To be a Christian means to love one’s enemy. Jesus’ words and his actions alike testify to this idea. Jesus says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). From the Cross, he forgives the people who are crucifying him: “Forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
Such love can be challenging. Consider what it means to love one’s political “enemies,” those who hold beliefs that we find to be immoral, unwise, or even hateful. Moreover, since as Christians we are called to work for justice and especially to protect the most vulnerable, how do we do so while still loving the enemy? I have been struggling with these questions, along with a group of faculty colleagues in a reading group on contemplation and activism. I have no perfect answers, but here are some ideas.
Work for justice. Love of one’s enemy does not mean passive acceptance of evil. We must first act to protect those who are weak and vulnerable. Our tradition emphasizes the preferential option for the poor. Still, justice in the longer term will not be accomplished until our adversaries are also reconciled. If I love another person, I should not want for him or her to persist in their bad behavior. Rather, I hope for her or him to become a person who acts virtuously. A process of discernment can help us to consider how to act concretely in weighing these different concerns.
Ground action in love. I have been struck by the peaceful and joyful attitude of the crowds at recent marches and rallies. As we undertake any activity, our actions ought to flow from love rather than hate. Prayer cultivates this interior reservoir of love. Just as we water a garden to make sure it gets the nourishment it needs, we need to “water” our interior lives with prayer that allows love to remain as a steady source of action. Such prayer might be as simple as sitting daily with a quiet sense of God’s love for us. Or as we pray about any given issue, we can ask: Where is the love in this situation? Find the love, and you will find the joy.
Pray for one’s enemies. Jesus gives us specific advice on how to love the enemy: pray for them and remember that others “know not what they do.” Injustice often stems from ignorance—if not an ignorance of the facts of the situation or the best practical action, perhaps due an even deeper woundedness that may be hidden to us. St. Paul ruthlessly persecuted Christians until his conversion experience. I can also meditate on my own shortcomings as a person who is not yet a saint. Beyond the appearance of the most difficult adversary is a person loved by God and capable of good. We can pray that the good in the other be revitalized.
Express anger lovingly. Too many of us are taught that anger and love are opposed. But expressing disappointment, anger, or hurt to those we love is part of authentic relationship, including authentic political relationships. Loving anger expresses both reasons and feelings, while hateful anger mocks or seeks to do harm.
Hope in God. As Christians, we believe that we do not act alone, but that a greater Love is guiding us. Hope does not mean allowing God to intervene while we remain passive, but rather remembering that God’s action leads and encourages us when we act from love.