Love Your Enemies
“But to you who hear I say, love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you,
pray for those who mistreat you.” (Gospel)
In the Gospel Reading, Jesus commands us to love our enemies. Everyone is commanded to love each person who counts as his enemy.
Many people suppose that no one except a saint could fulfill this command. Other people think that this command is only an encouragement to connive with evil, because if you love your enemy instead of clobbering him, you enable him to continue his wrongdoing.
But consider what love is. As Aquinas explains it, it consists in two desires: (1) a desire for the good for the beloved person, and (2) a desire for union with that person. So a person Paula loves her enemy Jerome only if she desires the good for Jerome and union with Jerome.
Now notice that what the good for Jerome is will depend on Jerome. Desiring Jerome’s good requires Paula’s foregoing punishment for him if that would be for his good—or insisting on punishment for him if that would be for his good. What is best for Jerome is whatever it takes to bring him to a morally good condition in mind and will; and that might include Paula’s calling the police to arrest him.
For this same reason, Paula’s desire for union with Jerome need not include a desire for companionship with him. If Jerome is entirely unrepentant, then Paula’s desire for union with him should not involve a willingness to be in his company. In that worst case, Paula’s desire for union with Jerome can appropriately come to no more than the desire that Jerome will repent and reform, so that companionship becomes a possibility for them.
To love your enemy then is not to enable him to continue to do morally wrong acts against you or anybody else either. If you want what is good for your enemy, you will want for him what you want for yourself: to be a person who has love for the Lord and obedience to him. And if you want union with your enemy, you won’t want him to go to hell because he has hurt you. You will be glad if in love and obedience to the Lord, he finds his way to heaven too.
So that is what it is to love your enemy. Each one of us can do this, can’t we?
Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University
**From Saint Louis University