This Sunday’s gospel from Matthew asks us to love not only our neighbor, but our enemy as well. It says:
“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.’”
It is easy to hate those who cause us pain, but God calls us to love them instead, to demonstrate the perfect love that He shows us. As children we are always told to treat others with kindness and respect, and loving those who we do not like is a challenge that continues throughout our lives. How do we turn the other cheek? Jesus says, “Offer no resistance to the one who is evil” “Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go for two miles.”
God asks us to embrace the challenges of our enemies and instead of responding with hate respond with the love He shows us. He points out that many of our enemies are not so different from us,
“For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?
Do not the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet your brothers only,
what is unusual about that?
Do not the pagans do the same?
So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
How can we translate this to our everyday life and what is the benefit? Find an “enemy” a rival in a class, a competitive sibling, a disgruntled roommate. It is easy to respond to their negativity or the feeling that they are persecuting you with equal hatred or unpleasantness. But, this benefits no one. If we instead respond with peace and love, we stop a cycle of hatred and persecution and show to them the love the God shows to us. This furthers peace throughout the world and within our society, it has the power to solve great conflict and bring the smallest bit of happiness to someone. God’s love is perfect and can only be achieved and spread if we his children are actively working to spread it, and if we are at the same time resisting the urge to respond to hatred with hatred. The beginning of this week’s gospel references the “Eye for an eye” form of justice in society, and it asks us to rise above this need to get even and bring about change through not just acceptance of our enemies, but love of them.
Eileen Welch is Regent of Catholic Daughters of the Americas Court #2646 at the Catholic University of America.