Americans Who Love Enemies
By Father Pete Iorio
This month of February, we celebrated two federal holidays. Friday, February 22, was the birthday of our first President George Washington which we observed last Monday. Also we remembered Martin Luther King, Jr. Maybe all you did to connect with these days was to enjoy a day off of school or work. Maybe you were inconvenienced because banks or offices were closed and there was not mail service. Let us be inspired by true stories of these two great Americans that include putting today’s Gospel into practice.
During the Revolutionary War, Peter Miller was the pastor of a little Baptist Church in Pennsylvania. The Reverend Peter Miller was a friend of General George Washington and was respected for his many outstanding services to the newly born republic. He also helped the President to translate the Declaration of Independence into several foreign languages so that the Imperial Courts of Europe would be aware of the intentions of the new American government. Michael Wildman, the public prosecutor lived near the church, constantly criticizing and abusing Pastor Miller and his congregation. When Wildman was caught for spying for the British army, President George Washington sentenced him to be hanged for treason. No sooner was the sentence announced than Rev. Peter Miller set out on foot to appeal to General George Washington for his enemy’s life. The president thought that Mr. Wildman was Rev. Miller’s friend and stated that he could not save Miller’s friend because of the gravity of his guilt. Miller said, “Mr. President, Mr. Wildman is not my friend; he is my worst enemy.” “What!” exclaimed our first president George Washington, “You have walked sixty miles to save the life of your enemy? That puts the matter in a different light. Pardon is granted.” Pardon in hand, Miller hurried to the place of execution, fifteen miles away. He arrived just as the traitor was being led to the scaffold. Seeing the pastor Miller coming close to the executing officer, the condemned Wildman shouted, “Here is the old Peter Miller. He came to get his revenge by seeing me hanged.” Miler calmly stepped forward and gave him the pardon, signed by General Washington. Rev. Miller lived by the command Jesus gave us as described in today’s Gospel passage: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” He put into practice what we would name a prolife practice, saving a person from the death penalty.
We need to practice grace-filled behavior. What makes Christianity distinct from any other religion is the quality known as grace, that is God’s own life working in us. Speaking for myself and my instincts especially when I am hurting, I would not be a very good Christian. My natural reaction when hurt by someone is to lash out in some way or get defensive. I need God’s grace, his divine blood coursing through my veins to help me speak and act as He would act.
MLK was a Christian who was brought up on God’s Word and the teaching of His Lord Jesus Christ. When a gang of racial fanatics set fire to King’s house, an Afro-American mob gathered, ready to take revenge. But Dr. Martin Luther King told them, “When you live by the rule ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,’ you end up with a nation of blind and toothless people.” Then he led the gathering in prayer for the white brothers who had burned his house. That is what the amazing grace of forgiveness, the central theme of today’s readings, is all about.
When I find it very difficult to forgive someone because the very sight of them fills me with negative emotion, I pray for them in a specific way. I pray with their picture in front of me and I ask for divine grace to love them as God loves them and for the peace that comes with forgiving from the heart. It sometimes takes a while, but it has worked in my life.
Now think about your own life when you have been wronged by words or by deeds or by money. How has God’s grace shown forth in your own life by putting into practice what Jesus preached in his Sermon on the Plain today? I know that all of you have a story. I hear them almost every day at St. Mary’s School as our children put this into practice. You have made the world a better place and infusing the grace of God’s merciful love in the world. Be sure to tell this good news to others. Do not just keep it to yourself. Share your story face to face or on social media, wherever and whenever you can.
Infuse our world with God’s grace. Remember He Himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful just as your Father is merciful.