those who curse you”
Loving Our Enemies
does not ask us to bless those who curse us, or
to love our enemies.
In strikingly clear terms, he commands us to:
“Love your enemies, do good to them that
hate you. Bless them
that curse you, and pray for them that
calumniate you. And to him
that strikes thee on the one cheek,
offer also the other. And him that
takes away from you your cloak, forbid
not to take your coat also.
Give to everyone that asks of you, and
of him that takes away your
goods, ask them not again.” (St.
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!
you ask, “is this madness? How can I love whom
I do not even like, and may even
That, 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?
How profoundly we misunderstand love ... Indeed, many never come
to understand the true nature of love at all. How many
marriages end in divorce because “the flame of love” has
apparently been extinguished? How many “beautiful
romances” have ended in disillusionment, ennui? When
tragedy mars our beauty or encroaching age robs us of
our youth, how often the “love”
that had once accompanied it simply ceases.
This 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
“feeling” is gone, then the “love” has gone with it. If our senses, our emotional
experiences, are no longer stimulated by the other, we
speak of the love “withering.”
We can no longer “feel” it. It no longer “excites” 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
The 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 had 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
very 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 one’s 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
the beauty of another.
To carry this analogy 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 emotional or
sensuous impulse. 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 every 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
of our love for them.
If our love is our affection only ... if it is solely a
matter of feelings and emotions ... we
would then have to say that any overwhelming
“feeling” (even animosity and rage) is equally, if far
differently, an emotive expression compelling us
… much as “affective” love does. Clearly, such an
understanding of love — love understood as impulsive
— is not freely given (a volitional act, an act of
the will) but is compelled by concupiscence
seeking selfish satisfaction. It is much more invested
in “me” than “her.”
Love of this sort 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, 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 (understood
as a palpable “feeling,” as something “felt” and
expressed in purely emotional terms) 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
within our power to say and to do everything
that 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!
Stated plainly: To love another is to will them every
good, and no evil. This statement is nothing new,
but in twelve words succinctly describes all that is
authentic in love.
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 not
pertaining to, or expressive of, emotional attachment.
Understood 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
Once we understand this, we realize that we are not called, still
less compelled, to intimacy with others at
large. That is absurd.
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
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 also:
“Love 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)
Bless 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 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.”
(St. Luke 17.10)
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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.”
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