Posted April 10, 2013:
Love Your Intellectual Enemies

by Fr. Bob Wild.

What happens when someone you meet says something like, "I think the Catholic Church is the worst thing that ever happened to the world"?

Well, it’s like being punched in the stomach. If you are like most of us, a wall rises between you and that person. Love fades, empathy is blocked out. How can you possibly take into your heart someone who thinks like that!

But Christ said, Love one another as I have loved you (Jn 15:12) and Love your enemies (Mt 5:44). What an astounding ideal!

It means that we are called to love everybody, and that includes people who think very differently from the way we do. And we are called to love them, not merely to tolerate them, not merely to put up with them, but to love them from the heart.

I call these people who think differently from us "intellectual enemies," (because the word "intellect" means "the mind" with which we form ideas). Loving them is a growing challenge in our world today, even within the Church, unfortunately. These days, our "intellectual enemies" can be, for many of us, the hardest people to love.

We may, perhaps, manage to avoid, at least most of the time, the list of sins that St. Paul mentions in Ephesians: Never bear grudges against others, or lose your temper, or raise your voice to anybody, or call each other names, or allow any sort of spitefulness. (4:31).

We will perhaps be patient with that person, "put up" with him or her. But often there is a wall beyond which we cannot go. Why? Well, ideas are very close to who we are. You disagree with my ideas, you disagree with me. You oppose my ideas, you oppose me.

Plus, we often think that the other person’s ideas are harmful, very harmful. Sometimes they are.

As he did with every other aspect of our lives, Jesus experienced such conflicts of ideas. Imagine Infinite Intelligence conversing with the likes of his apostles, with Herod and Pilate, with the Pharisees and all those Publicans and sinners.

Yet, he loved them absolutely. They, too, were sick, and he had come for the sick. He didn’t make any distinction between the sick in body and those with minds crippled with ignorance.

We find this kind of love very hard. Most of us do better with loving and serving the physically sick and the poor.

Hospitality is one of Catherine Doherty’s great themes. It means taking the person into our hearts, as he or she is, and going beyond external likes and dislikes. But when our ideas clash, can we still exercise this hospitality of the heart?

This clash happens at many levels of our personal lives. In our community life here in Madonna House, we may clash on our ideas about liturgy, our way of life, what is happening in the community. In these situations, can we offer our "intellectual enemy" of the moment the hospitality of the heart?

In our own families, a relative may be living in a disordered sexual relationship. Some of our relatives may have left the Church or may not understand our involvement with a cause we are passionate about or our joining a religious community. Can we offer these people genuine hospitality of the heart?

Then there are our "political enemies"—enemies most unlikely we will never meet. We will probably never meet, for example, the presidents of Iran, Syria, or North Korea, but can we love them by praying for them? Can we pray for the politicians in our own country whom we see as leading our country in a very wrong direction?

Do we only associate with people who think like we do? Do we only read books, newspapers, and magazines and visit websites that confirm what we believe? Do we continue to relate to people with whom we disagree?

Jesus did. He kept associating with everyone because that’s how God loves. Unconditionally.

The Church at large is breaking up into factions because we lack this deep dimension of hospitality of the heart. The Church should be the place, the community, where love and hospitality of the heart prevail in spite of different ideas.

Perhaps the attitude I am presenting sounds like indifference or the relativism so common today and decried by our popes. It is not.

Loving does not mean agreeing with. Nor does it mean always keeping silent. (Sometimes it is good to speak; sometimes it is not.) And it does not mean believing that every idea is equal. It means loving despite disagreements.

One of the great virtues of G.K. Chesterton, that great Catholic thinker, was that he could maintain friendships with people—yes, love people—with whom he violently disagreed. (In fact, on many subjects, he probably disagreed with almost everyone in England!)

People like George Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells were into eugenics, birth control, divorce, you name it. And yet Chesterton counted them as his friends. He said of Shaw, "Everything is wrong about Shaw except himself!"

That’s it! He made the distinction between the person’s ideas, habits, traits, and the fact that he was made in the image and likeness of God: his deep personhood was all right. And Wells said, "When I die, and if there is a heaven, I’ll say I was a friend of Chesterton’s."

Over the centuries, in East/West discussions, the phrase has frequently been used that "Our divisions do not reach all the way to heaven."

This expresses that at the deepest level of our life in Christ, we are one: Christ cannot be divided. We can apply this to our present time.

Our disagreements about doctrine, about being in a conservative or liberal camp, about this or that opinion about renewal in the Church—these should not prevent us from loving one another.

Love our enemies? Is this really possible for our poor unaided human nature? No, of course not. But it is through the power of God.

Paul used the most exalted kind of language when he said that we are called to be imitators of God. What an astounding ideal! We are called to love as God loves, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.

And Jesus called us to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. This, of course, is a never-ending pilgrimage of the heart, but one that begins even now.

Jesus says that whoever believes in him has eternal life (cf. Jn3:15). Eternal life, the very life of God himself, is in us, already, even now.

And Paul says elsewhere that we have the very love of God himself in us because of the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Yes, God gives us the power to do what he commands: to love our enemies.

Think of what this world would be like if we did that!


If you enjoy our articles, we ask you to please consider subscribing to the print edition of Restoration; it's only $10 a year, and will help us stay in print. Thanks, and God bless you!


Restoration Contents

Next article:
Ten Thousand Times Ten Thousand

Previous article:
A Visit to the Visionaries



RSS 2.0RSS feed

Madonna House - A Training Centre for the Lay Apostolate