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The commandment to love our enemies seems impossible sometimes, especially for those who have been badly hurt. So what does Jesus mean by this commandment? Are we all obligated to follow it? And if we do follow it, what does it mean to love those we don’t feel any love for?


Cy Kellett:
Hello, and welcome again to Catholic Answers Focus. I am Cy Kellet, your host, and I’m delighted to have you here with us. We have our chaplain with us, Father Hugh Barbour, a Norbertine priest of the Abbey of Saint Michael in Orange County, where they’re building a new and beautiful church. You should check it out online. Hello father.

Fr. Hugh Barbour:
Hello. Hello. Good to see you.

CK:
We talked a bit about friendship last time.

FHB:
We did.

CK:
You brought us into a conversation about divine love, and the possibility of participation of humans and divine love. But now we switch from friends to enemies today, and we’re not even going to cover frenemies. I don’t believe frenemies are covered in the Bible, but-

FHB:
Oh yeah, they’re around.

CK:
Oh they are?

FHB:
[crosstalk 00:00:51] whole category.

CK:
Judas.

FHB:
No, no, no, Judas would just be an enemy.

CK:
Oh, okay. All right. Okay, so enemies. In Matthew and Luke, we get the instruction from Jesus to love your enemies. I think Paul gives the same instruction to letter to the Romans, or at least to love those who persecute you. What is this all about?

FHB:
Well, again, just as with friendship itself, we have to take it back to its divine source. What could love of enemies mean? Well, first of all, it’s something that we imitate whereby we imitate that God in his nature, we are fashioned in his image. We are fashioned. I remember last time we found out that that charity, divine love is precisely a form of friendship. The friendship is the first, you could say category or characterization or precision on what it means to love God, to love one’s neighbor. And this is rather astounding when you consider that friendship means in some sense, an equality between the two. To know that God wants to draw us into a friendship with him is truly stunning. So when our Lord says, “I no longer call you servants, but friends.” We realize what a high calling the life of grace is. We’re not just good little creatures doing what God tells us to do. We become his intimates, those who he’s drawn into his own life. So, and we need to understand God’s treatment of enemies in the light of that.

CK:
Okay. I see, yes.

FHB:
And also his commandment regarding how we are to treat enemies because we’re made in the image and likeness of God, and we have been raised to this level of friendship with God, by God’s grace. And consequently, we’re not free to treat our enemies, as you might say, as they deserve.

CK:
Yeah right, right.

FHB:
But that’s a little dangerous even in of itself. So love is not always friendship, and why not. There are forms of love, which are not friendship precisely because friendship means that the friend is the friend to the other friend. That is, it’s a mutual arrangement or a mutual relationship. So if he’s my friend, that means that he loves me back. He’s not my enemy.

CK:
Yes, right.

FHB:
So I can’t have, someone’s an enemy then it means that that person, under some aspect or another does not love me.

CK:
Yeah. Right, right.

FHB:
Right, now-

CK:
Instead of willing the good for me, they will evil for me.

FHB:
Now, if that enemy is an enemy on the football field from an opposing team, and they will the evil of your losing or fumbling or whatever. Well, this is not a grave moral, evil, this is all agreed upon. And our playing the game together can be in itself a form of love and friendship on another level that you both love the game and share it in common. But you can hate your enemy under that aspect, if it’s not an essential one, it’s not a moral one, but rather taken for entertainment. Or in the case of some accidental aspect of someone who’s going to do us evil, we have to protect ourselves from it. And so under that aspect, we might positively will some evil for that person, like to defend our lives, we have to harm this other person.

CK:
Right.

FHB:
And that’s not what you call a friendly act, but it’s not an unloving one either because you have love for yourself. Saint Thomas says, “It transcends in a certain sense is more fundamental than love of neighbor.” I know that sounds funny, but you have to love yourself first, before you can love your neighbor as yourself.

CK:
Yes.

FHB:
Self preservation against those who would do evil to us is a form of self love without which you can’t become their friends. If that were the hope. So love has to be reciprocated in order for it to be friendship. But our Lord’s commandment is that we love everyone, both those who love us and those who don’t love us. Now, we can’t love them in exactly the same way, and that’s evident because if someone who doesn’t love us back, we can’t have the same freedom or the breadth of expression. And we have to be, as it were, on our guard. Now our Lord says love. He says of old, it was said, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for tooth.” Or, “You should love your kinsmen, but hate your enemy.” He’s taking that from the Old Testament. He said, “Of old, it was said that. But I say to you love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.” And there’s the fascinating commentary the Lord gives on his own seemingly impossible command, because there’s almost no culture.

CK:
Yeah. I see what you’re saying. The second half of that is a commentary on the first half of that. I see what you’re saying.

FHB:
It’s a Hebrew parallelism. He said, “Love your enemies.” And then you go, like, “What does that look like?”

CK:
Yes.

FHB:
And then he says, “Pray for those who persecute you.”

CK:
Right.

FHB:
It’s like the doublets and the Psalms.

CK:
These, they’re not two different things. The second one is the way you do the first one.

FHB:
Right, exactly.

CK:
I got you.

FHB:
So love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you. Now, our Lord even goes so far as to say, “And a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.”

CK:
Yeah.

FHB:
Sometimes we find that those whom we love in our family have become our enemies. If not completely, at least under some aspect or other.

CK:
Yeah.

FHB:
And this is a very painful thing, and we have to pray for them. That’s what our Lord does. Our Lord gives us immediately the way of obeying that commandment, that very difficult commandment. He doesn’t say, “Love your enemies, give them half your income. Love your enemies, offer your daughter in marriage to their eldest son. Love your enemies-

CK:
Laugh at their jokes.

FHB:
Laugh at their jokes. That’s [inaudible 00:06:47]. Hard enough to laugh at your friends jokes sometimes. But so he gives the fulfillment, or how to fulfill the commandment an easy way to fill the commandment in giving it. I really want to bear down on that, because love for enemies is the first test of our love. It’s all fun and good to be friends. That’s the ideal. That’s what we want, friends with God, friends with each other, friends with the saints, but we can’t get there unless we’re willing to love our enemies. Because Christ is the first model. How did he make us his friends? Well, by loving us while we were still his enemies. Saint Paul says, “While we were sinners, Christ died for us.” That is, he gave his life for us before we had loved him. He loved us first, consequently, those who are at enmity with God, in order for them to be saved, they have to be loved by him first in order to become his friends. And that’s what our Lord does. He says, “I no longer call you servants, but friends.” He takes the initiative and makes you a friend, even though he could have left you in your state either of servitude or of enmity.

CK:
Yeah.

FHB:
And so we too, in imitating our divine master, if we really claim to want to be loved by him and to live in his love, we have to do the same thing. We have to reach out and take the initiative to love those who are enemies, who have harmed us. Now, our Lord, in giving prayer as the first way of doing this, frees us from any excuses or self deception, because that’s the one thing we can always do for someone who’s hurt us is pray for them. And not pray that they get their just desserts, that God teach them a lesson, that they get a get what’s coming to them. That they feel what it’s like, “Lord, make them feel the way I feel.” No, it’s not like that. It’s, “Lord, give that person who has offended me.” Maybe it’s an ex-boyfriend ex-girlfriend, ugly, ugly breakup, something like that. “Give that one everything that I desire for myself. Make that person happy, prosperous, healthy. Give them joy.” Pray for their wellbeing.

CK:
Yeah. Pray for the well being-

FHB:
As though they were your best friend. Just pray for everything that you wish for yourself, and for your best friends, and that’ll show that you are really and truly overcoming the power of this hatred. And sometimes the sad thing is, and this happens in families, or the friends. The people who we regard as our enemies don’t even know that they are. We’ve put them in that category because of something they’ve done or said, or haven’t done, or haven’t said, and we haven’t even given the chance to answer for themselves. One of the problems about enmity is that sometimes we’re the ones that generate it because we never inquire or ask or make any effort to try to address whatever it is about that other person that I find unjust or offensive. We just let it go, and that’s very common. It’s a social form, it defines groups. You don’t like certain kinds of people just because of the way they are, and so that’s an automatic enmity. Now you could try to improve them. You could go and say, “Well, you know, you’d be happy if you did this or this or this.” Or something like that. But we tend to define certain people in a certain way, and make their very existence or their manner of behaving instantly an offense against us. And it’s not like people want to fix them. The extreme version of this, of course, is blinkered racism. Where you literally hate people for personalities, language, and appearance that they can’t help.

CK:
Yeah. Right. That’s them. Yeah, let’s just hate a person for being-

FHB:
Yeah, right. And you’re like, “Well, you know … Condescension is actually a kind of love. I know it’s not a very popular word, but stooping down to someone’s level because you know, it would be better for them and more loving for you to do that than insisting on your own point of view. That’s an act of love. There’s an old prayer in the Roman Missal. It’s still there, even in the new one for the prayers the priest prays after communion. It says, “May I be respectful of my betters, and condescending to my assistant.” Or something. It uses the word in the old fashioned sense.

CK:
Not condescending in the term of snotty. But in the term of coming down from your perch, and being-

FHB:
Because it’s awfully lonely up there if your enemies just become the people that you don’t agree with.

CK:
That aren’t good enough for you, yeah.

FHB:
Or aren’t good enough. Now that being said, there’s certain of those types of wrongs that are, that are hard for people to acknowledge nowadays because of the phenomenon of political correctness. You’re in a permanent category of an evil, hateful person, even for thinking that certain things might be annoying or unacceptable to you because you are say, Mexican or Chinese or white or black. That is, when you’re in a category, and you find certain things that other ethnic categories do annoying to you, that automatically makes you a hater instead of just someone who has different tastes.

CK:
Oh yeah, right.

FHB:
In countries where people live in more or less terms of equality with different ethnic groups, even though they may have fought like crazy over the centuries, their humor allows for these differences, and they aren’t precisely the reasons for the hatred. And so that’s why you get so much ethnic humor in places like used to, in New York.

CK:
In New York city. Yeah.

FHB:
The Middle East, and Europe is certainly Italy all over the place.

CK:
It was actually familiarity, wasn’t it, that bred that kind of humor.

FHB:
Right, and that’s a different question altogether. But the point is simply to say that we do build up enmities against people who have never done any wrong to us.

CK:
Right.

FHB:
In which case we are proving ourselves to be not even, I mean, just really and truly, unloving in the worst possible sense. It’s one thing to love someone and be offended by them and then be, or this person, and then be gracious and pardoning them and praying for them. It’s another thing to engage in mutual hatred, which is like the opposite extreme from friendship, which is mutual love. Especially when the poor person that you hate, doesn’t realize that you hate him, and so you have this. Now hate is a phenomenon that has to be properly understood. It means aversion. It means a feeling of wanting to get away from, or to avoid, get out of the presence of someone. It’s not the same thing as anger, which of course might come out of hatred, but it’s not quite the same thing. It’s not aggressive necessarily. Hatred is often what we call passive aggressive.

CK:
Right. That’s very interesting because we talk about hatred like it’s always like some kind of program, like it’s a Nazi program or something. This is a hate group. But hatred was really that, “Get away from me.” You’re, “I don’t like your kind of people.”

FHB:
The people that go around with these anti hate T-shirts-

CK:
They hate a lot of people.

FHB:
Oh my goodness. Oh my goodness. You can hardly, you can’t go out to dinner without not being offended. They would be offended because you ordered the wrong thing.

CK:
They’d be offended. Yeah, right.

FHB:
But never in our society’s history have there been so many ways to be socially offensive as now. People might think of the Victorian era as a way of, that was only if you were really, really upper-class. Well, then there were, there was a minefield of things you were not supposed to do. But ordinary people have always known exactly how to act, and those upper class people knew exactly how to act, but it looked complicated to everybody else. But now, just simple human preferences and points of view are regarded as indications of a distorted and hateful mind. But they don’t have any love to replace it with. It’s a deformation of the whole idea of Christian charity or loving neighbors.

CK:
It seems to me that this is rampant in the modern world, in part because modern psychology came up, or promoted as scientific, a very ancient, evil idea, which is that being liberated from any obstacle to the self and to the will is healthy. And instead of learning self control is healthy. That that that was actually taught to us psychologically. And so a lot of what you say is actually offensive to the modern mind, what you say, because look, Father, you’re saying, love your enemies. But a healthy person stands up to their enemies and stands up for themselves and their group, and their, that kind of thing.

FHB:
Right. And they define as enemy anyone who disagrees with them about a political or moral question. Not someone who’s actually done them wrong, because they live in a world, they were taught in school that for someone to disagree with me about my views say, on abortion, or civil rights or gender issues, or you name it, that’s an offense against me. You’re my enemy. You’re not allowed to have political opinions that disagree with that. Pope Benedict, just in the most recent interview, this book that’s come out. He said that this is the problem that things that were unheard of, not too long ago, opposing things that unheard of, like gay marriage, for example, it makes you literally an unacceptable person socially, to question gay marriage.

CK:
Right.

FHB:
Even if you do it in the nicest possible way, and believe me, Benedict did it in the nicest possible way.

CK:
Sure.

FHB:
He wouldn’t trouble a gay couple if he met them. But he teaches that it’s not marriage. That’s all. It’s not marriage, you know?

CK:
Yeah, right.

FHB:
So he said, and he mentioned several other moral issues. He said, “This is because of the dictatorship of a certain kind of humanistic ideology, which threatens to take over the world.” And he said, “That’s why people nowadays are beginning to speak about antichrist.” And he said that.

CK:
Yeah.

FHB:
And you see this kind of fake humanism, which is really hateful-

CK:
Really, very hateful.

FHB:
Hateful, which exalts and glorifies, the wonderful, beneficent, kind, inclusive, great leader or leaders, and yet hates everyone. And now, the problem with our current coronavirus situation is, we’re going to end up with a whole tsunami of new, socially offensive things that are going to be on the list to make you an unacceptable person if you don’t go along with them.

CK:
Right, yeah, yeah.

FHB:
Just, if you’re going to play with your grandchildren in the backyard, and your neighbors are going to report that to you weren’t social distancing.

CK:
Right, exactly, yeah.

FHB:
You’re too old to be playing outside. In [inaudible 00:17:57] England now, they said that certain people who are obese, they’re not permitted to work anywhere, but from the home.

CK:
Oh, because you’re at, oh yeah, you-

FHB:
Because you were at risk.

CK:
Yeah.

FHB:
But I mean, that sounds a lot like fat shaming to me.

CK:
Indeed.

FHB:
Just saying, I’m not working at home. Not right now.

CK:
There is a kind of way in which we, our nature, or maybe it’s the perversion of our nature. Even from the time that we’re children, once we have taken offense, we try to get back at the one who has offended us, and this becomes a back and forth kind of thing. It does seem that Jesus teaching to love your enemies is kind of has a liberating effect of its own, in that I’m not constantly reacting. That rescues me from having to constantly react like, “Oh, the person cheated me out of my position in line at the grocery store, I got to react now.” Or the person did this, or did that. But there’s a way in which-

FHB:
You killed them for not wearing a face mask.

CK:
Yeah. Well, we should, I do believe in that [crosstalk 00:18:59] I’m a big death penalty person for the non face mask people. But do you see what I’m saying?

FHB:
Absolutely.

CK:
That there’s a way that it’s certainly to the good of our enemy, that we would love them, and then follow Christ’s own description of how to love them, which is pray for them. But there’s also I guess with so many things, it does a greater good for ourselves than it does for the other person.

FHB:
Yep, absolutely. And it also opens our mind to ways in which justice, if there has been an injustice can be restored. Because we can’t be tranquil enough to take initiative, to confront the evils with which we are confronted, unless we set aside the notion that we have to have this tit for tat vengeance. And praying for enemies is the best way. Do you think? I mean, I just wonder maybe I hope some of the people over at Fox News pray for, I don’t know, Hillary Clinton. I mean, who prays for her?

CK:
The people over at CNN.

FHB:
Who prays for her, her poor soul? You know? Probably nobody. That’s terrible. That’s awful. The point is, they demonize political leaders just to the maximum degree.

CK:
Right, but she needs prayers like everybody else.

FHB:
And they’re praying for her conversion. It’s not impossible. And that’s an act of love, see, that’s loving your enemy, if you pray for an enemy. But I have come across people who say, “I cannot bring myself to pray for this person because this person hurt me so much.” And that’s where they really have to ask for God’s grace. I said, because that’s the bare minimum. [inaudible 00:20:31] says, he’s making it easy for you.

CK:
You’ve got to cross that threshold.

FHB:
I said, just rattle off a hail Mary, if that’s all you can do. But do some kind of prayer for this person that’s offended you, and you’ll find that your burden will be lightened, and you’ll be doing some real prayer. Not asking for things for yourself, but asking for things, not just for yourself, for someone whom you find very, very painful to deal with.

CK:
But this is where I mean that the modern mind has a scientific patina for things that used to be called evil. Where they’ll say to you, “Well Father, that’s codependent.” So they, they take words that are supposed to have some kind of scientific quality-

FHB:
It’s the same with enablers. I had an uncle who was famously, a drunk, and he says, “I don’t understand why they’re so hard on these enablers. If those ladies who enabled me to hadn’t taken care of me, I’d been dead 20 years ago.”

CK:
Right.

FHB:
Now that doesn’t mean that there aren’t certain kinds of behavior that are not healthy, and that should be examined. But the fact is that the good intention that underlies how we try to manage to deal with difficult people is not a pathology. It’s in working in charity. And also, somebody, everybody in the world needs at least one person that roots for him, everybody. Like when you dislike someone and the group you’re with dislikes somebody, and then there’s one person who stands up for them, let them. Don’t try to dissuade them. This person, everybody deserves at least one friend, really and truly. Are we so unconvinced of our own point of view that we have to just make sure that every everything is taken care of?

CK:
I know, squash all those, every odd person, just squash them.

FHB:
And don’t be angry at someone for disagreeing with you about the character of someone you don’t like. Just say, “Everybody needs a friend.” And maybe they have one.

CK:
So love your enemies. Can I just, before we finish, I do want to get to this idea. Love your enemies can have higher forms than simply rattling off a hail Mary for a person.

FHB:
Most definitely. It can be dying on the cross for them.

CK:
But this is the minimum that God sets for us, that Jesus himself sets for us.

FHB:
The cross is, the sacrifice of Christ is the maximum of prayer, that unites heaven and earth, in an act of worship, which is God himself offering God to God in our human nature. And it covers absolutely all things, adoration, reparation, petition, all the Thanksgiving, all the elements of the acts of prayer. And from that cross, and from our Lord’s wounded side, and all the sacraments of the church and our worship flows, the whole world of prayer that is right there for you to use for yourself, and for your friends and also for your enemies. And that’s absolutely essential. When our Lord said at the last supper, “Peter, I pray for thee, that thy faith may not fail.” And when it was turned, strengthen your brethren. And then, within an hour, two hours, Peter was denying Christ, swearing he didn’t know him.

CK:
Yeah.

FHB:
Like, “GD, I don’t know him.” That’s behaving as an enemy. And so he needed our Lord’s forgiveness, and he had it, our Lord’s kindness. So that’s what we to imitate. And then we can establish justice. We can establish plenty of it because we’ll have the nerve. We won’t just be-

CK:
Shut down in our-

FHB:
[crosstalk 00:23:52] in ourselves, right.

CK:
Yeah, right. Well, thank you Father. Thank you. I’m going to stand up for those people that are being insulted in the meeting. When there’s general agreement that someone is horrible, now I’ll-

FHB:
You have to be the one friend-

CK:
[crosstalk 00:24:06] the one friend of that person.

FHB:
You only need one person like that. You don’t need to collect them, okay.

CK:
No.

FHB:
You have to pass them out.

CK:
Okay, all right. I’ll take Nick. I’ll take Nick as my project. Father, Hugh Barbour has been our guest. You know what, that last thing that you said about all prayer flowing from the cross, that’s another, we’ve got to do a focus on that. That’s really a magnificent image.

FHB:
Yeah, well there’s plenty of stuff. And of course, that prayer was a prayer for his enemies, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

CK:
Right.

FHB:
And he was surrounded by his enemies. If we want to be the friend of Christ, and we do, if we want to love the things he loves, and the persons he loves, then we have to love our enemies because he loves them. And that’s my friend’s friend is my friend. That’s what he’s saying.

CK:
Nothing to add to that. Nothing possible to add to that. Thank you, Father. Thank you very much.

FHB:
You’re welcome.

CK:
And thank you to all of our listeners here at Catholic Answers Focus. I’ll beg from you again. If you’ll give us that five star review, that would be it’s very helpful. It helps to grow the podcast, and also share with your friends that they can find us at catholicanswersfocus.com. I’m Cy Kellet, your host. Our guest has been Father Hugh Barbour, and we’ll see you next time, God willing, right here on Catholic Answers Focus.

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