"Love Your Enemies"
Homily Notes: 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
Jesus commands us to love our enemies. To truly appreciate the implications of this commandment you almost need an enemy, one who directly wishes you ill. And so we have yet another challenging message from St. Luke’s Gospel, to put it mildly.
In the present-day culture, love is almost always equated with feelings. Indeed, our contemporaries place a high premium on emotions generally. Thus, to many, “to be in touch with your feelings” is equated with maturity. None of this is wrong per se. However, we might carry it a bit too far in our culture. Indeed, the defining characteristic of an infant is that s/he is in touch with his or her feelings and little else.
Certainly feelings are often associated with love. The trick is not to mistake association with identity. Feelings are constantly changing, like the prevailing winds. Emotions are ephemeral; they do not last. Love is not an emotion.
Three weeks ago I was speaking about the 4 Loves in Greek. Feelings are absolutely associated with each of those loves. In storge, I feel affection for some thing, say Oreo cookies. Of course, if I eat enough Oreos those feelings can change, quite quickly from delight to disgust. Similarly with philia, the love of friend or family, the emotions associated with it can vary widely with the same person. So, for example, a mother who loves her daughter may be enraged at her as a direct result of that love. It’s the same with eros. Obviously there are powerful feelings associated with eros. This is the bread and butter of daytime (and nighttime) soaps and much of Hollywood. However, if a marriage were based merely on the feelings associated with eros trouble would be just around the corner.
In the Gospel Jesus speaks of agape, gift love, cross love, the Love Who is God. It is interesting to note that nowhere in this Gospel does Jesus address the issue of emotion. Our Lord Jesus Christ is telling us that true love is in the doing, the act, the choice, not in the feeling. Jesus does not require us to manufacture feelings for others. He never asks us to do the impossible. And we cannot dictate our feelings.
Liking or disliking, feeling a certain way, is not a sin or a virtue. Sin and virtue come with acts. Often the problem is people say to themselves, “If I don’t feel a certain way towards so and so, then I’m not a loving person.” However, in the Gospel Jesus tells us that the exact opposite is true. Whenever we bless, give, pray for or do good towards another person, in spite of our feelings, we are being more loving than if we had the positive feelings. To love without feeling like it is more noble, more virtuous, more meritorious, more excellent.
We will not be judged by how we treat our friends. Anyone can be good to his or her friends; that takes no effort. We will be judged by how we treat those we don’t particularly like, those who have wronged us. We will be judged on how we act towards them, not how we feel towards them.
A good method to use is: Act as though you love your enemy; not unlike Alcoholics Anonymous’ famous phrase, “Fake it ‘till you make it.” The secret is in the doing. We can’t absolutely control our feelings; we can control our actions. When we do this we learn one of life’s greatest secrets: When we treat well someone we dislike, we come to dislike them less and less.
Special thanks to Fr. James C. Hudgins for providing the inspiration (and key points) for this homily