The level ground beneath the Cross

By Charles Waugh

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But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish.  (The Gospel of St Luke 6:35)

What is love? What is, rather, our personal conviction that defines the love we feel? We know that God’s love for us is unconditional and perfect and our love for Him can be imperfect and sometimes even fractured! It is our very personal definition of love that shapes our actions, forms our words, etc, toward the people we meet and the friends we keep.

As Christians, especially as Catholics, it is a divine command from the Father that we love our brethren, and especially so the separated – those outside the structures of Christ’s mystical body, the lost and blackened sheep. As the Lord says above “love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.” What does it mean to do this? The deathbed convert Oscar Wilde said to “always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.” Our forgiveness is phenomenal evidence, an exercise of true love towards our friends. Our forgiveness is a mirror of Christ’s mercy, even though we may remain hurt.

But true love is tough, virtuous, and not a mantle for sin. When we are asked for advice, are we honest in our counsel? Are we more apt to tell them what we think will make them feel comfortable and fluffy, rather than an honest reply?

About this verse, Fr. Haydock’s commentary explains “they who only give when sure of having a greater return, do not give, but traffic with their generosity; in which there is no charity.” Formed here is a solid definition of the giving Our Lord speaks of. But what is our reward? We won’t be getting a lottery ticket, the prize, or a nice chocolate bar or an exemption from moral standards. Concerning this great reward, Elicott’s Commentary for English Readers has formed a solid and orthodox interpretation: “There is a “great reward.” The last words at least remind us of the promise made to Abraham, and may be interpreted by it. God Himself is our “exceeding great reward” (Genesis 15:1).”

To further understand this verse in St Luke, we ought to glance over to St Matthew and to read his account.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (The Gospel of St Matthew 5:43-45)

Jesus says “he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish”, and that is far from an exaggeration in how equal  God’s love actually is. The traditional Catholic understanding of His mercy is that the ground beneath the cross is level. His mercy and peace and grace are there for us at every hour. It only requires a small, willful decision on our part to take it.

The ungrateful and selfish can be seen as our enemies, but in keeping our friends comfortable rather than telling them the truth, we are their enemies also.

St Thomas Aquinas records in the Catena Aurea a commentary on this verse of St Matthew’s gospel, saying

“Love to an enemy is then observed when we are not sorrowful at his success, or rejoice in his fall. We hate him whom we wish not to he bettered, and pursue with ill wishes the prosperity of the man in whose fall we rejoice. Yet it may often happen that without any sacrifice of charity, the fall of an enemy may gladden us, and again his exaltation make us sorrowful without any suspicion of envy; when, namely, by his fall any deserving man is raised up, or by his success any undeservedly depressed. But herein a strict measure of discernment must be observed, lest in following out our own hates, we hide it from ourselves under the specious pretense of another man’s benefit. We should balance how much we owe to the fall of the sinner, how much to the justice of the Judge. For when the Almighty has struck any hardened sinner, we must at once magnify His justice as Judge, and feel with the other man’s suffering who perishes. “

We must at once magnify His justice as Judge, and feel with the other man’s suffering who perishes. Here it is, my dear readers. The gem of scripture that could change our own conviction of our concept of love forever. As children of God, we know there is no greater love than His for us – for He sent His only son, born of the Blessed and most pure Virgin Mary. Our actions of love aren’t measured in how much we didn’t do. They are measured in how much was in us to do – our intentions, the way we cared for everyone. Especially the ones we couldn’t care to care for.

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