“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” (Matthew 5:43-44).
Jesus made a very clear and bold statement about how we are to deal with some of our least favorite people. We are to love them, but what does that look like, practically speaking?
Before we look at how to love our enemies, we have to define love. The world tells us that love is an emotion and that it feels good. Love is something that can be written about on a greeting card and it sounds great. We see people all around us fall in love and others who fall out of love, sadly resulting in the dissolution of marriages based on feelings. The Christian definition of love, however, is much different and not dependent on feelings at all.
There must be two elements present for Christian love to exist. The first is sacrifice and the second is willing the good of the other. In other words, you want what is best for another person, even if it means doing some act of self-sacrifice so that he or she may have that good. The ultimate example of this was when Jesus offered Himself to be sacrificed on the cross in order to save each and every one of us from our sins. We are called to imitate that very love that Jesus offered. While we will not literally be asked to hang on a cross for the good of another, we will be asked to hang our own needs and wants on a figurative cross for the good of another. Love is not a feeling. Love is a choice and it is an action, especially when the feelings of love are absent.
It is relatively easy to see how Christian love plays out by those in our lives who are on our side, or have our backs. We see displays of sacrificial love in our families every day. Those involved in ministry or other types of service make many sacrifices for the good of the poor and downtrodden. Our priests have made many great sacrifices in their lives for the good of us who make up the Church which they serve. But how do we demonstrate sacrificial love for the good of our enemies or, less strongly, for those toward whom we don’t have warm and fuzzy feelings?
First, let’s explain the good that we seek for those we dislike. We can want them to do well in life or to have healthy relationships. These types of things are good to want for anyone. However, if we go deeper, the ultimate good we could ever want for anyone is the salvation of their soul. Presumably, most of us would never want our most bitter enemy to suffer in hell for all eternity, that is, if we understand what hell really is. Therefore, the single best thing we could ever want for any other human being is to see them in heaven one day, because it would mean that you both are basking in the glory of the Triune God. What could be better than that?! Also, there will no longer be any grievances in heaven, and you may find that the person you disliked most on earth could actually be one of your greatest friends in heaven. It’s hard to say what God has in store for us and our enemies at the end of the day, but we should open our hearts out of love to wait for the treasures He has in store.
Now that we have identified what good we want for our enemies, how do we offer sacrifice to help them obtain it? We are called to sacrifice our anger, frustration, resentment, or hurt feelings in order to pray for that person’s soul. We are called to nail all of our negative feelings to our cross to help bring about that person’s salvation through prayer. Sometimes praying for someone you dislike can be very difficult because it requires a great deal of discipline to push aside those negative feelings in order to genuinely ask God to bestow his mercy and grace on them, but God sees your sacrifice and efforts and will reward them. He will provide opportunities for that person to accept His grace in his or her life, and in doing what you are called to do, you will receive more blessings than you could ever imagine.
If we go back to our original premise that love is a choice and an action, we can identify other additional ways we can make sacrifices for the good of our enemies. You can pray a rosary or novena for that person, which is a sacrifice of your time. You can sacrifice your personal comfort by fasting for that person, which makes your prayers for him or her more efficacious. When you attend Mass, you can offer the sacrifice at the altar for the good of that person in your heart, or better yet, you can have Masses said, which would be the greatest act of loving your enemy that you could give. The options are endless when it comes to helping to bring about the ultimate good of your enemies.
Think of a person that would fall under the category of your enemies. Perhaps someone has hurt you in the past, or has an incorrect perception of you and your intentions. Maybe you don’t get along with a co-worker or someone in your ministry. Or, like the scripture above says, maybe there is someone who persecutes or curses you for your beliefs or because they simply do not like you. Meditate on wanting the ultimate good for that person, which is to be in heaven for all eternity and ask God to help bring that about while offering your own efforts of sacrifice to increase the grace.