“We should, on the contrary, forget the offenses of our enemy, even though he neither repents nor amends, in imitation of Christ who prayed for those who crucified Him, and who, far from repenting, mocked Him….For the height of perfection is to love our enemies, and to pray for them as did the Lord Jesus.” –From “Sermon in a Sentence: A Treasury of Quotations on the Spiritual Life; Vol. 5: St. Thomas Aquinas,” pg. 43. Selected and Arranged by John P. McClernon.
This is quite possibly the hardest lesson for us to learn. It is one thing to willingly receive rebukes and chastisements when we have deserved them. But what of when we are innocent? What if an injustice has truly been committed against us?
Our Lord’s example is then presented to us, both on the cross, and in keeping with the tradition of this holy Maundy Thursday, at the table where He ate the Passover with His disciples. He did not prevent Judas from eating the Last Supper with Him and His other disciples who were faithful to Him. He did not shun him or turn him away, although He knew of Judas’ mind to betray Him. Even when Judas lied to His face, asking mockingly, “Is it I, Lord, who will betray Thee?”…Our Lord did not turn him away, instead rebuking him gently with the words, “Thou hast said it.” Our Lord kept the Passover, the Last Supper, the first Holy Mass, with the very man who was to give Him over to His Passion and Death, counting Him even amongst His disciples at the moment when he was most offensive to Him.
What room does this example give us for vengeful thoughts or words? What right does it give us to demand justice for ourselves, when Our Lord not only prayed for His enemies while being mocked and in agony upon the Cross, but shared a meal, no, not just a meal, but the institution of the Holy Eucharist, with His betrayer? He let Himself be led like a little lamb to the slaughter, without reproving or rebuking, without retaliation, but with humility and infinite love even for those who mocked and scourged and scorned Him. He let Judas dip his hand into the bowl and eat of the Bread and drink of the Cup, all the while knowing that it was he who would betray Him, and who had already betrayed Him in his heart. Our Lord could have very rightly barred him from this holiest of suppers. But He in His infinite wisdom did not.
Our Lord in His great love for us has made us in His image, and therefore we have the use of reason and freedom of will. He will not force His love upon us, but He will also never stop loving us. If we choose our own will over His, then we damn ourselves by our own choice. God does not throw anyone into hell who does not will themselves to go. And in His most precious gift of all, He has died for us, given His life for our sins, and left us the Holy Eucharist by which we can be unified with Him here on this earth, in anticipation of the reception of our Greatest Good in heaven–that of God Himself, and the perfect knowledge of Him, seeing Him as He is.
But we must first follow after Our Lord, loving our enemies and those who curse and betray us, praying for them and forgetting all claims to vengeance and retaliation, for this is what Our Lord wills for us, to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect, and as He is perfect. Our Saint tells us that to love our enemies as Our Lord did is ‘the height of perfection.’ Let us seek after it with fervor, forgetting ourselves and desiring true union with Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist, offering to Him our crosses and trials for love of Him and love of our neighbor, of which He left us so perfect an example.