Dear Souls and Hearts members,
In Luke 10:29, the expert in the law, after hearing the second great commandment to “Love your neighbor as yourself,” queried Jesus and asked “And who is my neighbor?” This led to Jesus’ telling of the parable of the Good Samaritan.
I was praying last week about the situation in the Ukraine and as I was reflecting on our Lord’s command in Matthew 5:44, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” And I asked myself the question “Who are my enemies?“
And a lot came out of that.
Who is my enemy?
Let’s go back to definitions. In the Old Testament, the most frequent word in Hebrew for “enemy” is ‘oyebh, with a literal meaning of “one who hates,” which appears multiple times in the Psalms. Occasionally you will also see the Hebrew word tsar, meaning roughly “one who distresses me” or “one who puts me in dire straits”
In New Testament Greek, the word echthros is generally the only word translated as “enemy” or occasionally as “adversary.”
Dictionary.com gave me this definition: a person who feels hatred for, fosters harmful designs against, or engages in antagonistic activities against another; an adversary or opponent, an armed foe; an opposing military force; a hostile nation or state; a citizen of such a state.
And just this morning, I took my question – “Who is my enemy?” to God in prayer. And I heard this answer: “The man who doesn’t love you.” It surprised me and it immediately broadened the definitions of my enemy in my mind.
It made sense to me – if I am aligned with God, then His enemies are my enemies. And His enemies are the ones who refuse the two great commandments which are all about loving. So His enemies are those who don’t love.
That refusal to love doesn’t have to be driven by hatred or malice or malevolence. It can be driven by many other things – apathy, selfishness, fear of vulnerability, grudge-holding, and a whole host of other motivations. There are many ways not to love God, neighbor or yourself.
And so I went back to considering the situation in the Ukraine. I didn’t have a sense that Putin loved me. Now to be sure, Vlad and I, we have never met each other. He doesn’t know who I am. There’s no personal relationship.
So, can Vladimir Putin still my enemy? The dictionary.com definition includes citizens of a hostile state as enemies, and given his heartless actions in bombing defenseless Ukrainian civilians (including a majority who are Christian), among other atrocities I think he qualifies as my enemy. I realized I hadn’t made an effort to love Vladimir Putin or to pray for him.
So I brought that to prayer. It seemed that I should pray for his soul. And I heard back from God the Father that I should pray not just for his soul, but also for his heart, especially for his heart. Praying for his soul and his heart. The irony struck me, given my involvement with our outreach, Souls and Hearts.
And our Lord’s message made sense to me. Vladimir Putin is a child of God, and also beloved by God (in spite of his sins). I wanted to fashion Putin as an enemy, so I could despise him and hate him, making myself his enemy. And I do believe he is my enemy, but I don’t have to be his.
As a Christian, I am to love my enemies. To love them as whole embodied beings, their souls and their hearts. And as a Christian, I am especially enjoined to love other Christians, and apparently Putin was secretly baptized as a child (against his atheist father’s wishes), according to several reports.
This teaching of loving our enemies sounds ludicrous, ridiculous, even crazy, in worldly ears. But I think it’s one of the signature ways you can sense sanctity in a Christian. Our Lord loved his enemies. He asked his Father to forgive his murderers as he was dying, nailed to the cross. The saints loved their enemies. They prayed for their persecutors.
I don’t have to approve of the Russian leader’s actions to love him. I have very strong sense that his heart needs prayers. This connected me back to Matthew 15:19 when our Lord tells us “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander.” Out of the heart.
And I also heard from God that I should also ask you, the readers of this email, to pray for Vladimir Putin’s heart, too.
So will you pray for Vladimir Putin’s heart as well as his soul with me? Yes, you. Are you looking away now?
What comes up in you at considering praying for his heart can be very informative. What different reactions emerge from different parts of you? What might make praying for Putin’s heart difficult for you? What emotions arise at the possibility? Assumptions? Impulses?
This praying for Putin’s heart is an opportunity for you to learn about how well integrated loving your enemies is within you. I encourage you to take advantage of it.
Old Podcast Episode
For more about loving your neighbor as yourself (including your enemies), check out episode 72 of the Interior Integration for Catholics podcasts, titled: What Keeps You from Loving? Is it Really Only Your Vices? (Spoiler Alert: No!). In this 50-minute episode, I describe how we can see another person (like Vladimir Putin) in 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 dimensions, depending on our human formation and spiritual maturity.
New Podcast Episode
I have a brand new Interior Integration for Catholics episode out, number 90, entitled “Your Well-Being: The Secular Experts Speak” and it’s 80 minutes all about what the best of psychology has to say about human happiness and how we foster well-being in our lives. Be sure to take a listen.
With that, I bid you adieu for today. Thank you for reading, and for doing your part to build up the mystical body of Christ.
In our Lord and our Lady,
P.S. This is the first of a series of emails about enemies. We will continue the discussion next week. There is so much more to work through.
P.S.S. Please forward this to anyone who you think might find it helpful. If you are not already receiving these emails directly, please register with Souls and Hearts on our homepage here and click the button to sign up for these weekly emails. We’d love to have you join us in our community!