The artistry of loving your enemies Print
From the Diocesan Administrator
Thursday, Mar. 07, 2019 -- 12:00 AM
From the Diocesan Administrator column

Following is the homily Msgr. James Bartylla preached on Sunday, Feb. 24, for the Cistercian Sisters, Prairie du Sac .

The message of Christ in the Gospel for the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, to love one's enemies and bless those who curse you, is as challenging and mysterious to us today as it was in Jesus' time. That challenge and mystery stems from both divine and human elements.

A work of mercy

At its essence, loving one's enemies is really an endeavor to bring good out of evil -- it's a work of mercy.

However, more importantly, to bring good out of evil is the quintessential divine action to the problem of evil (Summa Theologica, St. Thomas Aquinas, I, Question 2, Article 3, Reply to Objection 1).

Thus, to love our enemy is a supremely imitative, cooperative act with God. In an absolute, universal, and infinite sense, Christ Himself is the good that is brought out of evil.

As St. Paul explains: "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor 5:21).

But in particular and finite ways, it is not always possible to see this process of good coming from evil.

Good brought from evil

Many times we fail to witness good being brought from evil. We may be insufficiently perceptive or simply too far removed in space or even time from the good that emerges out of any particular situation.

It requires great trust in God. I think particularly of those Catholics who suffered in the communist era who now, after their deaths, are being offered into the canonization process.

People at the time experienced the evil of communist persecution, perhaps with little hope, but today many of us, removed from that era as the memory of the Cold War fades, hear of the complete lives of those beautiful historical witnesses.

Just recently, Hungarian Cardinal Jozsef Mindszenty, jailed and exiled by the communists, was recognized as living the Christian virtues in a heroic way as a step forward in the canonization process.

Love your enemy

Loving one's enemies is also subtly imitative of the creative act of God described as "creatio ex nihilo" -- creation from nothing.

Evil is parasitical on the good and lacks being, which also means it can't transform itself into good. But evil does, in countless ways, present fresh occasions for grace, and grace is always able to take each person's experience, even the experience of evil, and turn it for good.

Sometimes people portray Christians as robots with little imagination, clinging to a false faith to salve the wounds of everyday life.

However, to love your enemy is a very creative act, and I would dare to say, one of great artistry. It is a relished delight to surprise your enemy with love.

Loving one's enemy is also humanly mysterious.

In ordinary life, what enables one to love one's enemy is simple humility, the abandonment of one's own feelings and prejudices out of a genuine desire to be emptied of self in order to be mysteriously filled by God.

And what stands in the way of bringing good out of evil is every sort of pride.

It's easy to be harsh with one's enemy and be self-satisfied and seek respect from others; but, it takes courage to love one's enemy, because aside from the interior self-emptying, one will also be ridiculed as weak -- in short, you'll receive few accolades for loving your enemy from the worldly.

Loving one's enemy is never just theoretical and is always mired in the messiness of the situation.

Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, the Coadjutor Archbishop of Saigon at the time of the fall of the city to the communists, was imprisoned for 13 years, with nine of those in solitary confinement. Loving his captors required much tangible, gritty virtue; far more concrete than theoretical.

Having trust

Lastly, loving one's enemies requires trust.

We often don't see the results nor understand the situation -- this is why our Lord tells us to stop judging in the same Gospel.

By stopping our judgment, it allows us to break the barriers to loving our enemies.

St. Thomas Aquinas, in the Summa Theologica, II-II, Question 107, Article 4, addresses whether favors should be withheld from the ungrateful.

He states, "There are two points to be considered with regard to an ungrateful person. The first is what he deserves to suffer, and thus it is certain that he deserves to be deprived of the favor.

"The second is, what ought his benefactor to do? For in the first place the benefactor should not easily judge him to be ungrateful, since as Seneca remarks, a man is often grateful although he repays not, because perhaps he has not the means or the opportunity of repaying.

"Secondly, the benefactor should be inclined to turn his ungratefulness into gratitude, and if he does not achieve this by being kind to him once, he may by being so a second time. If, however, the more he repeats his favors, the more ungrateful and evil the other becomes, he should cease from bestowing his favors upon him."

As St. Thomas wisely states, sometimes loving our enemy requires persistence, and at other times it takes humility to stop being an obstacle to our enemy and withdraw from the situation. It's the life of a courageous artist.