At that time, Jesus said to his disciples, You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and shall hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who persecute and calumnate you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven, Who makes His sun to rise on the good and the evil, and sends rain o the just and the unjust. For if you love those that love you, what reward shall you have? Do not even the publicans do that? Do not even the Gentiles do that? You therefore are to be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect. Take heed not to do your good before me, in order to be seen by them; otherwise you shall have no reward with your Father in heaven. Therefor when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be given in secret; and your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you. -Matthew 5: 43-48;6:1-4
These are quite possibly the two most challenging teachings Jesus gave to us. How can we, even in the cold light of fascism that is beginning to have courage to show itself, love? What does that love look like, the perfect love that we are called to embrace, to share?
I’m drawn to one of my favorite stories of St. Francis. In the early years of his spiritual first steps, Francis came to the understanding that there were limitations in place in his society that made certain people higher in status than others. In his case, this mainly had to do with wealth, with title; but more importantly, if you were unlucky enough to contract leprosy, regardless of who you were or where on the social ladder you stood, you became untouchable. The only treatment for leprosy was isolation in hopes that you did not infect your family or your community. It was a death sentence.
Francis was repulsed by lepers. So much so, that he himself would cross a road, turn his head, and cover his mouth out of revulsion when he saw one.
When I traveled to Toronto for the profession of my first vows as a Franciscan, and for the first two minor orders, I had the opportunity to see the Pride Parade. Toronto from the start of my visit was a city that dazzled me and left me awe struck. Pride in Toronto is a huge gathering, unlike anything I’d ever seen. My bishop and friend, Roger, stood literally against a wall holding an umbrella to protect us from the sun. In front of us, a stream of people walking–one group in one direct, the other in the opposite, just like a two lane road. From one direction, a homeless man, wearing old worn blue jeans, smiling and dancing and reveling. From the other, a well dressed, well groomed young man watched, covered his mouth, grimaced, and turned his head as he walked past.
I couldn’t help but see the parallels. I suspect I was meant to.
What makes the teaching of Christ Jesus, and by extension, St. Francis, so challenging is that we are confronted with the boundaries, the barriers, that keep us in rigid, protected order. Do we turn our faces and cross the road when we see the mentally ill, the drug addicted, the elderly, the immigrant, the conservative, the Trump supporter, the white nationalist?
How are the feelings of hate that a queer person may feel for an ultra-conservative any different from how an ultra-conservative feels hate for a queer person? Both believe with sincerity and absolute certainty that they are right and the other is wrong.
What does the hate, (which is actually fear), protect the other from? More importantly, and perhaps more disturbing, what does this unstated yet very valid agreement actually mean? Both agree to engage in hate. Both need the other to hate to justify their beliefs.
There’s no other way to describe this except diabolical. It is a diabolical participation that by its nature allows the hate to thrive, allows it to perpetuate, allows it to continue.
Which leaves the question to be asked: How does one love Donald Trump? Conversely for any Trump supporters reading this right now, how does one love a libtard? Those who act quickly without thinking will say love the sinner, hate the sin. And yet, in saying that, we still are giving into hate.
What is required is an absolute leap of faith. One so dangerous that when I’ve given this teaching in the past as part of a retreat, I watched as people actually reacted in confusion, in fear. I could see that their minds were somehow unable to process what it was I was saying. It made no sense to them. And I need to be honest. I don’t know the way to love your enemy with courage. I don’t know how to love someone who validated the extermination of a culture in China, or allows themselves to forget that the same assimilation continues to happen to Indigenous people right here in Canada. 20 years without clean drinking water is slow, obvious genocide. You can hear it in how people talk if you sit in a coffee shop long enough.
Maybe we do it in the same way we try to love the cold of winter, or the heat of summer. Maybe its simply asking what our comfort protects us from? What is it we are most afraid to embrace, and why can’t we?
Francis knew that the path to God was loving his enemy–and that’s the answer. The only true enemy we have is ourselves. And knowing this, we have built an entire society, culture, world, where each of us fully and discretely rejects this truth, and behave so that we can all act in ignorance together. The only way out is to find our lepers and embrace them. When we do this, our need to be public, our need to call for praise will diminish because the only thing that then matters is love. The only thing we must confess is that we have acted in ways that have limited our ability to love.
God love you.