All of Jesus’ teachings enrich and challenge us as human beings. Some, like "love your enemies," are easy to understand though difficult to follow. Others, like "I have come to cause division," are puzzling. Learn more about 12 key sayings of Jesus throughout 2005.

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What Did Jesus Mean?
Can We Love Our Enemies?
By Father William H. Shannon

"Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you" (Luke 6: 27-28).

Love my enemies? What in the world is Jesus thinking about? Why, there are times when I have trouble loving some of my friends! How can I possibly be expected to love my enemies?

If that's your reaction, you have lots of company. To reflect prayerfully about these strong words of Jesus, let me point out that this command is one of three different "love commands" in the Gospels.


First, there is the general Christian responsibility to "love God above all and your neighbor as yourself." Then there is the command that relates the disciples of Jesus to one another. "My command to you," Jesus says, "is that you love one another, as I have loved you" (see John 15:12). Finally, there is the command in our text, which calls for a love that includes everybody. It's not enough to love friendly neighbors or other disciples. We must love without limits. For Jesus says: "Love [even] your enemies."

The first two commands make sense. Peace and harmony in family and society come from loving those with whom we live in proximity. The disciples' loving one another, though demanding at times, also makes good sense. For Jesus' disciples are called to imitate him. But the command, "Love your enemies," doesn't seem to make any sense at all. It seems to go against fundamental principles of justice and the duty we have to love ourselves and not allow ourselves to be victimized by others.

No Wiggle Room

The maddening thing is that this central teaching of Jesus is so all-inclusive. It allows us no wiggle room. We cannot choose which enemies we will love and which we will not. Nor can our love be simply an attitude. We have to act. We must do good to them even if they hate us. We must ask God's blessings for them even if they curse us. We have to pray for them even if they mistreat us.

The love Jesus calls us to is unconditional—a love that brooks no "ifs." It's a love that says, "I love you, no matter what you do or say, for you are the image of God."

Today more and more Christians are using the term "nonviolence" to describe this kind of love. Still, many people confuse nonviolence with passivity. Recently, after a talk I gave on nonviolence, someone wrote, "I'd like to hear more about your passivism." He didn't understand my talk, for I had tried to make it clear that nonviolence is anything but passive.

Passivism (or passivity) closes its eyes to evil and avoids getting involved. Properly understood, nonviolence is a form of resistance to evil. Nonviolent love of enemy does not mean you let the enemy do anything he or she wants to do to you. Nonviolence, when faced with evil, must always resist. In living nonviolence I don't have the choice to resist or not resist evil. But I do have a choice about the way in which I will resist. Nonviolence is every bit as active in resisting evil as violence is in perpetrating it. But nonviolence is more creative and, in the long run, more effective.

Finding Our Sisters and Brothers

There's a story about a rabbi who was discussing with his disciples the difference between day and night: "When," he asked, "does the night end and the day begin?" One disciple replied, "Is it the moment when you can tell the difference between a sheep and a dog?" "No," the rabbi replied. Another asked, "Is it when you can tell the difference between a fig tree and an olive tree?" "No," the rabbi answered, "it isn't that either." Then peering deeply into their eyes, he said, "It is the moment when you look into the face you have never seen before and recognize the stranger as a sister or brother. Until that time comes, no matter how bright the day, it is still night for you."

A moving story, but we have to take it a bit further. We have to be able to look into the faces of people we have seen—and responded to with anger, impatience, ill-will. To look into the face of such people and see a sister or brother: This is the kind of unconditional, nonviolent love to which Jesus calls each of us.

William H. Shannon is a priest of the Diocese of Rochester, New York. He is professor emeritus in the religious studies department at Nazareth College and the founding president of the International Thomas Merton Society. His newest book is A Catholic Perspective on Dying and What Follows (St. Anthony Messenger Press).

Next: Whoever Wishes to Save His Life Will Lose It

Questions for Reflection:

• What do you believe Jesus is personally asking you to do when he says, "Love your enemies"?

• How have you been able to live this key teaching of Jesus?

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Empowered by God
By Judith Dunlap

Current practical wisdom seems to suggest it's smart to deliver the first punch, to give the enemy no quarter and to do unto others before they do it to you. This certainly wasn't what Jesus taught. Jesus said, "Love your enemies" and "Turn the other cheek."

Not that Jesus wanted us to be doormats and just roll over. We are expected to take care of ourselves, but to do so in a way that does not put us on a par with the evildoers we encounter. "Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you."

I am sure there are people who can live this teaching in their hearts as well as their actions, but that's not me. After many decades of practice, I can sometimes make myself stop and think before rendering insult for insult, but in my heart I feel anything but love. And just let someone say something to hurt one of my children, and the claws come out.

Most of us have to work hard to make this teaching our own. Indeed, loving our enemy seems to be more a part of God's nature than our own. Perhaps that's the secret: We can only love unconditionally when we admit it is beyond our own efforts and allow God to empower us with his love.

So how can we help our children adopt this teaching? Like most of Jesus' teachings, this is one that can't be taught with just words. Our children have to see us living it. It is even better if we allow them to see us praying it. Let them pray with you as you acknowledge your limitations and ask for God's empowering love. We offer our children a critically important lesson if we admit there are some things we can't change about ourselves without God's help.

For Family Response:

Say a prayer together asking family members to name the people they have difficulty loving. Ask God to open your hearts and help you to see these people as God sees them.

Media Watch
The Incredibles
By Frank Frost

You know you're going to enjoy The Incredibles when Mr. Incredible complains, "No matter how many times I save the world it gets back into jeopardy again!"

This animated send-up of superheroes movies is fun, fast and exciting. You know it's only going to improve when Mr. Incredible, Elastiwoman and Frozone are sued by people they have saved because of collateral damage the victims have suffered, and are ultimately forced into a government-protected identity program.

Despite his insistence that he works alone, Mr. Incredible marries Elastiwoman. Flash-forward 15 years. Now with new identities as Bob and Helen Parr, they languish with their three children in suburbia, forced to hide their special gifts from those around them. But as years pass Mr. Incredible, now with a beer belly and frustrated that he's not allowed to help anyone, can't resist sneaking out certain evenings with his old friend Frozone to listen to police scanners and, once in a while, furtively come to the rescue.

In the process, Mr. Incredible is detected by a woman named Mirage, a shadowy spy who persuades him to put on his old suit again in the belief that he is serving the secret government agency. Actually he is being drawn into the web of Syndrome, a mad mechanical and technical genius dedicated to designing a machine he calls kronos that can outdo the incredible powers of superheroes. Syndrome, it turns out, was Mr. Incredible's greatest fan when Syndrome was an overachieving lad without special gifts but who still aspired to be like his idol.

Flown to a remote island by Mirage, Mr. Incredible fights off kronos but nevertheless ends up in the clutches of Syndrome. This will bring Elastiwoman out of retirement and to the rescue. Her two older children stow away with her. Her son Dash has a gift of incredible speed. Her daughter Violet can not only disappear at will but also generate a protective force field as she discovers her full powers. Together they whip through a series of exciting attacks and escapes, only to end up in the hands of Syndrome.

But at least the family is together again. Now with their combined gifts (and it takes them all because Mr. Incredible can't do it alone!) they manage to escape in a race against time to keep Syndrome from wreaking destruction on the world.

The movie's animation is remarkable, and the action is nonstop, inventive and full of humor. Pixar Animation Studios, the same folks who made Finding Nemo and Toy Story, are truly incredible.

There are lots of great messages in the story. We each have our own gifts. We have to work together. We value the common good. The only message I'm not so sure about is that it's apparently bad to be an overachiever compensating for lack of great natural gifts.

The Incredibles is a family picture in every sense of the word.

For Media Watch:

What values do you find in this film?

By Judy Ball

St. Claude de la Colombi—re (1641-82)

Young Claude de la Colombi—re had every reason to look forward to the good life. Born into a noble French family, he excelled in school, had an appealing personality and enjoyed an active social life. By the time he reached his mid-teens, however, he knew that the only good life was one that had God at its center.

He entered the Society of Jesus and, well before his ordination, had a reputation as an outstanding preacher. In 1675, living in central France, he encountered Sister Margaret Mary Alacoque, a young Visitation nun who was reporting personal revelations from Jesus and calling for special devotion to his Sacred Heart as a symbol of his unconditional love. Young Father de la Colombi—re became her spiritual director, encouraged her, joined her in her mission and succeeded in overcoming the doubts of her religious community as well as theologians. They worked together toward a new feast honoring the Sacred Heart.

In his own sermons Father Claude emphasized God's love for all humanity. His words proved a powerful weapon against the heresy of Jansenism, which emphasized the human capacity for sinfulness.

His superiors sent him to London, where he was court preacher to the duchess of York. Catholic priests were not safe in Protestant England then, and he was arrested on trumped-up charges of conspiring to assassinate the king. Though Claude was ultimately released, his health quickly deteriorated. He was exiled to his homeland and spent his final years serving as spiritual director to young Jesuits. He is buried in Paray-le-Monial, France, as is St. Margaret Mary Alacoque.

He was canonized in 1992. St. Claude de la Colombi—re's feast day is February 15.

Father John Clark, S.J.

Even if he didn't reside at a Jesuit residence in Los Angeles named after Claude de la Colombi—re, Father John Clark would still have a strong sense of kinship with the 17th-century saint. Claude spent much of his time serving as a spiritual director long ago; Father Clark does so today at a house of prayer for priests in the area.

Not that the 79-year-old priest is seeking to draw direct comparisons. "Claude had a very special gift as a spiritual director—including an amazing ability to discern where God was leading others. He was at a level far deeper than I could ever be!" Father Clark told Every Day Catholic.

Still, the former provincial and longtime university administrator treasures his ministry, which he describes as "walking with rather than telling others what to do" and "helping them see how God is working in their lives." In the process, he is enriched and in awe of the "extraordinary goodness" of the priests he accompanies on their individual spiritual journeys.

"But enough about me. I'd rather talk about Claude," said Father Clark of the saint who was "little" by worldly standards: He was rather shy. It was difficult for him to carry a full-time job. He had chronic lung problems (probably tuberculosis) and his superiors needed to find special places for him to live to preserve his health as best they could. He died at age 41.

"Claude did all he could," said Father Clark, "but he wasn't flashy. You could say he's the saint of the little person, a quiet saint." But Jesuits hold Claude in especially high esteem, Father Clark explained, because of his connection to the Sacred Heart. "Devotion to Jesus is the heart of our spirituality."

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