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Questioning Faith: Loving our enemies needs divine energy

  • July 2, 2018

Love your enemies, Jesus tells us. Apart from the direct command of God, it’s not obvious that loving enemies is a necessary or even desirable thing to do. They can and do hurt us, and hating them can motivate us in protecting ourselves.  

Reason, philosophy and appreciation of the common good might persuade us it’s prudent not to be aggressive toward our enemies, but don’t explain why we should love them. Why not hate them? Only because Jesus says so, as in Matthew 5:44, and in everything Jesus says and does.

Love of enemies isn’t just another code of morality to be adopted or rejected, but a new revelation of the new covenant. 

Astonishingly, Jesus tells us to love even God’s enemies. If He weren’t God, we could not follow this radical command, but since He is God, it is divinely revealed just as the 10 commandments were. 

It’s the revelation of who God is and how God relates to the world. It’s lived on the realm of the “really real.” The new creation looks like this. The anatomy of loving comes only from this. Impossible but needed, what appears unattainable becomes the norm.

Even if we accept this answer to “why” love our enemies, we still face the question of “how.” How do we not hate them? What if we do hate them — can we suddenly stop out of obedience? Maybe. Maybe not. 

“That woman who swindled me out of my inheritance took away 10 years of my life and now I start at nothing.”  “That man who drove the wrong way on the expressway because he was drunk, killing my mother not instantly but excruciatingly, left me motherless at 12 and our father in shock.”  How can we not hate in such circumstances, even if we want to love instead?

Not all enemies are so vivid. It might be the neighbour who built his garage so tall and near that it blocks the sun, leading to gritted teeth whenever the children go outdoors. It might be “they” who are the enemy, that nameless group who made the unjust law or created the unpleasant work atmosphere. How can we love those we can’t even see or talk to?

“You can’t — He can.” That’s a refrain my teacher Fr. George said so frequently that it still pops up automatically. By our will and strength, we can’t. When God performs His heart surgery on us, though, things change. It’s as radical (and painful) as a mother’s body opening to deliver a newborn baby, as unmistakable as the seedling pushing up through the earth. 

We can allow this divine energy to irradiate our lives and change us, way down deep at the roots, into people who truly love their foes.

We may hesitate, fearing that loving our enemies means allowing unfairness, abuse and other human ills to flourish.  Such love is not a weakness that lets evil triumph, though it may seem so. It might require us to give up revenge, and our human ideas about winners and losers.

But divine forgiveness is wild and free, greater and farther beyond us than those parallel universes the astrophysicists tells us about. When we open the door to such a mighty wind, it’s bound to surprise and unsettle us. Unfailingly, it will strengthen us.

Once we let God in for this kind of spring cleaning, we can begin the inner work, allowing it the time and space it needs. This is the joyful discipline of the spiritual life (ascesis).

We can learn to bring ourselves to prayer — not in party clothes, but in the real self with all its shadows and wrinkles. We can learn to acknowledge and recognize our own emotions and packed-down fears, angers and resentments. 

Often, we aren’t aware of them; they become so familiar that they seem part of us. In the light of mercy, we can face our limitations without despair or self-justification and allow them to be transformed.

We can let our bodies in on the transformation, too. It’s not only our minds that carry hate and fear. They get stored up in the body and dwell there. Our bodies are destined for eternity: Jesus was raised body and soul, and we partake in this destiny.  Bodies are immediate, needing physical care. The spiritual life is also practical and benefits from attention to the way our spirits dwell with the body. We experience the physicality of the spiritual life in the sacraments.

Jesus not only gives the command to love our enemies, but becomes it, in forgiving from the cross. Christ is the medicine of immortality. In the Eucharist, loving like this becomes possible as the way to live in this world. 

The command to love our enemies goes beyond words, thoughts and even actions, to the level of being. Learning to love this way is a sign of God’s kingdom. We can’t live it perfectly on Earth, but we’re tenderly invited to try. 

(Marrocco can be reached at marrocco7@sympatico.ca)

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