Thursday, February 12, 2015

Love Your Enemies...This is a difficult saying; who can accept it?

First, for all of the Bible geeks out there, I know these two Scriptures aren't actually together, but I'm being super-geeky and using a rabbinic method known as "hekesh," or "banging" two verses together to produce a stronger meaning. In this case, I'm less comparing and more emphasizing, but still awesome, right?

Anyhow, we like and understand a lot of what Jesus teaches in the Gospels, but the command in Matthew 5:33-34 is one we'd rather just pretend we never heard. What about Jesus' words here make them so much harder to hear than the consoling tones of the Beatitudes? The short answer is, they require something from us, something we don't know how to do. Our Lord points out that it's easy to love those who are dear to us, even those who are kind to us, but to love those who hurt us, say awful things to and about us, or who even abandon us- well, that's just crazy, right? Not so crazy when you consider what it means to love.

When we ask children what "love" is, they usually giggle, likely thinking of people kissing, and talk about how they feel about their mom and dad. Some older children will talk about being nice to people, taking care of them, a number of responses. They're not entirely wrong, but for we Catholics, there is something more that's required of us. Love isn't some emotion, affection is. Love, on the other hand, is a choice. Great, you say, our society loves choice, so people should be all about loving everyone, even the neighbor who turns you into the HOA for one too many yard decorations, or who gossips about you at the classroom Halloween party. Of course, we know that we are generally not interested in tolerating, let alone loving those people. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, it's absolutely necessary to define our terms, or this train is going nowhere.

What is love? It does depend some on who you ask. Aristotle reserved two definitions for love, one, philia, which reflects the common understanding of friendship (at his time, but still mostly true today), including the desire for that person's well-being, which is mutual between the two individuals. Second is the term eunous, or what Aristotle termed as being "well-disposed" or "bearing goodwill." This is the desire for another's well-being, but without the the implied reciprocation of the same intention. This latter term is love for love's sake, not for any person gain or for a common sharing of affection.

St. Thomas Aquinas, who was heavily influenced by Aristotle, maintains the definition of philia as "friendship," but his discussion of what Aristotle termed eunous is far more extensive, referring to it as "charity." At this point, I'm going to proudly assume that your eyes just lit up because you're starting to see a connection. If I'm wrong, it's okay because I can't see you, so there's really no disappointment here. Using the Philosopher's (Aquinas' term for Aristotle) definitions, Aquinas makes clear that friendship is related to charity because friendship loves, by affection, the other and all that belongs to him (ST, II-II, q. 23, a. 1). Because each person, made in the image and likeness of God, belongs to and is loved by God, and charity's ultimate subject is God, then, for us to be in friendship with God, in complete charity, we must also love all that is His. That is why our friendship of charity must be extended to every man, regardless of their will of good or evil toward us, "You have heard that it as 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, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in Heaven, for He makes His sun rise on the evil, and on the good, and sends rain on just and on the unjust" (Matt 5:43-45). The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) makes this painfully clear in Paragraph 1825, when it quotes Romans 5:10 in order to point out that Jesus offered us a share in His life, an opportunity for relationship, even "while we were enemies" (emphasis mine). If we truly love God, then we will also choose to love His people...all of them.

True "love" then, requires that we first know what is the good for another person, regardless of our affections for them, and upon knowing, in deference to our love toward God, requires our willing of that good. That sounds simple enough, to will that other people, even our enemies would receive the good intended for them by God. If only that were the end of the story, it might be so easy, but simply willing what is good is not enough. Our will must be animated to act because we are only conformed to the image of Christ if we choose to do, and not to do just anything, but to give our lives so that the other may have life "to the full" (Jhn 10:10).

Yikes, I know. How much trouble am I in? I definitely feel like my reaction to the driver who just cut me off in some smart Austrian status symbol is not as much loving as it is noting that "truth in engineering" appears to also mean "truth in advertising," considering how the people in those commercials drive. Epic moral fail.

Don't despair- there's hope. As I said, love is a choice, not an emotion, so frustration and even righteous anger about those who hurt and demean or even kill is not a deal-breaker. We aren't expected to like everyone on the planet, but we are expected to desire their ultimate good, and I'm sure God would appreciate if that desire for other's good would make it back around, so that we would experience that selfless love, leading some day to a sense of solidarity as members of the human family. Now, I don't profess to speak for God, but knowing what I do of His will, I think He'd probably be okay with that. In fact, here's what the Catechism says, quoting St. Basil, "If we turn away from evil out of fear of punishment, we are in the position of slaves. If we pursue the enticement of wages,... we resemble mercenaries. Finally, if we obey for the sake of the good itself and out of love for him who commands... we are in the position of children" (CCC 1828).

Ultimately, loving your enemies isn't easy- but what in the Christian life is? If we expect any better treatment or an easier road than our Lord, we are seriously deluding ourselves, "If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you"(Jhn 15:18). If you're still in doubt, I assure you, Jesus is really pushing this whole "love" agenda because He just keeps talking about it, "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you" (Jhn 15:12). When we love our enemies as the Father has loved us, sinners though we are, we have become a little more like Him, moved just a little closer to Him, and If you know anything about the image of the Father, you know it is Jesus, and becoming better conformed to His Son means becoming sons and daughters of the Father as well.

This article can also be found on Catholic Exchange at

No comments:

Post a Comment