those who curse you”
is this possible?
not ask us to bless those who curse us, or to love our enemies.
clear terms, he commands us to:
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 how ...?
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
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?
we misunderstand love ... Indeed, many never come to understand
the true nature of love at all. How many marriages end in
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.
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
“feeling” is gone, then
“love” 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.
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
To 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.
This is the
most apposite metaphor for the true nature of love.
What is Love
... after all?
To 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.
Pause 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.
The 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
Once 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!
Yes, 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.
Once 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. Right?
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 blessing
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)
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 at humility:
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
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