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  • Fr. Scott Haynes

Vengeance is Mine

Fr. Scott A. Haynes


A Meditation for the Third Sunday after Epiphany

Romans 12:16-21


Brethren: Be not wise in your own conceits. To no man render evil for evil, but provide good things not only in the sight of God, but also in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as far as in you lies, be at peace with all men. Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but give place to the wrath, for it is written, Vengeance is Mine: I will repay, says the Lord. But, If your enemy is hungry, give him food; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap coals of fire upon his head. Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.


Today’s epistle brings up the subject of revenge. Whenever we feel violated, we think we will make things better by taking out vengeance. We want an “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” [1] but an eye for an eye would make the whole world blind because the cycle of revenge never is satisfied. Blood thirsts for blood. If we give in to that spirit of revenge we will not only destroy the other person, we will destroy ourselves too, as an old proverb states:

"If you devote your life to seeking revenge, first dig two graves." [2]

Today’s Epistle to the Romans goes on to state:

“…if thy enemy be hungry, give him to eat; if he thirst, give him to drink: for doing this, thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head.” [3]

This reminds me of what the poet George Herbert once said:

“Living well is the best revenge.” [4]

When someone abuses you, they can take a certain morose delight in watching you suffer from it. But if, instead, you overcome their attack by your joy and happiness, you will have not only overcome the trap of falling into a vengeful spirit, but you will shock them and make them think about their actions. Along these lines, the poet George Herbert gave us another bit of wisdom when he said:

“You will find that silence or very gentle words are the most exquisite revenge for insult.” [5]

Perhaps this somewhat reveals what the epistle means when St. Paul says: “Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good.” [6] Expanding on the teaching of St. Paul, someone once put down on paper several good thoughts about this subject, writing:

"A wise person once said: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction….The chain reaction of evil – hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation." [7]


A story from the lives of the saints demonstrates the destructiveness of vengeance and the wonderful effects of overcoming it. Let us visit Margherita Lotti, a young girl who lived in a village just outside of Cascia, a town about one hundred miles northeast of Rome, Italy. Born around 1380, she was the only child of older parents. Margherita grew up to be a smart, beautiful and spiritual young woman. Her passion was serving God. She wanted to become a nun. But her parents had other plans. They wanted her to get married, have children and live a normal, stable life. They arranged a marriage for her to Paolo Mancini, a well-heeled government worker. Rita protested. Her parents insisted. She obeyed.


For eighteen years, Margherita stayed married to Paolo and had two sons. Paolo was an arrogant and abusive man who beat Margherita. Sadly her sons grew up acting like their father. Margherita lived in daily terror. Margherita prayed for her husband Paolo and was patient and gentle with him. Margherita was able to convert her husband into a better person, more specifically renouncing a family feud between the Chiqui and Mancini families known as La Vendetta.



As time went by and the family feud between the Chiqui and Mancini families became more intense. As a member of the Mancini family, Paolo’s brothers were angered that he was not with them in the fight against the Chiqui family. So Paolo’s brothers betrayed him. Because he was their own brother they did not want to him themselves, so they conspired with the other feuding family for them to kill him. And so, Paolo was violently stabbed to death by Guido Chiqui.


Margherita feared that her two sons would murder their father’s enemy to avenge his death. Margherita did not want her sons to become murderers and go to hell. So Margherita prayed for God’s grace and asked that God prevent her sons from the murderous revenge of Guido Chiqui. In a few short months, both of her sons died of dysentery before they could carry out the murder of Guido Chiqui, their father’s murderer. Margherita did not want to see her sons suffer sickness and death, but she preferred this to the idea of them becoming murderers.


Through her grief, Margherita sought peace and forgave Paolo’s killers. Her life as a wife and mothers was now over. And so Margherita was free to return to her original dream of serving God through life as a nun. She tried several times to enter the Augustinian order, but the nuns refused her, fearing the convent would be targeted by Paolo’s enemies.


For a while, it seemed as though Rita’s dream was again being denied. She prayed about what to do and asked for answers. Finally, in an act of great courage, Rita went to Paolo’s enemies. She also approached the family of her in-laws. She convinced both families to take a blood oath agreeing, in writing, that they would not retaliate against the convent for accepting Margherita. It was a great victory for Margherita.


When St. Rita asked for a thorn from Christ’s crown she was probably thinking of secret suffering.

Did she know how much the wound would stink? And how unpopular that would make her with her sisters?


She immediately took the peace document to the nuns and, finally, they accepted the determined woman into the convent. Margherita was given a new name as she entered the convent—Sister Rita. We know her as St. Rita of Cassia, the patron saint of desperate causes, of abuse victims, of difficult marriages—St. Rita is the “patron saint of impossible dreams.” As St. Rita endured courageously a difficult marriage, she has given us a tremendous example of patience, prayer and perseverance. She has shown us how a gentle spirit overcomes the spirit of vengeance. St. Rita, pray for us.


Notes

[1] See Exodus 21:22-26.
[2] Anonymous Chinese proverb.
[3] Romans 12:20. See also, Proverbs 25:21-22.
[4] George Herbert (1853). “The poetical works of George Herbert [and The synagogue, by C. Harvey.]. With life, critical diss., and notes, by G. Gilfillan”, p.308.
[5] Judge Hall.
[6] Romans 12:21.
[7] Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., From Strength to Love, 1963.

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