Spiritual Life

Enemies present the supreme test of our love

In the Sunday Gospels these weeks, we are hearing passages from the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount. If there is one place to which we can look to hear our Lord describe who we are meant to become as his followers, it is in the words of this extended passage.

These words are inspiring to us and worthy of reflection, but at the same time the Lord is quite challenging as he tries to show us his new way of living. We cannot dismiss these words or excuse ourselves from following them – not even the words telling us to love our enemies as we hear in the Gospel this weekend.

Unfortunately, part of living in this broken world means having enemies – whether we have done anything to deserve them or not. There are people who have harmed us and people whom we have harmed. One of God’s greatest desires is that these divisions be reconciled under his rule, that peace may flourish, that justice may be satisfied. It is the love of Christ which heals this discord and brings perfect harmony. This sounds great, but how do we get to that point? The answer is always love.

We are bombarded by the idea that love is simply an emotion or an affection or, even worse, that love is the satisfaction of selfish desire. If that is true, we could never follow through on the command to love our enemies. But the Lord is not talking about an emotion when he commands us to love. Actual love is a choice, a decision to unselfishly want good and act for the good of another. In this sense, we can love someone even if we do not like them.

The most extreme test of our love is whether we love our enemies. It may help us if we realize God is not asking anything of us that he has not done for us already in abundance. We are his enemies every time we sin, and yet he loves us still because he wants what is good for us and acts accordingly. It is only right that we should share the same love we have been given with others, even with our enemies.

Father John Broheimer is pastor of St. Peter Parish in Omaha.