For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.Ephesians 6:12 (ESV)
Close your eyes, and imagine for a moment. Think of a person whom you feel best embodies a contemporary force against good. If you are on social media, this is probably the person about whom you most often post. It’s a person whose very image evokes anger and repugnance in you. Is it a politician perhaps? Or an actor or talking head? Someone in the media, perhaps? Or maybe it’s someone closer to home.
Trust me when I say that there are people to whom I have this reaction. There are people that just thinking about them starts to get my temperature raised. But, my friends, this is not right. And contrary to our desire to indulge in it, we ought to resist it.
But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you… But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.Luke 6:27-8;35-36 (ESV)
This is the perfection to which the Christian is called. It is not natural. It is not easy. It certainly doesn’t feel good, and it can even feel wrong–when we feel justified in our anger, and when our anger may, in some sense, be righteous. We must not lose sight that the object of our anger ought to be the evil done and the injustice itself, and that the battle we wage, as the Apostle says, is against Satan and his powers, against sin itself because these work to destroy the life of grace in the human hearts.
When we see a person whom we believe to be advancing evil, we must see with God’s eyes. We must see a lost soul in need of salvation. We ought to recognize that we have all been lost and are all in need of that same salvation. Our battle, then, ought to be with a view to restore these persons to a life of grace. Indulging in a feeling of hate or repulsion towards them is contrary to willing their good for their own sake, that is, loving them as we are called to do.
One of my favorite prayers from our great Teacher, St. Thomas Aquinas, embodies this:
Obtain for me as well, O most sweet Lady, true charity with which from the depths of my heart I may love your most holy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and, after Him, love you above all other things, and love my neighbor in God and because of God. Thereby may I rejoice in his goodness, sorrow over his evils, despise no one, never judge rashly, and never in my heart exalt myself over anyone.
It is not possible for us to desire evil. We only desire that which we perceive to be good. This means that our fellow human beings who seem to us to desire and advance evil, are doing so because they believe that to be good. It may be a selfish good, or it may be what they understand to be an altruistic good. Particularly in the public sphere, our disagreements usually come down to differing understandings of the common good and/or how to advance that good (whether that be in the world or in the Church). Most often it is simply a matter of perceiving one aspect of the good and true to be more important than another aspect. Sometimes our valuations of relative goods can even blind us to the evils involved in the ways that we think we should advance the good.
Considering the public nature of these disagreements, it ought to be easier, not harder, for us to treat them well. After all, they probably are not acting against us personally but rather advancing a view of the general good that we disagree with. That is very odd, and we might want to think about that.
My friends, it is no more than a work of the Devil himself to tempt us into seeing and treating each other with such enmity. He twists our God-given desire for the good and our (possibly) righteous anger at seeing it thwarted into hatred and loathing of others. He diverts from himself what ought to be his due to his own influences. He encourages us to depersonalize those who see things differently and, instead of treating them as individual human persons, to group them and label them as the Other, the Enemy. In doing so, we succumb to a master deception and fail to perceive our True Enemy.
So the next time we encounter a person who raises our hackles like that, rather than relishing and cherishing that feeling of loathing, rather than despising and badmouthing that person, rather than wallowing in the filth of our own pride at being so right when they are so wrong, we ought instead to forcibly remind ourselves that we share with them our fallen state of being susceptible to error. We ought to recognize in their error the Author of Lies.
We should have sorrow for any actual evil that has been done, and also mourn for the damage that such error does to that person’s soul. And we ought also try to see the good which they have in mind and, if possible, find something in that to rejoice in.
We ought, more than anything, to pray for them. And not in a proud way like “Lord, may they see the error of their ways,” which after all is essentially the prayer of the Pharisee: “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous…” Instead, let us pray as honestly and as authentically as we are able:
O my God, author of love and source of all truth, help me to recognize the smallness of my knowledge and the frailty of my intelligence and wisdom; help me to see that I am a great sinner unable to approach any truth or goodness without your grace. May I never allow the insights with which you have blessed me to become an opportunity for pride and disdain of others. Please help me to see clearly where I am wrong, to have the humility to admit it and the fortitude to correct myself. Grant me the grace to live more in accord with your truth and to see and to love others as you see them. I pray also for these graces to be granted to [Name of Person]. And if there is some way in which you wish to use me to bring others to a greater knowledge of truth, Please give me the wisdom to know how to do it humbly so that it will be most effective for their salvation. Have mercy on us, Lord! Amen.