Translated by Fray Hubert Dunstan Decena, OAR
A. Invoking the Holy Spirit.
We invoke the Holy Spirit using the words of St. Augustine.
Come, Holy Spirit, by whom every devout soul, who believes in Christ, is sanctified to become a citizen of the City of God! (en. Ps. 45:8) Come, Holy Spirit, grant that we receive the motions of God, put in us your flame, enlighten us and raise us up to God. (s. 128,4)Amen.
With heart well disposed, with serenity, read slowly the following words, savoring them and allowing yourself to be touched by them.
At that time Jesus said to his disciples: 38 You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. 40 If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. 41 Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.
43 You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? 48 So be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Let us now meditate with the commentary of St. Augustine on these words of the Gospel according to St. Matthew.
“The minor justice of the Pharisees consists in not passing beyond the measure of vengeance so that one may not return greater harm than the one received; this is a great step forward. Because one does not easily find someone who, having received a punch, limits himself to give back only one punch; nor is someone content to return only one hurtful word to someone who insulted him, rather the revenge is usually more, either because he is driven by anger or because he judges just to injure the offender more seriously than the innocent was offended. Such disposition of mind was greatly restrained by the Law, where it is said: an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth; with these words the measure of vengeance is expressed, which accordingly must not exceed the injury. This is the principle of peace; the perfect peace: not to desire such vengeance. Thus, even allowing the intellect to pierce through the two intermediate steps, the Lord preferred to speak of the highest perfection of mercy. If one fixes his eyes on the Kingdom of Heaven, there is much to do for someone who does not comply with all his strength the greatness of this precept; as ‘do not return as much injury as you have received, but less;’ for example, to give back one punch if you received two, or cut off one ear for the one eye plucked from you. Yet, he goes up higher one who does not absolutely return any harm, and approaches more closely to the precept of the Lord, although he does yet not fulfill it. For the Lord, it is still little if despite the evil you received you do not return the same evil, if you are not disposed to suffer any more. That is why he says: Do not return evil for evil, even though this is already a great precept, rather he said: Do not resist evil, in such a way that you do not return the damage done, but that you do not resist those who may cause you another damage. This, then, is what is called consecutive act: Rather, if someone strikes you at the right cheek, offer him also the left… the right and the left cheek are indicated, meaning that every disciple of Christ despised because of his name Christian must be disposed that his worldly honors be despised, if he has any. Taking the Apostle himself as an example, when men were condemning his name of Christian, he would not have presented the other cheek to those who hit him at the right cheek, if he were keeping in silence the honor he possessed in the world. Saying: I am a Roman citizen, did not mean that he was not prepared that this little glory, which he esteemed very little, be underestimated in him by those who despised such a precious and wholesome name. Perhaps afterwards he tolerated with lesser patience the chains that were not licit to put on a Roman citizen, or decided to accuse someone of this injustice? And if some removed it for the title Roman citizen, not for that reason did he refrain from accepting the blows, longing with patience to save from such perversity those whom he saw wanted to honor in him more the left side than the right. Thus, much attention must be given to see with what intention is all of this done and how much benevolence and kindness he showed to those from whom he received this offense.
And if someone wants to bring you to court over your tunic, give him also your cloak, this precept to be understood correctly must be put in the context of disposition of the heart, not as an act of ostentation. And what is said of the tunic and the cloak must be understood not only as such but is said of all one’s goods, that by some right we consider as our property. And if this is commanded concerning necessary things, with greater reason must one despise superfluous things. Nevertheless, the goods considered our property must be put in the rank that the Lord prescribed when he said: If someone desires to bring you to court over your tunic. One must understand that this refers to all goods for which we can be brought to court, in such a way that our property becomes property of the one who brings you to court, or by whom one is called to judgment, as clothing, a house, a field, a beast of burden, in general everything that is money” (s. dom. m. 1, 56, 58, 59).
With the text, let us now pray from the depths of our heart. I suggest the following phrases and questions that can awaken in you dialogue with God, and at the same time can give rise to affections and sentiments in your dialogue with God. Do not move to the next phrase or question if you can still continue dialoguing with God in one of them. It is not a matter of exhausting the list, but of helping you to pray with some points that better fit your personal experience.
- “But I say to you: Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt. 5:44).
- How do you act towards the persons you consider your enemies?
- What place do the persons, who hurt you, have in your prayers?
- “Therefore, be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt. 5:48).
- How do you imitate your heavenly Father?
- What does it mean to you “to be perfect as your heavenly Father”?
- Pray with this phrase: “Lord, help me to love my friend in you and my enemy for you” (conf. 4, 14).
I propose to you some points for affective interior contemplation. Once again, you need not follow all of it, rather you can choose what fits your personal experience.
- Contemplate how you put in the hands of Christ all the persons who caused you pain or damage in your life, and how you can free yourself of the resent-ment and bitterness, with the desire to forgive. Leave it all in the hands of God and ask Christ to heal your heart.
- Contemplate everything you have received from God and how God calls you to be generous, to give to everyone around you. Be thankful for what you have received, and ask God for the gift of generosity and charity.
Think of everything that you can share with those around you about the experience you had with God, especially as regards forgiving those who have offended you and of being generous. The following points can help you as guide to share with your community the experience of the lectio divina on this text.
- What have I discovered about God and about myself in this moment of prayer?
- How can I apply this text of Scripture at this moment of my life? What light does it give me? What challenges does it put before me?
- What concrete commitment does this text of Scripture ask of me in my spiritual life, in my community life?
- What has been my dominant sentiment during this moment of prayer?
G. Final Prayer of St. Augustine.
Turning towards the Lord: Lord God, Father Almighty, with pure heart, as far as our littleness permits, allow us to give you our most devoted and sincere thanks, begging with all our strength from your particular goodness, that you deign to hear our petitions according to your goodwill, that by your power you may drive away the enemy from all our thoughts and actions; that you increase our faith, govern our mind, give us spiritual thoughts and bring us to your happiness, through your Son Jesus Christ, our Lord, who with you lives and reigns, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen (en. Ps, 150:8).
“Forgive the wicked, O good man. The better you are, the more benevolent you must be. Be more humble by piety, the more exalted you are in power” (ep. 153, 4,11).