Dear Souls and Hearts Members,
Who do you think of when you hear the scripture passage in Matthew 5:44 when our Lord commands us to “Love your enemies. Pray for your persecutors.” I invite you to slow down, take a minute and reflect on your enemies. Who do you consider to be your enemies? Who are they?
You have some challenging relationships – most of us do. But do you consider those “difficult” people your enemies?
Or maybe you take the easy way out and assert that essentially only Satan in your enemy. OK. I’ll grant you that. Satan is your enemy. He hates you. He hates everyone. But he’s not who our Lord is referring to in Matthew 5:44. There’s no value in praying for Satan who is irredeemably lost. Your prayers can’t help him. So your enemy has to be someone else.
Perhaps you’re stumped. You don’t know who your enemies are. Maybe you claim to have no enemies. You’re a lover, not a fighter, that line of reasoning.
Let’s just start with a little corrective truthiness here. The idea that you don’t have enemies is patent nonsense (Part of me like to use stronger language, but it’s a family-friendly weekly reflection and there’s no need to be crass).
You don’t get to choose the ‘no enemies” option. We are in a major war here on earth. There are sides. We’re in the Church Militant. And if you don’t know who your enemies are, you are at a major disadvantage in this cosmic conflict.
Our Lord commanded us to be and gentle as doves, yes, but also as cunning as serpents. We are to be clear-eyed, perceptive and willing to grip on to reality. That includes knowing who are enemies are. Knowing who your enemies are and why they are your enemies equips you to better love your enemies.
Some Catholics are very, very hesitant, though, to identify an enemy as an enemy, to call an enemy by the proper name. Why is that? I think there are six major reasons, and let’s just paint them here in broad strokes:
Six Reasons Why Catholics Don’t Know their Enemies
- Many Catholics have been trained to be very “nice.” You know, “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” And unfortunately, that banal and misleading phrase can morph into a worse idea: “If you can’t think something nice, don’t think anything at all.” So it can feel naughty or sinful to identify someone else as an enemy. Did you that the word “nice” in middle English was derived from the Latin “nescius” which means “ignorant” or “unaware”? It was considered an insult in the middle ages. Now being called “nice” is taken as a compliment. Sometimes it’s considered an noble aspiration to strive to be nice.
- It can be frightening to admit having enemies and even more so to name them. Some Catholics want to be ignorant of their enemies, because the naivete feels safer. Being clueless isn’t safer, but in the short run, it can feel safer to those Catholics.
- Other Catholics often unconsciously assume that if they acknowledged their enemies, they would have to hate them or end a relationship with them. Or fight them. And none of those are necessarily true. We are called to love our enemies.
- Catholics may avoid naming their enemies is that they assume that being an enemy is a constant condition – like a trait – that enemies have to be constantly enemies, like the Joker is Batman’s enemy or Satan is God’s enemy. Catholics don’t know that being an enemy is often just a temporary state that the other person is in, not necessarily a consistent, ongoing disposition as an enemy. So a person may be your enemy in a particular moment, but not in general. A friend can be an enemy at times, a “frenemy.”
- Some Catholics assume that there has to be malice or malevolence in an enemy. That’s another mistake. A person can have good will toward you and still be your enemy.
- A final reason is that we Catholics can take a very narrow, personalistic view of what it means to be an enemy – if I am not immediately and personally impacted in an obvious, negative way by an adversary, then he is not my We might not take into consideration how we are connected to others in our human race, and even worse, how we are connected to our Christian brothers and sisters in the mystical body of Christ.
My goal in this exercise is for you to have greater clarity in understanding what an enemy is and who your enemies are and how you should relate to your enemies. That’s what this is about.
In future emails, I’ll go deeper in to these points. But for now, I’m hoping that you’ll engage in some reflection and some prayer about who your enemies are and how you can better love them.
For a vivid psychologically-informed understanding of how shame contributes to the creation of animosity, making people enemies, I invite you to listen to Episode 46 of the Interior Integration for Catholics podcast titled “Shame and Tragedy: Judas Iscariot and You.” That episode goes deep into speculating on the inner world of shame, envy, rebellion and anger within Judas, an enemy of our Lord and how Jesus loved Judas, his enemy without hating him or fighting him. I encourage you to check out that underappreciated episode.
Remember, for listeners of my podcast, Interior Integration for Catholics, I am available by on my cell phone (317.567.9594) every Tuesday and Thursday from 4:30 PM to 5:30 PM Eastern time.
Please keep Souls and Hearts and me in your prayers – we’re about to share a major project with all of you on March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation. There will be a special email message that day as well. We’re really excited about what we have to offer you all. You are all in my prayers as well.
Warm regards in Christ and His Mother,
P.S. Please forward this to anyone you think might benefit and help spread the word. And if you’re not on our mailing list, I invite you to register at Souls and Hearts to not miss any of our weekly reflections