those who curse you”
Loving Our Enemies
not ask us to bless those who curse us, or to love
strikingly clear terms, he commands
your enemies, do good to them that hate you.
Bless them that curse you, and pray for them
that calumniate you.”
(Saint Luke 6.28)
This is not an option for a Christian, it is the
Lord’s express will and desire that we should do so. But
There are, of course, people that we do not feel drawn to
— people, in fact, whom we do not like at all, and some
whom we even dislike intensely. It is, in fact, the case
that there are people whom we utterly abhor (not hate
... which is something quite different, and which has, with
no equivocation whatever, no place in the heart of a Christian).
Some people simply are insufferable, intolerable. And yes
... some people are even virtually consumed with evil ...
but Christ still bids us to love them!
this madness? How can I love whom
I do not even like, and may even
really, is the question at hand. How is it possible for
us to love not only those we do not like, but even those
who curse us, vitriolically hate us and wish
us ... and if they could, would do us great evil?
profoundly we misunderstand love ... Indeed, many never
come to understand the true nature of love at all. How many
marriages end in divorce because
flame of love”
has apparently been extinguished? How many
have ended in disillusionment, ennui? When tragedy mars
our beauty or encroaching age robs us of our youth, how
that had once accompanied it simply ceases.
terrible misunderstanding takes a toll on us that few of
us recognize. We have invested our entire concept
of love in merely one aspect of love alone: what
is immediate and sensory. Love is reduced to, and then totally
invested in, our emotions. Period. If the
is gone, then the
has gone with it. If our senses, our emotional experiences,
are no longer stimulated by the other, we speak of the love
We can no longer
it. It no longer
us. We then reason that the love has ceased. And in
a sense, it has. It has ceased to be sensuous. One
facet of that multifaceted gem has been occluded.
problem, however, is that it is precisely this facet of
the jewel, and this facet alone, into which we
have peered, and the surface light that dazzled us — and
in which we found our own reflection — is no longer refracted
off the stone. We have looked at
the stone ... but not into it!
We have seen, as it were been blinded by, fixated upon,
the surface light ... without ever pressing the
lens of our own love to the other facets that reveal
another and entirely different world within, a world of
extraordinary complexity and breath-taking beauty! It is,
in short, the difference between holding a diamond at arm's
length and admiring its beauty... and placing ones eye to
the diamond, where in crystalline light we stand in awe
of the deep beauty within that surpasses in every measure
the superficial beauty we see from afar. It is the difference
between peering at the beauty
of another— and peering into into
the beauty of another.
carry this analogy a bit further, we may say that the bringing
of the diamond to the eye is an act of the will
... not an instinctive response to some emotion. We approach
it with purpose, rather than colliding with it serendipitously.
It is a conscious attempt to penetrate, rather than to reflect
upon, the deep mystery sequestered within it; to go beyond
the appearances, however magnificent, to deeper and vastly
more expansive realities ... realities that ultimately touch
upon the very image of God.
is the most apposite metaphor for the true nature of love.
What is Love
... after all?
begin with, it is crucial to understand that love is not
simply a feeling ... but is preeminently
an act of the will.
In essence, to love is to have the other person's
total welfare at heart: it is to will them good
in all things, and evil in none.
for a moment and think of someone you genuinely love.
There is affection in that love, yes? But how does your
love for that person express itself, manifest
itself, apart from the affection that is uniquely experienced
toward that individual? When we think upon it, we soon find
that affective expressions of love, expressions
simply involving our emotions, are only one part
of our expression of our love
for them. If our love is our affection only ...
if it is solely a matter of feelings and emotions ... then
we can be said to love another even as we mistreat them,
abuse them, curse them, and wish every manner of evil upon
them. We can be rude, discourteous, selfish, inconsiderate,
manipulative and even physically violent toward them — and
at the same time, because we feel an emotion within
us that is inexplicably contrary to virtually everything
we say or do to that person — can we still be understood
to love them? Not only is there no correspondence
between this emotion and our expressions
of it, but complete contradiction! If such exists — and
sadly, I believe that behavior of this sort, still construing
itself as love, does exist — it can only be understood in
terms of a pathology. It is not what we understand when
we entertain the notion of love.
point is that Christ does not command us to have an
emotion or a feeling toward a person. He cannot.
Love of this sort cannot be commanded. It is simply the
case, and for too many reasons to enumerate, that we dislike
some individuals and find others intolerable. If we look
at the matter carefully, we find that while we can constrain
our emotions, we cannot compel them. We can
constrain our anger, but we cannot spontaneously invoke
it. We can no sooner be commanded to anger than to affective
love. However, everything else apart from what is affective,
that is to say, apart from what pertains to feelings or
emotions, can in fact be commanded ...
and is ... by Christ Himself!
we remove the affective element of love that is
an emotional bond unique between two individuals,
everything else that pertains to loving another person
is, in fact, subject to our will. We can
will to do good to others, even
while we cannot will to experience affection for
them. It is within our power to
say and to do everything which the expression of genuine
love entails — everything by which we coherently understand
one person as loving another — even if we do not have an
emotional investment in that person!
we can love those who vex us terribly and who would even
bring us to injury. Yes, we can love whom we
dislike! The love of which Christ speaks, the love
He commands, has nothing whatever to do with sensory
gratification or emotional fulfillment. This unique
affective dimension of love spontaneously arises
between two people in addition to
their obligation to love one another in ways that are not
affective — which is to say, in all the ways not pertaining
to, or expressive of, emotional attachment.
in these terms, it is not the case of one love being superior
to another. It is that affective love possesses
a spontaneous dimension beyond the same obligations
of love incumbent upon all of us. It fulfils the precepts
within this one individual — and then exceeds them in the
way of superabundance through an emotional investment that
spontaneously emerges between two individuals in a way that
does not characterize, but also does not diminish, their
love for all others.
we understand this, we realize that we are not called, still
less compelled, to intimacy with others at large.
Much of the touching and feeling that occurs
with disturbing frequency at Mass is very likely the result
of a confusion between love and intimacy. We tend to equate
the one with the other, and when, with good reason, we feel
uncomfortable with the intimate gestures of others with
whom we are not on intimate terms, more often than not we
wrongly reproach ourselves, rather than this mistaken conflation
of love and intimacy being forced upon us. It is essentially
the difference between love as charity and love as intimacy.
God does not command us to be intimate with our neighbors.
To bless others, genuinely asking
God — ex corde — to bestow on them favor, mercy,
and goodness, is an act of reciprocal beneficence, for in
blessing our enemies: those who hate us, do us harm, and
wish us evil, we bring upon ourselves an unspeakable
your enemies: do good to them that hate you:
and pray for them that persecute and calumniate
you: That you may be the children
of your Father Who is in Heaven.”
(St. Matthew 5.44)
friend and enemy alike; it is no more than our duty. For
the very One Who commanded us to love our enemies bids us
in so doing to know ourselves — which to know, is to arrive
you shall have done all these things that are
commanded you, say: We are unprofitable servants;
we have done that which we ought to do.”
A Poor Clare Colettine Nun
for the Boston Catholic
Totally Faithful to
the Sacred Deposit of Faith
entrusted to the Holy See in Rome
opera tua ... quia modicum habes virtutem,
et servasti verbum Meum, nec non negasti
know your works ... that you have but little
power, and yet you have kept My word, and
have not denied My Name.”
Copyright © 2004 - 2021
Boston Catholic Journal. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise stated, permission is granted
by the Boston Catholic Journal for the copying
and distribution of the articles and audio
files under the following conditions:
No additions, deletions, or changes are
to be made to the text or audio files in
any way, and the copies may not be sold
for a profit. In the reproduction, in any
format of any image, graphic, text, or audio
file, attribution must be given to the Boston