The reflection for today is from a Mass with the students and teachers from the parish elementary school. The gospel for the school Mass is the same as the gospel reading from the recent 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time, the last part of the Sermon on the Mount.
“You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.”
Sadly the sun rises on bullies, rain falls on bullies, and they are very tough to love. But they are the very ones Jesus tells us to pray for – they are the ones “who persecute you.” Why do we have to deal with or put up with bullies?
Mean people have been around since Cain killed Abel. Was there a bigger bully than Goliath? He used his size to frighten people. A lot of the kings of Israel and Judah were bullies, using their power to intimate and hurt others they were supposed to protect. Even the greatest of the kings, King David had moments when he was the ultimate bully. And yet, we are to pray for these people.
Interestingly, the word “bully” first appeared in 1530. At that time, it meant “sweetheart.” It comes from an old Dutch word that meant “lover, or friend,” depending on how the word was used. Somehow, the meaning degenerated over time to mean “a fine fellow,” and then eventually became “a loud, mean person,” and eventually, it was used to describe “one who uses physical, emotional, or verbal intimidation to gain power over others.”
But I digress. Do we really have to love a bully?
“For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? … And if you greet your [friends] only, what is unusual about that? …. So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
The word used in the Greek text of the reading (telios) for “perfect” means to be whole and complete. When we fail to love someone who is a bully, we are just that much less complete and whole as God wants us to be.
How do you love a bully? How do you love someone you don’t want to be around? That’s a hard question.
To show love to them does not mean you don’t tell your teacher or parents about being bullied. But it does mean that we should not gossip about the person. It might mean to speak to the person to tell them something like, “I think that you are a good person, but sometimes your behavior comes across as being a bully – you know… picking on other kids and making fun of them. Is that what you intended? You are better than that.”
It also might mean to stay clear of the person while the adults address the situation.
It always means to say a prayer for the person that the Holy Spirit will soften their hearts and lead them to be the better person who behaves as a follower of Christ.
How do you love a bully? Hard question. Hard questions call for prayer. So start by praying for them. Here some practical things to help in that regard:
Change the way you look at the situation: Typically, when someone does us wrong, a normal thought pattern is to think negatively about them, dwell on it, and sometimes magnify it. However, when we become curious as to why someone may bully, we can create a small space between what they are doing and who they are. Hold this person in your heart, set aside the negative thoughts you may have, and replace it with one positive thought about them. It isn’t always easy yet where your thoughts go, your feelings will follow.
Take some actions however small: Love isn’t just thinking about bullies differently, love also requires a change in actions. Consider doing a small, kind gesture for the person who bullied you. Write them a note, offer a smile, or give them a sincere compliment. Don’t treat them as they have treated you, but rather extend an olive branch of kindness, it may just spread and grow.
Make a plan for yourself: When we don’t try to forgive, every time we remember can be like reliving the time we were bullied. When we learn to forgive, we begin to heal. Forgiving someone sets us free from letting them hurt us over and over again. By a plan for your thoughts, words, and actions, you begin to feel more powerful, safe, and connected, and can better spread kindness to others. We cannot control the actions of another, yet we can choose our own thoughts, words, and actions. And what we choose ripples in ways far bigger than we could ever imagine. Love is always the answer.
When we love we are perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.
Image credit: Sermon on the Mount by Carl Bloch (1877) | Public Domain