HOMILY THEME: “Jesus said, ‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you
and pray for those who maltreat you.”’ (Luke 6:27-28)

BY: Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC


HOMILY: Luke 6:27-38

As I read the long ago New York Times article, I remembered standing there myself on an early summer afternoon so many years past watching the solemn muffled pageantry. The slow measured cadence of the honor guard glided before the massive monument on which was a simple inscription: “Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.” I remember wondering at the time who it was who might be resting here under the constant vigilance of the uniformed guard and respectful tourist crowds.

It all came back as I read about the controversy concerning the remains of the soldier from the Vietnam War who rested in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. It seemed that the Vietnam Unknown may indeed have an identity, and a soldier’s family in St. Louis purported to have enough evidence to warrant opening the tomb in attempts to identify the remains using forensic techniques not available when the remains were first classified as unknown.

Another sort of tomb came to mind after finishing the newspaper article. Rows of gray file boxes filled a floor-to-ceiling bookcase in the corner of the office, a simple sign affixed to them—Tomb of the Unknown Rosary. It was over 20 years ago when I served with Holy Cross Family Ministries that several of us sorted, bagged and boxed thousands of discarded rosaries, sent to us for distribution to those who, it was hoped, would continue to pray with them. Most of these recycled rosaries appeared old, beaten-up, worried over, cried upon, and it was very soon that I found myself handling each one with reverence. There was no honor guard, no tourist crowd, yet the small heap of beads I held in my hand was no less a memorial to faith, to hope and to love than was Arlington’s great tomb. How many spouses and children in military service were prayed back home safely on these beads? How many rosaries absorbed tears of anguish when a homecoming brought uniformed pallbearers? It was not even beyond possibility that one of the rosaries before me was held by relatives or friends of one who rested in Arlington’s tomb. What love did these beads know of? And, even more, what hatred for an enemy might these beads have absorbed and transformed?

From my experience, nothing absorbs and transforms hatred, jealousy, envy and all other ugly human dispositions like prayer, especially a longer, protracted, mind-clearing prayer like the rosary. In younger days, I’d turn to prayer asking God to strike down (or at least maim) a perceived enemy. Luckily, God never answered that prayer as I’d hoped! When I got older and perhaps wiser and found myself harboring ill feelings toward another, I’d pray, asking God to bring the perceived offender a sure and certain sign of his divine love. And that prayer always worked! The next time I encountered the target of my prayer, the other person had changed for the better. So, I’d found the answer: pray for your enemies and they change. Before too long, though, another startling and humbling revelation struck, and I could only imagine God laughing at me as the truth hit: praying for the enemy didn’t change the enemy even one little bit; rather, the prayer changed me. Now, I regularly pray for those who bother me, knowing that in prayer the rough edges of my own ability to understand and accept are made smooth. Grating relationships can become at least tolerable when treated with prayer.

In the gospel passage we hear today, “Jesus said, ‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you and pray for those who maltreat you.”’ (Luke 6:27-28) And do it, not because it will change them, but because it will change you, ever for the better. POSTSCRIPT: The controversy surrounding the identity of the Vietnam War Unknown Soldier was settled on May 14, 1998 when the remains were positively identified as Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie. At the request of his family, his body was returned to St. Louis, his hometown.

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