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Why turn the other cheek? To defeat hatred and evil, Pope Francis says

Kevin J. Jones   By Kevin J. Jones for CNA

Pope Francis waves during the Angelus on Sept. 26, 2021 / Vatican Media

Vatican City, Feb 20, 2022 / 08:22 am (CNA).

To love one’s enemies and to turn the other cheek seems impossible, but Jesus Christ’s love gives Christians this strength that can save even those who hate them, Pope Francis said Sunday.

“Turning the other cheek is not the loser’s fallback, but the action of those who have greater inner strength,” the pope told crowds in St. Peter’s Square gathered for the Angelus Feb. 20. “Turning the other cheek is to overcome evil with good, which opens a breach in the heart of the enemy, unmasking the absurdity of his hatred. And this attitude, this turning the other cheek, is not dictated by calculation or hatred, but by love.”

“Dear brothers and sisters, it is the gratuitous and undeserved love that we receive from Jesus that generates in the heart a way of acting similar to his, which rejects all revenge,” Pope Francis said.

The Pope’s remarks reflected on the Sunday gospel reading from the Gospel of Luke’s sixth chapter.

There, Jesus Christ tells his disciples: “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic.”

Pope Francis acknowledged that this can be hard.

“When we hear this, it seems that the Lord asks the impossible,” he said. “Besides, why love enemies? If you do not react to the bullies, every abuse is given the green light.”

It can be among “the most difficult situations” when we are placed before our enemies and those who “always try to harm us.”

But here, the disciple of Jesus is called “not to give in to instinct and hatred, but to go much further. Go beyond instinct, go beyond hatred,” said the pope.

He encouraged his audience to consider their “sense of injustice” at turning the other cheek, and to contrast this feeling with Jesus’ behavior in his unfair trial before the high priest during his Passion, as recounted in the Gospel of John.

At one point, when a guard slaps him in the face, Jesus does not insult the guard but responds “If I have spoken badly, show me where the evil is. But if I spoke well, why are you beating me?”

To turn the other cheek, the pope explained, does not mean “suffering in silence” or “giving in to injustice.”

“With his question Jesus denounces what is unjust. But he does it without anger, without violence, indeed with kindness. He does not want to trigger an argument, but to defuse resentment, this is important: extinguish hatred and injustice together, trying to rescue the guilty brother,” said Pope Francis.

“This is not easy, but Jesus did it and he tells us to do it too,” the pontiff said. “This is turning the other cheek: Jesus’ meekness is a stronger response than the blow he received.”

Pope Francis warned against keeping rancor in our hearts which hurts and destroys. He acknowledged that some people question whether it is possible for a person to love his or her enemies.

“If it depended only on us, it would be impossible,” he said. “But let us recall that, when the Lord asks for something, he wishes to give it. When he tells me to love my enemies, he wants to give me the capacity to do so.”

“What should we ask of him? What is God happy to give us?” the pope asked. “The strength to love, which is not a thing, but rather the Holy Spirit, and with the Spirit of Jesus, we can respond to evil with good. We can love those who do us harm. This is what Christians do. How sad it is, when people and populations proud of being Christians see others as enemies and think to wage war against each other!”

The pope encouraged Christians to think of someone who has harmed them.

“Maybe there is some resentment within us,” he said. “So, alongside this rancor we place the image of Jesus, meek, during the trial, after the slap. And then we ask the Holy Spirit to act in our hearts. Finally, let us pray for that person: pray for those who have hurt us.”

“When they have done something bad to us, we immediately go and tell others and we feel victims. Let us stop, and pray to the Lord for that person, to help him, and so this feeling of resentment disappears,” he continued. “Praying for those who have treated us badly is the first thing to transform evil into good.”

“May the Virgin Mary help us be workers of peace towards everyone, especially those who are hostile to us and do not like us,” he prayed.

In his remarks after the Angelus, Pope Francis expressed his particular closeness to the people affected by natural disasters.

He specifically mentioned the people of Madagascar affected by a series of cyclones. The storms have displaced thousands and killed more than 100 people this month.

The pope sent a telegram to Madagascar’s President Andry Rajoelina on Feb. 19, as the island in the Indian Ocean braced for another potential cyclone hit.

The Pope also spoke of those affected by landslides and flooding in the Brazilian city of Petropolis. These disasters have claimed at least 146 lives and left almost 200 missing, BBC News reports.

“May the Lord welcome the dead into his peace, comfort family members and support those who help,” the pope said.

Citing Italy’s National Day of Health Personnel, Pope Francis remembered the doctors, nurses, medical workers and volunteers who are close to the sick, treat them, and try to help them.

“Nobody saves himself alone. And in sickness we need someone to save us, to help us,” he said. He praised “heroic” medical staf” who showed their heroism in the Covid-19 pandemic, and he added that their heroism “remains every day.”

“To our doctors, nurses, and volunteers a round of applause and a big thank you!” he said.

Pope Francis greeted various pilgrims and groups, asking those gathered in St. Peter’s square to remember to pray for him.


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10 Comments

  1. Few of us if any can be as morally and physically heroic to endure abuse as did Christ. When we consider he endured it for us it inspires the kind of love that defeats evil as described in its various trying scenarios by Pope Francis.
    As said elsewhere enduring evil has its moral limits, although most abusive behavior can be endured for a greater good.
    Silence in suffering infliction may heroically emulate Christ’s saving act of justification. A seeming anomaly that has its merit in the triumph of good over evil.

  2. Bet the Vatican we would still call the enforcers (police) in the case where a group might vandalize the property though
    Monopoly of violence has its merit

  3. This is all too typical of the way Catholics tend to handle Scripture. They read it, assume they understand the words, and then immediately start drawing theological conclusions. That they may have misunderstood the words in the first place never occurs to them.
    Jesus is not proposing a universal principle to be applied to all persons in all situations. He has a particular set of persons in mind : fellow church members who have committed some petty offense, who can be shamed into repenting of their unjust actions — opponents, not mortal enemies. The purpose of his admonition is to promote peace and reconciliation within the Christian community. If the pope would study the Bible for a change, instead of just riffing off of it, he might learn something.

  4. Why didn’t the Pope “turn the other cheek” regarding the suppression of the Tridentine Mass? That is, rather than suppress the TM, why not encourage it, since it seems to threaten the Church in such a dangerous way?

    • The TLM did not hurt the Church. It served its purpose when it was introduced, by a Pope, during the time the Church was mostly in the region of the old Roman Empire. It is no more like that.
      Furthermore, there was a need to restore or RECCOVER some elements that were lost. “togetheratonealtar” has a good article on this. “The greatest effect of the Vatican II reform was the recovery of the liturgical role of the congregation at Mass and the restoration to the people of the responses, songs, acclamations and prayers appropriate to them. Another important consequence was the restoration of liturgical ministries, lector, cantor, acolyte, for example, so that, led by the Priest, the Mass is clearly seen as an ordered act of praise and thanks to God in which Priest, ministers and people each play their part.”

  5. He is the only pope or clergyman I’ve ever seen, lose his temper at in flashes of anger, at least twice on camera, at women among his fans who irritated him.

    • I’ve personally known five convicted murderers in my lifetime, and living in NYC, I’ve met a lot of famous and infamous people, and I’ve read hundreds of books in history. I don’t know if I ever encountered a man, even from a distance, who personified hypocrisy as much as Francis, and I’ve been sitting here trying to figure out how to express it. Thank you Mr.Campolo; you expressed it perfectly for me.

    • Don, how many Popes have you seen in public?
      Yes, Pope Francis – some hypocritical Catholics – will not even address him as Pope – had a crook arm, and this woman pulled his arm. In pain, Pope Francis reacted. It was the severe pain that caused the reaction, not the woman. He later apologized to her. It was a normal human response.

  6. “Turn the other cheek” is so often used to silence someone who speaks up against a transgressor (evil). If striking someone on the right cheek according to biblical times, one would have to backhand the person using the right hand. Using the left hand was forbidden as it was considered unclean. Turning the left cheek to the aggressor would necessitate use of the open right hand, which is equivalent to elevating the the status of the person being struck—-so in effect the aggressor’s hand is being forced as he/she would not wish to elevate high respect for the subject of his/her ire.

    I get so tired of “Turn the other cheek” declarations. As followers of Christ, one must always stand for the truth, not become evil’s doormat.

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