People sometimes confess hatred. Someone will say, “I hate my employer,” and I usually ask, “Really? Do you want him to go to hell?” They usually reply: “Well, I don’t hate him that much….” In fact, no one has ever described a hatred deep enough to wish damnation on their persecutor. This is good news, that hatred is repugnant to human nature. “We were made to love and be loved,” in Mother Teresa’s words. Consider how a baby will smile at and imitate (imitation is a form of love) a perfect stranger. Love is natural, and hatred is unnatural. Love makes us feel good, and hatred makes us feel uneasy, depressed, and fearful. Hatred churns in our stomach like rotten food.
We have been listening to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, St. Matthew, Chapters 5-7, over these past few Sundays. Last week, Jesus said that the man who lusts has already committed adultery, and today he commands us to love our enemies. Christians generally ignore both these statements as some kind of exaggeration, that no one could possibly avoid all lust or love all his enemies. But these commands are not impossible, or the Lord would not have commanded them.
Law of the Talon not enough
Most of us quietly think Moses more realistic than Jesus. An “eye for an eye” is just about as much as we can expect of the human race. But Jesus’ command to love enemies is already found in Leviticus 19 (our first reading): “You shall not bear hatred for your brother in your heart… do not incur sin because of him.” In other words, don’t let someone who has hurt you hurt you even mores by pushing you into hatred. Whom do I hurt when I hate? Mostly myself. Long after an “enemy” has forgotten the hurt he has caused and gone his merry way, we can keep his hurt deep in our hearts. It dominates and poisons us.
The “Law of the Talon” is not enough. If we love only those who love us, we suffer an intolerable burden in life. Who would not want to love his enemies? No one wants enemies in the first place, so make them friends by loving them. Even if our “enemies” continue hating us, they cease to be our enemies the moment we love them: it takes two to tangle. Are you arguing with someone? Stop arguing, and the argument will stop. It’s entirely within your capacity.
Temples of God
You might say: I don’t want enemies. But I have enemies. Some people just don’t like me; some people are obsessed with making my life miserable, and I can’t help my feelings. True enough: we can’t eliminate feelings of anger or even hatred toward a person who dislikes us. We can’t, but God can. St. Maximilian Kolbe, for instance, whom the Nazis sent to Auschwitz for doing good, would plead with his fellow prisoners: “Don’t hate the guards.” If you hate the guards, you lose your humanity.
I did a personal retreat at Auschwitz one summer. On the seventh day, the sisters asked me to walk with them from the “Arbeit Macht Frei” gate to Kolbe’s place of execution, praying the rosary. We finished our prayers at his cell in Block 11, where he starved to death with nine other men. As we began the final hymns to God and Our Lady, it seemed to me that the dark concrete walls faded away, and that I could see straight through the prison walls into heaven. I knew that men cannot build walls thick enough to imprison the soul of a saint; St. Maximilian was a free man in Auschwitz because he disciplined himself to recall God’s love moment by moment. Jesus commands us to love our enemies not only because it is possible, but because it is necessary. I love the Collect for the Thirtieth Sunday: “Almighty God, make us love what you command, so that we may merit what you promise.” It’s all His work, but it’s our work too.
We have to believe God can do this for us, and act accordingly. At times we will need to crucify our flesh; at times we will have to cast aside our angry feelings, in order to make room for that grace. But we can do this, by that same grace. We are, after all, temples of God—do you not know this, St. Paul asks in amazement. The spirit of God dwells in you, and you are holy. Be holy, for I the Lord am Holy. Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Many of us are preparing for consecration to Our Lady on March 25. She, like women do, gave herself to her husband, but she did it absolutely, because her husband was God. In consecrating ourselves to her, we consecrate a temple for God. We can merit what he promises, if we love what he commands, by loving even our enemies, for the love of God and his Holy Mother.