Love Your Enemies


On the occasion of his tenth year anniversary of Ordination to the Priesthood of Jesus Christ

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-use you.

Listen again to those words – love, do good, bless, pray. All these instructions, these exhortations of Jesus, are positive. And then Jesus gives us the most positive and important of all - the Golden Rule, do unto others as we would have them do unto us. In some ways, this message was nothing new. Many other faiths and philosophies of Jesus’ time were saying nearly the same thing, but with one striking difference: they were all expressed in the negative. A great Jewish Rabbi was asked by a man to give him a summary of the whole law. He answered, "What is hateful to you, do not do to another. That is the whole law and all else is an explanation." The ancient Greek orators used to say "What things make you angry when you suffer them at the hands of others, do not you do to other people." And the Stoics used to teach, "What you do not wish to be done to yourself, do not you do to any other." When Confucius was asked, "Is there one word which may serve as a rule of practice for all one's life?" he answered, "Is not Reciprocity such a word? What you do not want to be done to yourself, do not do to others."

These are all beautiful sentiments, and yet they all expressed in the negative; they are all about avoiding misfortune and suffering. And such is the great difference between these sayings and the teaching of Jesus. It is often not hard to stop yourself, to restrain yourself from doing something bad – you just don’t do it. Much more demanding is actually to do something good for someone else. And so Christian conduct in particular consists, not in refraining from bad things, but in actively doing good things.

And not only good things, but extra things too, going the extra mile. As Jesus tells us today, “If you love those who already love you, what special grace is there in that? If you are kind to those who are already kind to you, what special grace is there in that?” Jesus is not asking us to compare ourselves favorably to other people but to realize our great inadequacy in comparison to God, and within that stark contrast to doing whatever good for others we can.

And then Jesus presents us with perhaps the most difficult teaching of all: to love our enemies. Many of us could not even possibly conceive that we have enemies. And yet we do. Perhaps we could think of enemies as people who do not wish us the best, even people who irritate or frustrate us; people who get in the way of our projects and desires in life. In asking us to love our enemies, Jesus turns conventional wisdom on its head and plants the seeds of the most significant revolution in the history of the world. As Pope Benedict writes, “Love of one’s enemy constitutes the nucleus of the ‘Christian revolution’, a revolution not based on strategies of economic, political or media power: the revolution of love, a love that does not rely ultimately on human resources but is a gift of God which is obtained by trusting solely and unreservedly in his merciful goodness. Here is the newness of the Gospel which silently changes the world! Here is the heroism of the ‘lowly’ who believe in God’s love and spread it, even at the cost of their lives.”

Each of us in this sense is revolutionary. We trust in the merciful goodness of God, instead of fearing whatever dangers the world might serve up, and acting accordingly. And this desire to follow Jesus, to trust in Him, this is at the heart of every Christian vocation.

And so, I say today again on a personal note: Jesus, I trust in you. I give humble thanks for your invitation to a life of priestly service, and express infinite gratitude to those who help and encourage me on the way.