in this monk. He just prayed…“Lord, forgive him…forgive him.”
We learn from the writings of St. Silouan, that God was pleased by these prayers. He appeared to St. Paisius and asked him: “Paisius, why are you asking me to forgive this man? Why do you ask forgiveness for someone who has denied my name, and who has spit on you and the work that you did for him.”
St. Paisius’s response, out of love for the fallen monk, was selfless: “O Lord, you are merciful, please forgive him.”
The Lord’s response was equally as beautiful: “Paisius…you have become like me in your love.”
“You have become like me, in your love”. This is the response that we should all seek from God when we find ourselves at the dread judgment seat after we close our eyes to this world. No matter how many times we deny his name. No matter how many times we spit in his direction. No matter how many times we cease being human beings in this life. Our Lord’s love for us is eternal, unending, and unbreakable…and we read in the Gospel today that THIS type of love that we are called to show each and every person that walks into our lives. We show this love not just to those who love us…but to everyone…and MOST ESPECIALLY, our enemies.
Just last week, I was walking into the bank a few weeks ago while wearing my cassock, and the person in front of me opened the first of two entry way doors for me to go through, to which I politely replied “thank you”. As a common courtesy, I then went in and opened the second door for this stranger, to which he responded (knowing that I was a priest): “Thank you! That is very Christian of you!”
I smiled and didn’t think much about that encounter until this week, when I was reading the Gospel lesson for today, because returning a favor for a favor is NOT what makes us Christians!
Christ made it a point this morning to say to everyone, that even those who chose to live a life in sin…has within them some type of virtue. It is easy to love our spouse, because our spouse loves us. It is easy to love and honor our parents, because they love us. It is easy for us to love our friends, because they love us. This type of love is easy, and is expected of everyone!
But our Lord speaks today of something much more difficult: Authentic Christian love. The love of those that hate you…that despise you…that want to hurt you…and that have no desire to return love for love! This is perhaps the most difficult thing for us to do as Christians, but the saints prove to us that it can be done. When we read the lives of the Saints, we see just how powerful and liberating this type of love truly is in our lives. Believe it or not, there are ways for us who do not have icons on the wall, to accomplish this type of freedom!
Some of those practical ways to love your enemies I know you have heard before. The saints talk a lot about praying for our enemies…because in a true state of prayer, it is impossible to have ill will against someone. The Fathers also talk extensively about making peace with everyone, especially those who personally hurt you.
But I am going to end my homily today by sharing the third way in which we can learn to love our enemies, and it comes from the writings of another St. Paisios, this one from the last century, on the Holy Mountain. In one of his writings, he uses a rather colorful illustration to show how it is the responsibility of all Christians to cover up the sins and faults of everyone, most especially those who hate us. He says: “Today in parks you are expected to carry a plastic bag and pick up your dog’s excrement, in order to spare others of a horrid stench and a foul sight. This is an example of what Christians should do when they see someone else’s sin. Instead of poking it, spreading it around, making the smell worse,and getting it all over their shoes by repeating it to others, they aught to use the plastic bag of love…and end it by covering it.”
Wise words from a wonderful Saint!
May we continue to show love to those who hate us, by taking the example of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who sacrificed everything to cover our sins, and re-unite us to the Kingdom!