Another challenge left this Lent would be to love those who reject or ignore us, even those we consider an opponent or enemy. In this time of heightened political and social divisions comes “tribal” alliances. From that, we may limit our friends and our civility to those who share our viewpoint, while opposing those on the “other side” who see things differently. We might struggle with an estranged relative or an impossible neighbor down the street.
Jesus sets a higher standard for us as we contemplate how to love our neighbor. He tells us: “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, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48). To be perfect, seems a high standard indeed, but it is the true measure of loving our neighbor. If it seems too difficult, the first step in the right direction is within reach: prayer. Begin with prayer. We have the instruction and encouragement of others to help us:
“Do I pray for my enemies? Do I pray for those who do not love me? If we say ‘yes,’ I will say ‘Go on, pray more, you are on the right path.’ If the answer is ‘no,’ the Lord says ‘Poor thing. You too are an enemy of others!’”- Pope Francis
“If we practice love of neighbor with great perfection, we will have done everything.” -St. Teresa of Avila
“Hold fast to two virtues: kindness toward your neighbor and humility toward God.”-St. Padre Pio
“We practice charity much better when we are helping a person who is less appealing to us.”- St. Therese of Lisieux