Love Does Not Seek Revenge

We owe one another love (Romans 13:8). The Scriptures are clear that this debt of love includes everyone. It is often easier to be caring or act charitably toward our friends and those we love, than with people whom we find ungrateful, off putting, or disagreeable. Jesus however says, love your enemies (Mt 5:43-45). 

The good news of Jesus’ triumph over death means that goodness, not evil, has the last word. Even though we may have been victims of evil, we do not have to become evil ourselves by inflicting harmful revenge toward the perpetrators.

Oftentimes we can quickly go from being hurt to being angry and from being angry we can be tempted to cultivate that anger, and even part of us may wish evil upon the one who hurt us. We can recognize this pattern, slow down this process and then choose to respond differently. We can choose to be kind to ourselves when we are in pain, and tend to our wounds. Anger itself is normal, and we may even take the time we need to experience it, all the while choosing to not be dominated or commandeered by the evil inflicted upon us. We can then choose to be merciful and mercifully pray for the repentance of evildoers. 

In writing to civil authorities who had the power of inflicting torture or capital punishment on the captured murderers of a church minister, Augustine writes to the authorities pleading for mercy:

Fulfill your office like a pious father. Be angry against iniquity without forgetting your humanity. Do not quench your thirst for revenge even when the criminals have committed atrocities, but rather have as your intention healing the wounds of those sinners.

Saint Augustine (Letter 133,2)

Fear, then, with me the judgment of God the Father and make clear the meekness of Mother Church, since, when you act, she acts, because you act for her and as her son. Counter the ruffians with kindness. They, with criminal cruelty, tore limbs from a living body; you instead, with mercy allow those members that they used for their criminal actions to be preserved, and command them instead that they use them in some useful work.

Saint Augustine (Letter 134, 4)

They shed Christian blood with their impious swords; do not, for the love of Christ, spill their blood with your juridical sword. They, by killing a minister of the Church, denied him the opportunity to live; you instead, please leave the enemies of the Church, still alive, so they have the opportunity to repent.

Saint Augustine (Letter 134, 4)

The life of Saint Rita is another example in Augustinian spirituality of the witness of not allowing ourselves to be overcome by the evil we experience; choosing to forgive instead. Saint Rita suffered the experience of having her husband murdered by members of a feuding family. Feuds were not uncommon in Italy during her time. Her teenage sons were enraged and wanted to avenge their father. She counseled her sons against seeking revenge and tried to help them to forgive their father’s murderer. They still plotted to take vengeance, but they died of a disease before they were able to commit the crime. As she sought to find herself again through prayer, and what direction God would give her as she felt lost through the grief of losing her husband and her sons, she heard God calling her to become an Augustinian nun. The sisters in the Augustinian monastery in Cascia feared that accepting Rita into their cloister would upset the frail balance of community life, since there was at least one sister in the community who belonged to the family of her husband’s murderer. She was refused entrance. Peace between the feuding families which had gone on for decades was a requirement and such peace seemed impossible during her lifetime. Saint Rita, filled with the grace of peace, worked to bring the two families to forgive each other, and through her efforts and the grace of God they agreed to live in peace. Saint Rita was then accepted to enter religious life at the Augustinian monastery in Cascia.

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