“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” and “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” are two commandments that God gave Moses for the guidance of the Chosen People. But alas, they carried on, either oblivious of the twin commandments, or practising one to the detriment of the other. Eventually, their hearts were so hardened that lex talionis – an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth – became second nature to the Hebrew race.

Yet, today’s First Reading (Sir 27: 30; 28: 7) and Psalm give the lie to our notion of the Old Testament. Sirach calls anger and wrath “abominations” that mark a sinful man, who is therefore cautioned that “he that takes vengeance will suffer vengeance from the Lord.” The antidote is to “forgive your neighbour the wrong he has done, and then your sins will be pardoned when you pray.” In fact, last Sunday’s Gospel text stressed that there is no use seeking the Lord’s pardon if we haven’t reconciled with our brother. A sure way out of our predicament is “to remember the end of your life… remember destruction and death, and be true to the commandments.” That is to say, having the Last Things – Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell – before our eyes improves our spiritual vision![1]

When Peter the Apostle heard Our Lord pronounce the first rules of Christian law, he wished to have them properly spelt out. Hence, the question in today’s Gospel (Mt 18: 21-35): “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” The teachers of the law had taught the Jews that to pardon three times was the pinnacle of perfection; but now Jesus seemed to extend love and forgiveness infinitely. “And to make it better understood how rigorously His law of loving kindness must bind our actions, He set before the Apostles’ eyes one of those Oriental courts where the lightest fancy of their monarch can, in an instant, raise up or demolish the most splendid fortunes. So, then, Charity, much more than Justice, should be the foundation of Christian righteousness, or rather one must be blended with the other! ‘Mercy and faithfulness meet in one; justice and peace are united in one embrace!’ even as two sisters,” says the Abbé C. Fouard, in his Jesus Christ the Son of God,[2] a most elevating work.

However, we would do well to not water down Jesus’s commandment of love by applying it indiscriminately. We should not be led to think that to love means to suspend critical judgement about men and matters. Didn’t Our Lord exhort us to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves? Did He not warn his disciples that they would be “like sheep among wolves” (Mt 10: 16)? It behoves us to note therefore that “There’s daggers in men’s smiles”, as we read in Macbeth, and to not be naïve. The world is hostile to God’s Word and they are out to destroy the “One True Church” to which we belong.

“Is it not true that today Our Lord Jesus Christ and His Holy Church are disobeyed, abandoned, betrayed? Is it not true that the laws, institutions, morals, and ways of the people are more and more hostile to Jesus Christ?” – asks Professor Plínio Corrêa de Oliveira in his Way of the Cross.[3] In such a situation, what we need is to be full of righteous anger, not foolish love. “Christ Himself was filled with righteous anger against the vendors who had desecrated the house of God. Such anger is allowable only if it tends to punish those who deserve punishment, according to the measure of their guilt, and with the sincere intention to redress what harm may have been done or to correct the wrongdoer,” explains Fr. John Hardon in his Modern Catholic Dictionary.[4]

Let us therefore not be carried away by this thing called love: righteous anger is permissible and even laudable. When St Paul said, “love bears all things… endures all things” (1 Cor 13: 7) did he mean that we should selfishly, slavishly, shamelessly, accept all things? We cannot love all people or things; we ought to distinguish between true and false loves, between love of self and love of God, between those who love God and hate Him. We may turn a blind eye to those who offend us but we must stand by our God when people offend Him. We need to ask ourselves whether what we are doing is simply because we love to do it, or because it is good, true, right and beautiful. Alas, arguably the most abused word in the dictionary today must be put in place.

Of course, we must always ensure that there is no tinge of hatred and no desire for revenge in what we do; it ought to be our desire only to restore things to their pristine state, and then forgive and possibly even forget. Nor should we live in perpetual doubt and fear. Rather, it is most proper that we entrust ourselves to the Lord our God and do whatever is within our reach – pray as if everything depended on prayer and work as if everything depended on work. In the words of St Paul in today’s Second Reading (Rom 14: 7-9), “none of us lives to himself, and none of dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we died to the Lord.” Then, whether we live or die we should love God and be grateful that we belong to Him.

[1] See my blogpost “The Last Things – First!” https://www.oscardenoronha.com/2019/11/01/the-last-things-first/

[2] Abbé C. Fouard, Jesus Christ the Son of God, Goa: Don Bosco, 1960, p. 270.

[3] Plínio Corrêa de Oliveira, The Way of the Cross https://www.tfp.org/the-way-of-the-cross/

[4] https://rb.gy/eiqzv