“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
That’s a tough order, to love your enemy. But it’s direct from Christ and a non-negotiable for a Christian. I understand the meaning behind Christ’s words, but can often struggle in implementing them.
When someone spits in your face, turn the other cheek. I can do that.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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When someone mocks your religion, pray for them. I’ve done that too.
A family member is unabashedly pro-choice (even pro-abortion). Well now, there’s where I have a tough time loving and praying. I’m more apt to argue, get passionate, and terminate a conversation with feelings of anger and resentment. Surely, this is not what Christ had in mind.
Topics that we are passionate about often generate extreme responses. It’s only natural. Passion is not, in and of itself, bad. The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of passions as “natural components of the human psyche” that “incline us to act or not act in regard to something felt or imagined to be good or evil.” Being passionate about something does not however indicate morality, as can clearly be seen in the passion that comes with the pro-choice/pro-life debate. Both sides are often passionate and these passions can result in evil. The murder of an abortion doctor and the violence and insults hurled at those praying at an abortion clinic. If passions are not inherently bad, but not indicative of absolute good, just what is it that keeps our passions in check and allows us to behave in a Christ-like manner?
I have family members who are pro-choice and that work for Planned Parenthood. Facing such troubling opposition within my own circle of relatives and friends is much harder than opposition from strangers. You cannot avoid contact with such people, and it’s difficult to have reasonable discussions with feelings and passions so close to the surface. Keeping in mind Christ’s words to love those who oppose us, I have searched for something to help guide my actions.
It is in pondering situations such as these that I feel particularly blessed to be Catholic. The Catechism of the Catholic Church shows us the way. I must admit, that I only recently started referring to our Catechism. I was in awe the first time opened it: “Wow, this is good stuff!” Although I was raised Catholic, the Catechism was not something I actively read or studied. In my recent quest for greater understanding, it has proven invaluable.
The Catechism states that it is, in fact, the human virtues (prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance) that “govern our actions, order our passions, and guide our conduct according to reason and faith (CCC1804).” And it is the theological virtues (faith, hope, and charity) that give grounding, insight, and infuse our actions with the grace of God. The theological virtue of charity (love) is said to encompass all of the human virtues. If you are acting in charity, you can in turn act with prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance.
So how does it help me in my relationships with those who I see as living in or supporting sin? How do I put this into action and stand up for a better way yet still act lovingly when people are mean, hurtful, unjust, selfish, self-destructive?
A friend of mine recently suggested a prayer to let the Holy Spirit guide me. Taking her advice and being truly open to a response, I heard the Holy Spirit clearly speak to me in answer through the book Unplannned, by Abby Johnson. Ms. Johnson had worked for Planned Parenthood for years, eventually becoming director of the clinic. One day, while helping during an ultrasound-guided abortion, she witnessed the end of life. Witnessing it with her own eyes was the day of her conversion. She quit her job and joined the Coalition for Life. It’s an amazing and emotional story. But what struck me most was that the Coalition for Life had, for years, loved and prayed for her. It was this love and these prayers that guided her eventual change of heart. Had they been angry, violently standing up for what was right, she likely would have shut them out. But their love in the face of her opposition was remarkable. True charity.
Charity doesn’t mean you don’t stand up for what is right. But we must be wise in the words we choose and the way we choose to say them. Those Coalition for Life volunteers praying at the abortion clinic— just praying, not debating, or arguing, or accusing— spoke clearly. They spoke not just opposition to abortion, but also love for all that walked through the clinic doors—love for the unborn child, women in crisis pregnancies, as well as and those that worked at the clinic. This surely is what Christ was speaking of in his call to love and prayer.
So here is Christ’s challenge to us all: Pray for those who persecute us. Say I love you anyway and will be there if you need help. Can we demonstrate the love of Christ in such a way that, in spite of opposition, our actions stop people in their tracks and make them wonder at our love? What feeds this love, what motivates this love? I have a feeling that this love will inspire more conversions of heart than anything else we can do.