February 18, 2017
"But I say to you, love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. (Mt 5:44-5)
St Therese famously said: “No doubt, we don’t have any enemies in Carmel, but there are feelings.” She called avoidance of people we don’t like “persecution.” Jean Vanier, founder of L'Arche and great writer on the values and struggles inherent in community life, has a good deal to say on the topic as well. He finds it a natural concomitant of a committed life with others that antipathies should emerge and threaten the spiritual vitality of community. This is because we are all wounded, however deeply this may be hidden, and certain people inevitably and unknowingly touch these sore places by their personal style, behavior, neediness or implied rejection of us.
“These are the ‘enemies.’ They endanger us, and, even if we dare not admit it, we hate them. Certainly this is only a psychological hatred – it isn’t yet a moral hatred, because it is not deliberate. But even so, we just wish these people didn’t exist! If they disappeared or died, it would seem like a liberation.” (Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, 32)
Perhaps I can, theoretically, admit that my intense dislike of another is not reasonable, nor my ways of expressing this compatible with the gospel. But the call to actively practice love toward this person seems far beyond the realm of possibility. What can I do?
“But in community we are called to discover that the ‘enemy’ is a person in pain and that through the ‘enemy’ we are being asked to become aware of our own weakness, lack of maturity and inner poverty. Perhaps it is this which we refuse to look at.” (Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, 34)
Again, theoretically and in private, I may be able to admit to my weakness, immaturity and poverty. Perhaps I could even allude to this in veiled terms with someone in whose affection I feel secure. But to let down my guard before this very one who salts my deep wounds with her presence? Not without prior written assurance that she will admit her weakness, immaturity and poverty first!
“The enemy in the community reveals to us the enemy inside us. …We can only really love our enemies and all that is broken in them if we begin to love all that is broken in our own beings.” (Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, 35, 37)
To love what is broken is surely a Godly talent.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.” (Is 55:8)
To allow myself to be weak before the God who delights to lift up the lowly. This is the high point of St Benedict’s account of human development – the twelfth step of humility is illustrated by the monk whose persistent awareness of his own misery coexists with a persistent awareness that he dwells under the gaze of a loving and merciful Father. To be seen and loved in my poverty every minute – this is truly heavenly.
St Francis said: “I am not asking to be loved – I want to love!” I am not ashamed to admit that this is not the case for me. I need to be loved in order to love. I know this, and so I pray:
“O my strength, I will sing praises to you,
for you, O God, are my fortress,
the God who shows me steadfast love.” (Ps 59:17)
Image: Georges Rouault