Forgiving One's Enemies

Lent 2014: Readings from Augustine

I’ve told you, about daily sins, that you have to say everyday, like a daily clean-up, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” So what shall you do? You have enemies. Who living on earth doesn’t have an enemy? Watch yourselves: love them. A raving enemy can never harm you as much as you harm yourself if you do not love your enemy. He can harm your villa or your cattle or your household or your manservant or maidservant or your wife or at most, if he’s given the power, your own flesh. Can he damage your soul, as you can? Stretch toward that perfection, I beg you. Is it I who’ve given you this ability? He gave it who said, “Thy will be done on earth as in heaven.”

Don’t think it’s impossible. I know, I’ve learned, I’ve proved that there are Christian men and women who love their enemies. If it seems impossible to you, you won’t do it. First believe that it can be done, and pray that God’s will be done in you.... It’s not his human nature but the fault that makes someone your enemy. Is it because he has a soul and flesh that he’s your enemy? He’s what you are. You have a soul and so does he; you have flesh and so does he. He’s of the same substance as you; you were made of the same earth, breathed into life by the Lord. He’s what you are: look on him as a brother. Our first two parents were Adam and Eve, he the father, she the mother, so that we’re brothers. But forget our first origin. God is our father, the Church our mother, so we’re brothers. ...

Saul was once an enemy of the Church, and people prayed for him and he became a friend. Not only did he cease to be a persecutor, he toiled to become a helper. To tell the truth, people prayed against him, but against his malice, not his nature. You, too, pray against your enemy’s malice: let that die and him live. If your enemy dies, you are without an enemy but haven’t yet found a friend. But if his malice dies, you’ve lost an enemy and found a friend. (Sermon 56, 14; PL 38, 383-84)

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About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.