Bless Those Who Persecute You

Paul gives us some tough advice in today’s first Mass reading, which is taken from his Letter to the Romans. The passage starts with Paul speaking of our using the different gifts we have been given, but then moves to instruction intended for all of us. He instructs us love one another and to serve God and then writes

Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the holy ones, exercise hospitality. Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Have the same regard for one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly.

A good checklist to see where we are falling a bit short, where we might need God’s assistance. I paused at a few of those as I reflected on the passage, cognizant of where I have difficulties.

The one that really caught me is “Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse them.” For myself, that is not a great challenge. I have been able to sincerely pray for those who have caused me injury in one way or the other. (It probably helps that, for the most part, the injuries inflicted on me by others have not been severe enough to merit the label “persecution.”)

But as I read the line, I focused on the real challenge for me, on something I think both Paul and God intend to also be implied in the instruction: Bless those who have injured those you love. Bless and do nor curse those who have inflicted serious pain and suffering on those you hold close to your heart. That is a much harder command.

If I’m being completely honest, I have to admit that when someone I love and care about has been injured by the act of another – especially where the act has inflicted serious pain and suffering – what I experience is a lot closer to rage than blessing. And If I’m really being totally honest, I admit there is a little piece of me (the piece I would prefer to keep buried) that wants to lash out at the person who committed the injury, that wants to get back at them for making someone I love suffer. Not a very Christian reaction and I’m not proud of it, but that doesn’t change the fact that it lurks there.

Yesterdy, on All Souls Day, I sat in the little prayer room above the chapel in the law school praying for those who had died. As I neared the end of my prayer, having named various friends and relatives whose death I mourn, I forced myself to include in my prayer someone who in the past inflicted serious pain and suffering on someone I love. It did not come easy. I mouthed words of blessing, but could not feel love in my heart.

So my prayer when I reflect on this passage is: Lord, let me love like you. Let me feel love and blessing toward not only those who are kind and generous and loving, and not only those who have injured me, but those who have injured those I love. Open my heart so that only blessing and never curse flows forth.