|YPJ women soldiers against ISIS in Syria|
A few years ago I watched a BBC interview with some of the women fighters in Syria who fight with the YPG, or Kurdish coalition fighters. They are an all women group of soldiers fighting against ISIS in Northern Syria. The journalist was asking one of them how she felt about ISIS since they were killing her own people. Among other things that she mentioned, she said ‘We have to remember that they are people too.’ I was really surprised and impressed by this. This lady, although fighting this force of evil, was able to distinguish between the evil and the fact that they were also human beings. She had an inner sense of what is important and the value of each life. I’m sure those women didn’t want to be there, but they felt the need to be there to help protect their own people. ‘We have to remember that they are people too.’
Today’s readings address the very difficult teaching which says, ‘Love your enemies; pray for those who persecute you.’ I have never met anyone who wants to love their enemies. It doesn’t seem logical. But God doesn’t just ask us to be logical, but to see at a higher, or deeper level. That is where we remember that even those who attack us are also human beings, with their own problems. If we decide to hate them as they hate us, and to treat them as they are violent towards us, then we are no different from them. We are no better than them.
Does this mean that we are asked to let people walk all over us? Of course not. The challenge is not to give in to evil, but to resort to the inner strength that comes from what we believe in and that comes from our relationship with Jesus.
A few years back when I was traveling somewhere, I ordered a car at the airport to bring me to my hotel as I thought it was a long distance. It turns out I didn’t need it, so I cancelled the car. Then to my annoyance I was charged for the car although I had been told I wouldn’t be. When I called the company to question the charge I was faced with a woman who was filled with venom and hatred like I have never met before. I came away from the phone call feeling quite shaken as she had been so vicious. The temptation for me was to just be angry with her and wish her a miserable day, but in the days that followed I felt the Lord saying to me that that woman needs prayer. So instead of remaining angry with her, I began to pray for her and have often prayed for her since. That was something the Lord taught me. It also made me think about the various situations I have been faced with—as we all have—where I have met real nastiness from people. Now I try to pray for them after I have gotten over the initial reaction which is usually frustration and anger, often righteous anger, where I have been treated unfairly. But the Lord reminds me that maybe they are going through a hellish time in their own lives and that is what I am experiencing. If I didn’t believe in God I wouldn’t do that.
‘Love your enemies; pray for those who persecute you.’ That is an extremely hard thing to do, but we get the strength to at least attempt to respect others, from what we believe. If we believe that God forgives, us in spite of our own failings, then we have a obligation to try and do the same. The greatest strength we get to do that is in the Eucharist. Every day, if we wish, we can receive the body and blood of Christ into our own bodies. We can listen to him speak to us. The more we come back to receive him and listen to him, the more we are given the inner strength to be different. That is one reason why the Lord gave us the Eucharist, so that we could rely on his strength to deal with every day difficulties. We are not being asked to rely purely on what we can do ourselves. This is what makes the difference between becoming filled with hatred ourselves, or remaining objective, seeking justice rather than revenge. We are living in a society which encourages us to take revenge, but that is not what God teaches us and we must decide who it is we are going to listen to.
One of the reasons why we are meant to be different as followers of Christ, is because we don’t believe in returning evil for evil, or seeking revenge for injustice. Instead we are called to remember that the people who hurt us are also human beings, with families and their own difficulties, even if individually they have turned to evil. We work for justice, but not for hatred. We strive for a better world, rather than one where we just wipe out our enemies. When we are on our death bed, which will be more important?
I want to finish with this prayer which I’m sure you have heard before, from one of Mother Teresa’s homes:
People are unreasonable, illogical and self-centered.
Love them anyway.
If you do good people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies.
The good you do, will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spent years building, may be destroyed overnight.
People really need help, but may attack you if you help them.
Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God; It was never
between you and them anyway.
‘Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.’