The story of Viktor Frankl, who survived the horrors of the Nazi camp, remains one of the most inspiring stories of our time. In his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, the author narrates how one day while naked and alone in a small room, he became aware that he had one thing no one could take away from him, “the last of the human freedoms—to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.” Between what was happening to him and how he would react to it, he was free to choose his response. He could either give up and give in to the temptation of suicide, or he could hold on to life.
The power of the will is truly extraordinary. It can make us rise above pain and suffering, even the most inhuman inflicted by the grossest injustice. It can even move us to forgive our enemies which we often do for practical reasons, like, we don’t want to be trapped in our bitterness or held hostage by our unforgiveness; we want to put a stop to an endless cycle of hatred and revenge; we want to move on…
Today, Jesus teaches us not only to forgive our enemies, but to love them. More often than not, we forgive our enemies for our own peace of mind. Jesus asks us to forgive them for their own peace of mind. This is what it means to love our enemies - to will and seek the good of the other. Thus, Jesus tells us, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Is this possible? As inspiring as it may be, can we really love our enemies?
Humanly speaking, no! It simply does not make sense. It’s irrational. But God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, nor his ways our ways. Hence to be able to love our enemies, we need to enter not only into God’s logic (which we will never understand); more importantly, we need to reach his heart. For to love our enemies takes more than an act of the human will. It takes an act of divine origin. It is primarily grace.
The good news is that God offers us this grace and power. In the second reading, St. Paul reminds us that while our earthly origin is from the First Adam, God has destined us to be united with Jesus Christ, the Last Adam, who is heavenly. In him, God shares with us his own life, making us “divine.” Through baptism, the Holy Spirit incorporates us to Christ and empowers us to live as “children of the Most High.” Thus, in Christ we are enabled to be “kind to the ungrateful and the wicked [and] be merciful, just as [the] Father is merciful.”
In Christ we can love our enemies for in him we are one with God, who is Love. Only love can lead us out of the darkness of hatred and revenge and transform us. As Pope Benedict eloquently puts it, “Love is the light – and in the end, the only light – that can always illuminate a world grown dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working’ (Deus Caritas Est).
Let me end by mentioning another famous victim of the Holocaust. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a pastor and celebrated theologian who fought hard against the Nazi regime, which cost him his life. In his great book, The Cost of Discipleship, he writes, “We are approaching an age of widespread persecution. Our adversaries seek to root out the Christian Church because they cannot live side by side with us. So what shall we do? We shall pray. It will be a prayer of earnest love for those who stand around and gaze at us with eyes aflame with hatred, and who have perhaps already raised their hands to kill us.”
When loving, doing good and blessing our enemies do not seem to work, Jesus tells us to “pray for those who mistreat you.” When our love seems to fail, we can only pray, and God will take charge.