In His Passion again Jesus taught us to forgive our enemies. He is apprehended and bound as a malefactor deserving death; He is dragged with contumely and abuse from judge to judge; He is scourged; the soldiers put a crown of thorns on His head and spit in His face; He is crucified between two thieves and is mocked and blasphemed even in the agony of death. He silently and patiently endures it all, and when dying opens His mouth, not to complain, but to pray for His enemies and murderers. After knowing this can we refuse to forgive our enemies ?
During the persecution of Maximinian, St. Sabinus, Bishop of Aris, was tortured at the command of the governor Venustianus. His two hand had been cut off, when the cruel governor was seized with a terrible pain in his eyes and suffered horribly. The holy martyr went over to him and began to pray over him. He had scarcely finished his prayer when the governor was released of his pain. Count Francis of Guise, who waged war against the Protestants, was told that one of them was in the camp seeking to kill him. He had him arrested. The Protestant admitted his purpose. The Count asked him: "Have I done you any harm?" "No," he replied, "but I intended to kill you because you are the greatest enemy of my faith." The Count said: "If you wish to kill me on account of your faith I will forgive you on account of mine," and he dismissed him without punishment, permitting him to pass unmolested out of the camp. To bear wrongs patiently and to forgive injuries, are part of the duty of every Christian. Indeed, it is the very spirit of the Christian religion to suffer patiently the injuries we receive from others, and to forgive our enemies from our hearts. "I say to you," said our Lord, "not to resist evil, but if a man strike thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." My dear boys and girls, by bearing patiently the evil which others do us, we prevent their further sin, inasmuch as we soothe their angry feeling, nay, often our very meekness will bring them to repentance; whereas, if we fly into a passion and reproach them, we increase their anger and are the cause of their offending God still more. "A mild word breaketh wrath," says the Wise Man, "but a harsh word stirreth up fury."
A certain official attached to the Court of the Emperor of China became afflicted with a loathsome disease. He was driven from the palace, and, having no friends, was on the point of perishing from exposure and want. Two poor Christians took compassion on him and received him into their cottage, dressed his sores, and waited on him with the greatest tenderness. At the end of three months they ventured to speak to him about the affairs of his soul. To their grief and astonishment he flew into a passion, loaded them with reproaches, and threatened to denounce them to the persecutors. In fact, he left their house and did not return for some time, leaving them for a whole month in fear and trembling. At the end of that time he again had recourse to them for assistance. Forgetting the ingratitude and ill-treatment they had received from him, they welcomed him with the
same charity, and waited on him with the same care, redoubling, in the meanwhile, their prayers for his conversion; whereupon the heart of the pagan was softened. "A religion," said he, "which inspires such conduct cannot but come from God. Teach me to know and love the God whom you serve, and to prepare myself for death which cannot be far distant." The Christians instructed him and had him baptized. Not long after, he expired, glorifying God and blessing his charitable benefactors.
It is a universally acknowledged truth: The more difficult the work the greater the reward. The love of friends causes no inconvenience; it is in our nature; but to love an enemy we must do violence to ourselves and overcome ourselves ; it demands some effort on our part. But does not heaven demand efforts? and does it not deserve every effort to gain it? Now, because the love of enemies demands greater efforts, hard struggles, and great self-denial, it has a claim to a great reward.
The great war has brought to light some very striking examples of heroic love. We were told by the daily papers that the Germans hate the English, that the English hate the Turks, and the Turks hate the Italians, and the Italians hate the Austrians, and the Austrians hate the Russians. Everybody hated the other one, for war teaches men to hate their enemies. Jesus, however, taught us to love our enemies. Jesus loved Judas. He prayed for the men who crucified Him. If people would only practice the teaching of Christ there would be no more war.
One of the New York dailies told the story of an Englishman and a German, who had both been severely wounded in one of the battles in Northern France. They lay very near together in the trench. One of them had some water in his canteen, and the other had none, so the one who had the water crawled over and shared it with the suffering enemy. And then they began to love each other, and when they loved each other they could not be enemies any longer.
If you had a little garden, what would you do with it? You would plant flower or vegetable seeds there, and raise something that would be pretty and useful. You would not plant in that garden the seeds of weeds and poisonous plants that would be useless and hurtful. In the same way Jesus tells us that in the garden of the heart we must be sure to plant only good seeds, seeds of love and kindness. We must not allow a single plant of hate to grow there, even hate for our enemies.
Children, if you live in enmity with any of your companions, give it up this very moment, forgive your enemy from your heart, and at the first opportunity extend to him the hand of reconciliation. Be at peace with every one. Forgive one another, that God may forgive you your sins and receive you as His children into the mansions of everlasting peace.
Source: Story Sermonettes for the Children's Mass, Imprimatur 1921