I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.– Dorothy Day
Many of us wonder how we can resolve our inner conflicts involving speaking truth in charity. How can we maintain our values and, in fact, evangelize, without succumbing to secular chatter and division, both of which distract and discourage others?
If we are doing our best to journey toward Heaven, we have already heard this verse:
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.—Matthew 5:44
What does this look like in our modern day? Most of us don’t consider ourselves to be participants in the verbal vitriol spewed at each other like venom, but we might reflect a bit about who we are and what we stand for.
First, consider your personal values. These could be moral/religious convictions, political beliefs, or even social mores influenced by your family and cultural background. Write them down, maybe in a prayer journal. Under each one, jot down reasons why you believe as you do. You can substantiate this with science, logic, life experience, scripture, the Catechism, and Tradition.
Second, ask yourself what triggers strong emotional responses when someone who believes or lives differently than you acts or speaks out? Are you prone to anger? Do you feel personally offended? Are you disappointed or afraid? Your reasonings likely go deep and are affected by your temperament, life events, and your own weaknesses and vices.
Suppose you are instantly incensed when you read an article online in which a prominent theologian supports abortion. Your initial reaction is to share it on your social media feed with an angry statement, which you label as “righteous anger.” Maybe you also pass it along to family and friends, furthering your frustration.
If you really want to begin loving your “enemy” and praying for those who persecute you, you must always begin with introspection through prayer. (I highly recommend spiritual direction and confession at least monthly as part of this process.) Daily, if possible, sit quietly and listen to your emotional responses to people or events or world issues. Then ask God to reveal to you the wounds that influence your inability to encounter people who struggle with something you find offensive or sinful. What makes you believe you are “right” and they are “wrong?” Of course, objective truth comes into play here, and you are correct in considering that.
But what appears to be the sickness of our current culture is that we have lost the art of approaching another with openness and receptivity. We do not know how to listen, because we are guarded and stiff-necked. We have hearts of stone. We have been hurt by those “on the other side,” so we cannot fathom looking into the eyes of a person who identifies with a particular political party or religious group without feeling prickly.
Loving our enemies requires us to shed the illusion that people are our enemies. Revisiting another verse tells us that we are battling forces of evil, not humanity:
For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens.– Ephesians 6:12
Remember that Satan operates through division and chaos. He wants to perpetuate the polarization happening in your life and in your heart.
After you create a habit of a daily examen through prayer, make an effort to reach out to those who believe differently than you do. Often, this is a simple exercise in extending an invitation to an estranged family member or neighbor. We need not look far. Usually, God will place people in your path who need a smile, assurance, or just a listening ear. Practice this often.
When you become aware that you are struggling with judging or labeling a person, ask the Holy Spirit to break open your heart, that you might see this person with genuine love. Often this happens in conjunction with a recognition of our own sins and brokenness. When we admit that each of us is broken in some way, it’s easier to love those who seem unlovable.
Finally, remember that our wounds often shape how we live, what we say, and what we believe. But God can—and does—redeem these wounds. He might be asking you to be the vessel that carries hope and healing to an unlikely person, the one you have considered an enemy up until now.