Bless those who persecute
[you], bless and do not
curse them. If possible, on your part, live at peace with
all. Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for
the wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will
repay, says the Lord.” Rather, “if your enemy is hungry,
feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his
head.” Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil
The words are St. Paul’s from his Letter to the Roman Christian church. One that he did not found. Scholars believe the letter to be written somewhere around 57 AD from Corinth. And this letter is considered to be “one of the most difficult books in scripture.” But for this particular piece, I write just of this paragraph.
These compelling words have most likely seen countless times before but overlooked
“Leave room for the wrath” reads as if it should be the banner pledge for these fervid days of the second decade in the twenty-first century. Quoting our Lord, St. Paul admonishes the Roman Christians to “bless those who persecute…bless and do not curse….if your enemy is hungry, feed him, if thirsty, give him something to drink….”
His last statement is explanation: Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.
All of which takes me back to the year I spent studying and then writing about St. Paul, the Apostle.
is Aurelius in My Name is Saul. Since the novel is written in the first person, I knew I needed a second lens through which to view St. Paul, the protagonist in the book.
And Aurelius showed up. Betrayed by everything he lived, fought and almost died for, Aurelius works perfectly as Paul’s archenemy.
A Roman centurion transferred back to his natve Rome after years in battle, Aurelius swims in ignominy. Disgusted by this crazy Christian he guards, Emperor Nero’s total devastation of his once beautiful city and the immigrants swarming to Rome for its free food and circus entertainment, Aurelius delights in torturing his captive.
Until Paul speaks.
After nine days of all but starvation and intense thirst, Paul spoke his first words to me— in calm, flawless Latin. “I wonder why such a fine-looking specimen of a man has come to detest himself to such a degree that he causes himself such agony?”
“How can you ask such a thing? You, in chains, me, your captor?
“Why does the look in your eyes make me want to drop to my knees and sob like a child of three years?
“Why don’t you hate me?”
The strange light that emanated from his eyes had not diminished despite his emaciation and parched, cracked, and bleeding lips. In fact, the fire had intensified. And there was a quality about him that defied description … a stillness having nothing to do with his chains. The man had an inner serenity that no execrable words or deeds of mine could disturb.
When I finally looked into his eyes for the first time, instead of a mirror of my own rage and hatred, I saw what I could only interpret as love. For me.
How can this man look at me with the tenderness of a mother gazing upon her infant?
My jaw dropped open. I could not hide my amazement.
“Who are you?” I asked him. “Why don’t you detest me, as I do you?”
“You do not detest me,” he replied in a whisper— the most substantial voice he could manage to propel through his ravaged lips.
I leaned down to hear him and found myself irresistibly drawn to this scarred shell of a man. “You hate yourself… what you have become,” he continued, not without difficulty.My Name is Saul
My fictional soldier, Aurelius, has met Love and is incapable of resisting its power. Just like Saul on his way to Damascus all those years before. This Love that Paul descibes is God:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.”
When he writes to the Corinthians, Paul is admonishing his followers, instructing them in God’s Law of Love that we must imitate.
Breathtaking, isn’t it?
From whichever pulpit we stand in, the rivers of ceaseless gossip dressed up as news invites, provokes, whispers, seduces. Almost begs us to criticize, judge. The headlines are occasionally difficult to ignore, gauged as they are to incite. But I know I must resist. And feel intensely sorrowful when I give in to read the latest salacious tidbit about another; whether a politician promoting pure evil or merely one with a different opinion from mine.
Jesus’ words about how we must treat our enemies are not suggestions. They are commands.
Because hatred of our brothers and sisters is indeed self-hatred. Regardless of what he or she has done, said or not done, when we look into their faces, we see ourselves, the selves we desperately want to bury.
All that invective, harsh words or thoughts do nothing to the person being written about but untold damage to me…to the peace without which I cannot hear Him…
Chapter 7 in the Rule of Benedict contain’s his brilliant treatment on humility. The reading for Tuesday, February first is this one:
The fourth degree of humility
is that he hold fast to patience with a silent mind
when in this obedience he meets with difficulties
and even any kind of injustice,
enduring all without growing weary or running away.
For the Scripture says,
“The one who perseveres to the end,
is the one who shall be saved” (Matt. 10:22);
“Let your heart take courage, and wait for the Lord” (Ps. 26:14)!…
It’s such a deceptively simple word-patience. And best defined in Madelleine Debrel’s poem, The Passion of Patience:
The patiences, these little pieces of passion, whose job is to kill us slowly for your glory, to kill us without our glory…
St. Benedict’s admonition bears repeating: “…hold fast to patience with a silent mind…even contradictions and even every kind of injustice…”
The mind has a spiritual sense which teaches us to distinguish between good and evil
The light of true knowledge makes it possible to discern without error the difference between good and evil. Then the path of justice, which leads to the Sun of Justice, brings the mind into the limitless light of knowledge, since it never fails to seek the love of God with all confidence.
Therefore, we must maintain great stillness of mind, even in the midst of our struggles. We shall then be able to distinguish between the different types of thoughts that come to us: those that are good, those sent by God, we will treasure in our memory; those that are evil and inspired by the devil we will reject. A comparison with the sea may help us. A tranquil sea allows the fisherman to gaze right to its depths. No fish can hide there and escape his sight. The stormy sea, however, becomes murky when it is agitated by the winds. The very depths that it revealed in its placidness, the sea now hides. The skills of the fisherman are useless.
Only the Holy Spirit can purify the mind: unless the strong man enters and robs the thief, the booty will not be recovered. So by every means, but especially by peace of soul, we must try to provide the Holy Spirit with a resting place. Then we shall have the light of knowledge shining within us at all times, and it will show up for what they are all the dark and hateful temptations that come from demons, and not only will it show them up: exposure to this holy and glorious light will also greatly diminish their power.
This is why the Apostle says: Do not stifle the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of goodness: do not grieve him by your evil actions and thoughts, and so deprive yourself of the defense his light affords you. In his own being, which is eternal and life-giving, he is not stifled, but when he is grieved he turns away and leaves the mind in darkness, deprived of the light of knowledge.
The mind is capable of tasting and distinguishing accurately whatever is presented to it. Just as when our health is good we can tell the difference between good and bad food by our bodily sense of taste and reach for what is wholesome, so when our mind is strong and free from all anxiety, it is able to taste the riches of divine consolation and to preserve, through love, the memory of this taste. This teaches us what is best with absolute certainty.