YOUNGSTOWN -- Christians are called to use the 40 days of Lent as a special time of prayer and reflection. It is a time to evaluate our life according to what Jesus asked of us. In Matthew 22:34-40 the Pharisee asked Christ, 'Master, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?'
Jesus said to him, "You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second resembles it: You must love your neighbor as yourself."
There are further explanations in the many parables that define neighbor as anyone you meet in life and we are reminded that includes our enemies. To use present day jargon, Christ was going "outside the box" to include in his ministry and healing those outside the Jewish faith -- women, lepers, or anyone who was excluded from mainstream society of the times.
The hard part
The hardest part in trying to follow God's commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves is when we must forgive and love those who have hurt or harmed us in some way. Retaliation often is on the tip of our tongue and in our actions only too easily.
Jack Schwarz, who founded a holistic health clinic in Oregon, related a most unusual life experience to me. He was a teenager in Holland when the Nazis took his family to a concentration camp. While in the camp he was being beaten so severely by a guard that he was losing consciousness and thought he surely would die. Amid his agony, Schwarz saw a light in front of the guard and in the light he saw what seemed to be the face of Christ.
Schwarz remembers being filled with an intense emotion of love and he cried out with all the strength he could muster, "I love you!" The stunned guard stopped the beating and walked away.
There seems to be so many patterns of behavior that interfere with our challenge to love God and neighbor so explicitly, yet this is what we are called to do.
The Irish theologian John O'Donohue said, "We have a sacred responsibility to encourage and illuminate all that is inherently good and special in each other."