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We love because it is the Way of Jesus

Archbishop Wenski's homily before annual Motorcycle Ride

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily before going on his annual Motorcycle Ride to benefit St. Luke’s Center in Miami. He celebrated Mass for the riders and others the morning of Feb. 24, 2019, at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Doral.

Today’s Gospel reading is a continuation of last Sunday’s. It is taken from Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain. This sermon on the Plain is similar to Jesus’ sermon on the Mount, which seems to indicate that since he was an itinerant preacher, he gave the same sermon — perhaps with some small variations — in different places and at different times.

At any rate, the basic message of Jesus’ teachings here bears repeating: “Love your enemies; do unto others as you would have them do unto you; be merciful; stop judging.”

Jesus’ teachings are not for wimps. Love your enemies? Heck, it is hard enough to love our friends. And sometimes, we don’t even love ourselves as we should. Indeed, much of the bad things people do to other people are the result of their not loving themselves.

Think of the hoodlum that mugs an old lady on the street. He’s not doing that because he’s trying to feed his kids. More likely, he does it because he’s trying to feed a habit, a habit that is killing him. He doesn’t love himself very much — which explains his lack of love towards that old lady he mugs.

(Our motorcycle ride today will raise funds to benefit Catholic Charities’ St. Luke Center, a drug rehabilitation facility. Now, I’m not saying the clients there are hoodlums; but they do suffer from addiction.) People often fall into addictions when they try to self-medicate themselves because of some pain either physical or psychological in their lives. Because they self-medicate inappropriately they don’t really address the pain — and they cause a lot of pain to their loved ones, their families and beyond. Part of the recovery process is to help the one struggling with addiction to recover his sense of self-worth: He (or she) needs to know and to experience that God loves them, that they are not only lovable but loved.

In the Alleluia verse we sang: “I give you a new commandment: Love one another as I have loved you.”

How much does Jesus love us? This much! He opens his arms wide on the cross, so great is his love for us. Our task is to do the same.

Of course, when somebody does something bad to us, it is natural that we don’t feel like forgiving that person, much less do we feel loving towards that person. But forgiveness — and loving — is not a feeling. It is a decision. Jesus went to the cross freely. He decided to do so — even though he felt anguish, dread and fear. We too — with God’s help —can make decisions independent of our feelings. We do it all the time. I feel like sleeping in; but I got bills to pay and so I decide to get up and to go to work. And, maybe later, we feel good about having gone to work because we accomplish something that we were supposed to do.

To forgive might not erase a painful memory; but by forgiving we don’t have to act out of this memory. Forgiveness is freeing. It is liberating. When you say to someone, I’ll never forgive you, you are basically putting that person in control of your life. By forgiving, you free yourself — and by forgiving, even without demanding an apology first, you also decide that you don’t need to control the one who did you wrong. That’s what turning the other cheek means.

Jesus shares with us words of great wisdom — but this is more than human wisdom, it is God’s wisdom. Jesus is the wisdom of God in the flesh. And he gives us his flesh to eat so that we might become what we receive. Our communion in his Body and Blood we receive during the Sacrifice of the Mass is a remedy for our sins and the pains they cause to ourselves and others; it is a sign of God’s love for us and a pledge of the future glory that awaits us — “the gifts that will be given to us: a good measure, packed together, shaken down and overflowing.”

Now, even though we are called to love even our enemies, love might not change an enemy; but maybe, it might confuse him. But it won’t necessarily change him. So, Jesus is not telling us to love just as a strategy to get something. This is not about the “art of the deal.” We love not because of what someone might give us in return but because of who we are, who we have become in Christ Jesus, in whose Body and Blood we share. We love because it is the Way of Jesus — and there is no other way to eternal life.