Our Catholic faith often calls us to act against the grain of our secular world, to live a countercultural life. When we consider what courageous witness we provide in our current age, perhaps the first things that come to mind would be our insistence on the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death, or the goodness and beauty of marriage and family according to natural law. In this context, the words “stop judging” from today’s Gospel usually sound like an accusation from a secular world that wishes our witness to fall silent. Yet I would suggest that these very words, along with the teachings that surround them, represent something deeply countercultural.
The world we inhabit, as advanced as it may have grown technologically, and as many moral hurdles as it may have claimed to overcome, remains a world suffused with a certain basic logic: we should treat our friends well, and have no obligation to treat those who harm us with any affection. How many who claim to love all actually pray with honest hearts for the good of those who have wronged them? How many of us who consider ourselves good people actually work at showing good to those who disagree with us, who stand against the things we believe, or who might actually hate us or people like us? How many of us find it easy to forgive legitimate offenses without falling into the traps of holding a grudge in secret or giving up on our own self-worth? At the very least, the way we as Americans tend to speak about our political and social opponents gives us away for followers of worldly logic rather than Christian teaching. When Christ commands that we must love our enemies and stop judging souls, this does not so much represent the common sense of all decent people as it represents a challenge to our innate sense of justice and self-respect.
So how then do we follow the Lord’s command to love our enemies? When our nature itself cries out that those who do wrong must be punished, and that no one should get away with causing harm to another, how do we respond with Christian charity? Christ himself answers in telling us that we are to “be merciful, just as [our] Father is merciful.”
How is the Father merciful? The Father is merciful because he is almighty and absolutely at peace within himself. He does not need to defend himself from harm, and so he can be free in his mercy. Jesus has access to this freedom as the eternal Son of the Father. He is at peace in the Father’s love for him, and knows that the Father will set all things right, no matter what, and so Jesus himself, even in his human nature, is free be merciful in overabundance. Indeed, in the midst of his Passion, he sees and knows who he is before the Father, and so can ask in strength: “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.”
If we wish to obey Christ in loving our enemies, we must likewise embrace the Father’s love. As children of God through adoption, we inherit Jesus’ access to the Father. We have received the same love that the Father has for his Son. Thus, we can forgive and love even those who mistreat us, not out of weakness, not as doormats, but out of the strength that comes from being royal children of heaven. In the midst of a world full of fear, anger, accusation, bitterness, and obsession with exacting justice, that heavenly peace which forgives might be the most countercultural witness of all.