Love Your Enemies (cf Mt 5:43-48)
“If we have a dispute, we must be easily reconciled, must not seed to bring our disagreement to an end by taking it before a judge, nor even seek a mediator to heal our division. For Christ is the mediator of our reconciliation, and it is the spirit of his charity and grace that should animate us. We ought to be wiling to bend, so that, together with our brother, we can be mutually accommodating.” (Note 1)
“But [Jesus] pushes the obligation still further and uproots the spirit of vengeance. ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ (cf. Exod 21:24). This is what was permitted of old, and it seems to be a certain kind of justice. But Jesus does not allow a Christian either to do it himself or to seek satisfaction in this way. … The tranquility of his [a Christian’s] heart is more dear to him than the possession of anything that injustice could take away, and if a breach of charity were required to recover something that had been taken away from him, he would not want it at any price.” (Note 2)
“Here then are the three degrees of charity towards our enemies: to love them, to do good to them, and to pray for them. The first is the source of the second: if we love, we give. The last is the one that we think is the easiest to do, but is in fact the most difficult, because it is the one that we must do in relation to God. Nothing should be more sincere, nothing more heartfelt, nothing truer than what we present to the one who sees all, even into the depths of our heart.” (Note 3)
“It is not for nothing that you are offered an eternal inheritance and an unchanging happiness: it is not to leave you indifferent, or worse than pagans.” (Note 4)
“First, we must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. One who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. It is impossible even to begin the act of loving one’s enemies without the prior acceptance of the necessity, over and over again, of forgiving those who inflict evil and injury upon us. … The degree to which we are able to forgive determines the degree to which we are able to love our enemies.” (Note 5)
I think this teaching is one of the most difficult teachings of Jesus – love your enemies. I can speak first hand to the difficulty after my time in the Navy. I had one person who worked for me who made my life miserable and made my job almost impossible. I spent a lot of time trying to overcome the anger and general hatred he roused in me. While we were deployed, we had a priest fly onboard fro Mass and confession. I went and confessed my sins, and confessed my difficulty with this individual. The penance I was given was to pray for him. It was difficult to do that penance, but it made made really thing about loving your enemies. It was very eye opening, very difficult and made me really consider Jesus’ command.
All of these quotes apply to the current discourse (or lack of it) in the US and the world. Violence, rioting, name calling, anger, hatred, vitriol. We’ve forgotten how to be a civilized society, to the point that civil disobedience as preached by Thoreau, Ghandi, and Martin Luther King, Jr, has morphed from resisting the government to inconveniencing, and in a sense punishing, your fellow citizens by blocking trffic, keeping people from getting to work, and keeping emergency vehicles, even ambulances, from helping the sick and injured. There is no turning the other cheek or being “mutually accommodating”. There is only hate and punishing everyone who disagrees with you or gets in your way. It’s very fitting that Bossuet references the Mosaic Law of and eye for an eye. Not because we should seek vengeance, because that is not what this portion of the law is about. Instead, it is about limiting vengeance — no more than an eye for an eye. It was to ameliorate the passion for vengeance, not a methodology for seeking vengeance. (See this article on EWTN.)
Our current times — where people stop talking to friends because they disagree with their politics, where people don’t like a political decision so they protest and riot, people disagree with what a speaker is going to say so they riot and destroy things, people disagree with something written and instead of rebutting they resort to ad hominem, profane and abhorrent ad hominem attacks — Our current times are truly in need of this teaching and almost seems to be the very circumstances Jesus’ teachings were trying to prevent.
Love your enemies, love your neighbors, not as you love yourself, but as Christ loves us (cf. Jn 13:32-35; Jn 15:12). That will save the world — and you.
In the vein of saving yourself, I leave you with a quote from an article I read today Cardinal Newman’s Simple Rule of Life.
“It is the saying of holy men that, if we wish to be perfect, we have nothing more to do than to perform the ordinary duties of the day well. … There are no short ways to perfection, but there are sure ones.”
“ … By perfect we mean that which has no flaw in it, that which is complete, that which is consistent, that which is sound — we mean the opposite to imperfect. As we know well what imperfection in religious service means, we know by the contrast what is meant my perfection.
“He, then, is perfect who does the work of the day perfectly, and we need not go beyond this to seek for perfection….”
“If you ask me what you are to do in order to be perfect I say, first—
“Do not lie in bed beyond the due time of rising;
“give your first thoughts to God;
“make a good visit to the Blessed Sacrament;
“say the Angelus devoutly;
“eat and drink to God’s glory;
“say the Rosary well;
“be recollected; keep out bad thoughts;
“make your evening meditation well;
“examine yourself daily;
“go to bed in good time, and you are already perfect.” (Note 6)
Perfection equates to holy, equates to being good Christians — and even more importantly — equates to being decent human beings.
1. Jacques-Benigne Bossuet, Meditations for Lent, trans. Christopher O. Blum (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2013), 42.
2. Bossuet, Meditations, 42-43.
3. Bossuet, Meditations, 44.
4. Bossuet, Meditations, 44.
5. Martin Luther King, Jr., “How to Love Our Enemies”. In Renewing Our Discipleship, Daily Reflections on the 2017 Lenten Readings for Mass, ed. Steve Mueller (St Louis, MO: All Saints Press, 2017), 10.
6. Sam Guzman, “Cardinal Newman’s Simple Rule of Life,” The Catholic Gentleman (March 10, 2017), at http://www.catholicgentleman.net/2017/03/cardinal-newmans-simple-rule-of-life/.