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. Luke 6.27-30)
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!
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 occluded.
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
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 Himself!
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
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
to their obligation to love one another
in ways not pertaining to, or expressive of, emotional
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 all others.
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 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
“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
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.
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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