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The Last Word - September 2014

Love Your Enemy

"Love your enemies."  This is it.  This is, without any question in my mind, the most radical command of Jesus to His disciples.

Three years ago, a shy 24-year old woman named Jessica Dovey had just heard the news of the death of Osama bin Laden.  She said that she felt very uneasy after reading the news and watching the reports of our national reaction fill up with shouts of, “Hooray! The witch is dead!”  She sat at her computer and wrote the following words on her Facebook page:  “I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.”

She went on to quote the following from Dr. Martin Luther King:

Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. So when Jesus says 'Love your enemies,' he is setting forth a profound and ultimately inescapable admonition. Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies – or else? The chain reaction of evil – hate begetting hate, wars producing wars – must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.

There is no reason to think that I can improve on that.  “I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.” I wonder how many of us, disciples of Jesus, the one who told us to love our enemies, were saddened at the death of Osama bin Laden.  I doubt many.  I know that the following weekend I did not hear one petition for him to rest in peace in our prayers of the faithful.

But I do not want this column to rise or fall on big international issues.  I also want it to touch our daily lives: those we live with, work with, go to school with, those annoying neighbors.   

A frequent dodge must be noted:  "You don’t have to like them. You only have to love them!"  The trick is then to argue that love in this sentence only means “to wish someone well” or, at least, “to wish them no harm.”  It certainly does not mean, so the argument goes, “to feel any affection for them.”  But this is nonsense.  Surely, whatever "love" means, it means more than "like," not less than "like."  We cannot be satisfied that we have kept Jesus’ command to love our enemies when we limit our feelings toward them to mere civility.  As one preacher, Frederick Dale Bruner, has put it:  “We are to pray, and to pray some more, until we feel something of God’s love for problem people.”

Now, it is true that for that to happen a miracle is required, a miracle of grace.  But disciples of Jesus will permit God’s love to so influence them that they will actually find themselves with warm feelings toward their enemies.

Rev. Msgr. Michael J. Henchal