Educational Resource

Do Christians Love Their Enemies Even Now?

Year Published
  • 2011
  • English

Chapter Three - Study Guide

Revisiting Paul's Writings

We know partially and we prophesy partially, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully. (1 Corinthians: 13:9-12)

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. Luke's Gospel reminds Christians of every century that Jesus taught his followers to love their enemies (Lk 6:27). In every century, however, this has seemed, for reasons unique to the times, a very difficult teaching to follow.

Who first comes to mind when you reflect upon this teaching of Jesus?

Someone who harmed you personally or who doesn't appear to wish you well?

A person whose actions demeaned you?

Individuals or groups whose thinking differs so greatly from yours that you see no grounds for mutual understanding?

Religious extremists who plotted against our nation and harmed innocent people?

Prisoners accused of terrorist acts, detainees who may harbor information sought for purposes of self-defense?

No doubt about it: Loving enemies isn't easy! Simply contemplating the examples above makes that perfectly clear.

Today, in the 21st century, hauntingly vivid memories keep the terrorist events of September 11, 2001, very much alive for people. Anxiety surrounds the threat of additional terrorist attacks. Our society asks, are we doing all that can be done to deter terrorism? In this atmosphere, many undoubtedly feel that they know with surety who their enemy is.

It is within such an atmosphere that our conversation takes place, a conversation about what Jesus said in Luke's Gospel: that we ought to love [our] enemies, do good to those who hate [us]. This may not be an easy conversation to pursue. After all, do we even begin to grasp what it means to desire only what is good for people who, we believe, do not desire the same for us?

Page through the Gospel of Matthew, and you'll hear this teaching of Jesus again. He says, Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you (Mt 5:44-45). In Matthew, this teaching comes hard on the heels of the astonishing message communicated by the Beatitudes -- a message that peacemakers, the gentle, the merciful and the poor in spirit truly are blessed.

It often is said that the Beatitudes present a vision for Christian living. The Beatitudes are not platitudes. The Beatitudes are a call to live as Jesus lived, and to approach the world around us in an entirely new way.

In Deus Caritas Est,Pope Benedict XVI said, Love is divine because it comes from God and unites us to God: through this unifying process it makes us a we which transcends our divisions and makes us one, until in the God is all in all. (DCE 18)

As our conversation commences, spend just a moment reflecting on the following questions. Perhaps they can provide some initial direction for us.

In your own life or even the life of your nation, do you recall an occasion of reconciliation a time when an enemy became a friend? What paved the way to reconciliation?

How does the torture of a detained terrorist, or turning a blind eye to such torture, represent a failure to love our enemies?

There is a temptation to empty the words Love your enemies of meaning, to make them innocuous. Pope Benedict XVI, in Deus Caritas Est, said, In a world where the name of God is sometimes associated with vengeance or even a duty of hatred and violence, this message [that God is Love] is both timely and significant. (DCE 1)

Pope John Paul believed that loving the one who offends you disarms the adversary and is able to transform a battlefield into a place of supportive cooperation. Love of enemies helps to interrupt the spiral of hatred and revenge and break the chains of evil which bind the hearts of rivals, he wrote. For Pope Benedict XVI, Love of neighbor . . . consists in the very fact that, in God and with God, I love even the person whom I do not like or even know. (DCE 18)

Is love that powerful? Can love light up for us the passageways that actually lead toward peace?

Love isn't just an idea. Rather, love is oriented to action. Love motivates actions of many kinds; in this way love becomes visible. How does love for enemies become visible?

First, this kind of love becomes visible through actions that are avoided.

At the end of October 2007, Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, discussed some actions to avoid. He said, "Christians are called to cooperate for the defense of human rights and for the abolition of the death penalty, torture, inhuman or degrading treatment" both in wartime and in times of peace. "These practices are grave crimes against the human person created in the image of God and a scandal for the human family."

Second, this kind of love becomes visible through actions that are undertaken by us, and by our nation.

Just days after the attacks of September 11, 2001, someone posted these well-chosen words on a Franciscan-sponsored Web site that at the time was soliciting pledges for peace: I will cultivate a place in my heart where the Spirit can teach me love of enemies. Another person posted this message: I will pray daily for world peace and show, by my own actions, that people have the ability to transform their own piece of this world.

Can we, indeed, love our enemies? Ponder that question. Note that it is a question about enemies, but it also is a question about love. What love are we talking about? Often it is said that to love someone we must desire or will only the good for him or her. How do we will what is good for an enemy?

Love was the topic of Pope Benedict XVI's first encyclical, God Is Love. He wrote:

Love is the light -- and in the end, the only light -- that can always illuminate a world grown dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working. Love is possible, and we are able to practice it because we are created in the image of God. To experience love and in this way to cause the light of God to enter into the world -- this is the invitation I would like to extend (No. 39).

How can we love people who don't love usor who, at least, don't seem to?

What does it mean to love people whom we do not know personally? What forms might such love assume?

In a time of terrorism and great fear, our individual and collective obligations to respect dignity and human rights, even of our worst enemies, gains added importance. Reaffirming the standards contained in Common Article 3 of the Geneva Accords would reflect the conviction that our nation must treat its prisoners as we would expect our enemies to treat our own military personnel. (Bishop Thomas Wenski of Orlando, Fla., writing in June 2006 as chairman of the Catholic bishops of the United States International Policy Committee to then-U.S. Defense Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld)

It is clear to us today that the only way to peace is by destroying enmity, not the enemy. (Should we destroy half the population of the world dissatisfied with the way things are? And how do we identify the enemy where terrorism is concerned?) Someone once took Abraham Lincoln to task for being too courteous to his enemies and reminded him that his job as president was to destroy them. Lincoln answered, Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends? Enemies are destroyed with armies, but enmity with dialogue. (From the Good Friday 2003 homily by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the papal household, to Pope John Paul II)

The following passages  one from a speech, the other from a homily -- are offered for your reflection, analysis and discussion.

There was a story that circulated after the September 11 terrorist attacks about a Native American boy and his grandfather. The boy asks his grandfather, Grandfather, how are you doing after what happened on Sept. 11? The grandfather replies, My son, I have two wolves within me. The first is the wolf of anger, vengeance and hatred. It sees the suffering of innocent people, it is saddened by the tremendous loss of life and wants to respond to the perpetrators in kind. The other one is the wolf of reconciliation. It too understands the horror of what has happened. It sees the children who have lost parents, the friends who have lost loved ones, and the fear and anxiety it created in peoples' lives. And the grandson asks, And which wolf will prevail? The grandfather replies, The one that I feed, my son. The challenge before us as people of faith is to be that leaven in society that brings hope, healing and reconciliation. We live amid a world that yearns for this. Let us meet that challenge guided by the Spirit of God, who knows no boundaries and can accomplish in and through us infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.

The people of the Church could serve society and the world at large as leaven, giving rise, as yeast does in bread dough, to hope, healing, and reconciliation, according to this passage. What are some ways of giving rise to hope, healing, and reconciliation in our world today?

Peace really does spread from person to person, family to family, country to country. I believe we must seriously tithe for peace by supporting the needy of the world, especially the sick, the starving, the homeless, the hopeless, the tortured and war-torn. And this does not exclude our enemies. We must learn to love our enemies, literally, by understanding their needs, which so often cause aggression and war.

Bishop Angell believes that we must learn to love our enemies. What are some ways of learning this? Are there actions we might undertake that will lead us in this direction?

Gods ways are mysterious, sure enough! Nonetheless, cant Christians say with surety that hating enemies isn't Gods way, and that hating our enemies wont lead to peace? The 2006 letter that Bishop Thomas Wenski of Orlando, Florida, sent to then-U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, spoke about this. The bishop said, A respect for the dignity of every person, ally or enemy, must serve as the foundation of the pursuit of security, justice and peace.

But in loving their enemies and taking the Beatitudes seriously, are Christians being nave, or attempting to escape from the realities of the world as it really is?

Christ's proposal [that we love our enemies] is realistic, Pope Benedict XVI said in remarks in St. Peters Square February 18, 2007. These words, love your enemies, represent some of the most typical and forceful words of Jesus preaching, the pope commented.

But why are these words realistic? Because they take into account that in the world there is too much violence, too much injustice, and therefore this situation cannot be overcome except by countering it with more love, with more goodness, Pope Benedict explained. What the Gospel says about loving our enemies does not consist in succumbing to evil, as a false interpretation of turning the other cheek claims, but in responding to evil with good and thereby breaking the chain of injustice.

For Christians this is not merely tactical behavior but [is] a person's way of being, the attitude of one who is so convinced of God's love and power that he is not afraid to tackle evil with the weapons of love and truth alone, said Pope Benedict. He continued, Love of one's enemy constitutes the nucleus of the Christian revolution, a revolution not based on strategies of economic, political or media power: the revolution of love, a love that does not rely ultimately on human resources but is a gift of God which is obtained by trusting solely and unreservedly in his merciful goodness.

Terrorism is indeed a reality of the world we live in today. But Christians who, even in this kind of world, love their enemies believe it is possible to counter terrorism in a way that is consistent with the Gospel, to borrow words from Holy Cross Father Edward Malloy, former president of the University of Notre Dame.

The Beatitudes constitute a countercultural truth. But when this truth has been followed, it has changed our world, the Catholic bishops in the United States said, in a November 1999 message titled Because God Loves You.

And Cardinal Roger Etchegaray said, in a 1991 speech in Washington, D.C., that a volcano erupted into a world searching for peace with the Sermon on the Mount and its incandescent Beatitudes. The cardinal was president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace at the time of his speech. He said that "merciful love is, perhaps, the greatest challenge to the hardness, to the ferocity, of our modern times.

Peace, said Cardinal Etchegaray, is waiting impatiently for pioneers who will open up new ways.

Pope Benedict XVI believes that loving our enemies is not nave, that it is a realistic way to approach our world. Discuss his reasons for saying this.

Our enemies should be treated as if they were another self; treated as though we recognize in them people who are not simply different from us, but who, in so many ways, also are like us. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church makes this point. It says

Inextricably linked in the human heart are the relationship with God, recognized as Creator and Father, the source and fulfillment of life and of salvation, and openness in concrete love toward man, who must be treated as another self, even if he is an enemy (cf. Mt 5:43-44) (No. 40).

Once we recognize an enemy as another self, haven't we begun to recognize that persons God-given human dignity? Like us, that person is made in the image of God. And, if Christ died and rose to new life for all, haven't his death and resurrection somehow touched that person too?

Christians love their enemies because they.

Take the words of Jesus in the Gospel seriously.

Recognize their enemies human dignity.

Hope to discover the difference that a people of the Beatitudes can make for today's world.

What Jesus taught his followers about loving their enemies adds up to a demanding, even difficult instruction for Christians of the 21st century, and of every century. In fact, Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles said in a September 2003 speech that one of the greatest challenges put before us in the Gospels is the call to love our enemies. But, he explained, This is not a simplistic command to ignore the potential for evil in our world. It is a call to reflect fully and honestly on the ethical dimensions of our responses to evil.

What are some ways for individuals, families, parishes, communities and even nations to respond to evil with good?

Father, all-powerful and ever-living God, we praise and thank you through Jesus Christ our Lord
for your presence and action in the world.
In the midst of conflict and division,
we know it is you who turn our minds
to thoughts of peace.
Your Spirit changes our hearts:
Enemies begin to speak to one another,
those who were estranged join hands
in friendship,
and nations seek the way of peace together.
Your Spirit is at work when
understanding puts an end to strife,
when hatred is quenched by mercy
and vengeance gives way to forgiveness.
For this we should never cease to
thank and praise you. Amen.

(From Preface, Eucharistic Prayer for Reconciliation II)

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