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Fr Billy Swan

Dear friends. One of the features of modern society is its emphasis on equality and inclusion. We talk about tearing down walls between people and we all being the same. All this is good. However, inclusion does not mean the elimination of all distinctions or that all differences between us are flattened out. We believe that there are some people who are different precisely because they offer something to us that is healing, beautiful and possible.

This is what both the first reading and the Gospel this Sunday speak about. Through Moses, the Lord asks us to ‘be holy as God Himself is holy.’ To be holy means to be different, to be set apart from others – not because we are better than others but because we have been chosen by God to witness to a love that is difficult but very needed in the world today. It is the love required for Jesus’ most challenging command – loving our enemies and praying for those who wish us harm.

This demand of love would have shocked Jesus’ audience even more then than it does now. The Jews at the time of Jesus lived under Roman rule that was cruel with torture and murder commonplace. Jesus knew this and so asking the people to offer the wicked no resistance was a big ask. The same is true today. Many people have been hurt by others in one way or another, let down, betrayed, disappointed. Is it possible to love them and forgive them without a struggle? The answer of course is no. In fact, doing what Jesus asks here is impossible without being united to his own love and the same forgiveness that he modelled in such a heroic way. This is why our call to holiness is so important and why we simply can’t do it on our own.

Jesus wants us to be salt of the earth and light to the world by breaking the cycle of hurt and bitterness. But we can only do it by being prayerfully united to his spirit that bridges the gap between wanting to forgive someone and doing it. I think here of the examples of two Christian people who bore witness to this forgiveness and whose inspiration was both the example of Jesus and his spirit they received. The first was Gordon Wilson whose daughter Marie was killed in a bomb in Enniskillen in 1987. Shortly after he said: ‘I bear no ill will. I bear no grudge. Dirty sort of talk is not going to bring her back. She’s in heaven and we will meet again. I will pray for these men tonight and every night’. The second example is Martin Luther King who said that ‘returning hate for hate multiplies hate. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that’.

Friends, this is our calling too but it is only possible if we remain lovingly and attentively united to Jesus Christ who forgave his killers as they were crucifying him and who shows us the power of non-violent love. It is only possible if we are united prayerfully to God and by being holy as he is holy.

As Lent begins this week, may we welcome it as a opportunity to grow in holiness of life so that the beauty of the Lord’s forgiveness and mercy that we have received may be offered by us in turn to a world that needs healing.


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