I have been renewing my memory about a hero of mine. He lived in the late 1800’s and suffered a lot of oppression for the color of his skin. His name was Augustus Tolton and he was the first African-American priest ever. Some people in his parish and all of the American Catholoc seminaries did not like the idea of him becoming a priest. But that did not stop the priests and nuns of his community from sending him to be schooled in the Vatican. He came back many years later speaking Latin, Italian and German and holding mass in Chicago. Some priests told the parishioners that if they went to a mass that he held they could not say they had really gone to church. Some of his fellow called him a priest with an ugly redial epithet attached.
But Father Augustus never let that get him down. He was known to have a pattern of humility and forgiveness and be equally available to love and serve those who accepted him and those who did not. He walked in a loving agenda when it was not convenient.
One day on a hill with his disciples Jesus laid down the gauntlet of loving not only your neighbor but also your enemy.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:43-48).
For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same?
I remember years ago receiving some semi-formal education about eros love. It is a Greek word that was used in different situations that included romantic love. Although that could be a very clean romantic love, we also get the word erotic out of it. A thread that is in that is, “I love you, based on what I can get out of you” if the eros love is an end in itself.
But if it is based on agape, the source and destination is contemplated in the person with such a higher purpose. Agape is love founded in the infinite, powerful intentions of God who wants the world to be reconciled to Him. Agape has been ultimately demonstrated by the atonement by Jesus Christ on the cross.
Through the years, the Church had to walk out this thing about God’s love where it applied to their persecutors. They forgave them and blessed them. And where it came to a persecutor responsible for Christian deaths, they had to learn to receive them when Saul of Tarsus become a Christian himself. Years later as an apostle he penned these words.
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).
I heard Scott Hahn in an mp3 recently say that if Paul had applied himself to philosophy alone would have surpassed Plato and Aristotle. Though I would not disagree with that assessment, his philosopher mind for this thing about love was at least as much from the University of Hard Knocks as it was any philosophical learning. More specifically, Paul had years of formation as a Christian where the Church took him in and treated him like a brother. Paul was simply passing on what he received in word and deed.
We will have our times where was have the opportunity to curse but must remember to bless in love instead.
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
This perfection is about being completed in the design of the Creator that we would love in accordance with His will as Father. What father would want to see his children in a bitter loop with each other? None. By taking the cup of blessing in love, a choice that one can make in free will, the person that has does right in love and knows what love is would put flesh on this calling of Jesus and be a participant in the ongoing timeline of salvation for the world. Acts of charity is nice. Philosophy of charity is quaint. But loving ones enemies is the calling of The Church to rock the world.