43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? (Matthew 5:43–46).
Doubling down on my previous article, I want to talk more about how we treat those we consider our foes in political or religious debates. This is not a matter of being “nice” to the point of not speaking against evils, or how to be effective in outreach to others. It is about following Our Lord’s commandments to love our enemies. This means we cannot treat those we morally oppose abusively. God sent us to bring all people to salvation, and that includes the people we consider our nemesis. We do not do good if we seek to defend the people we sympathize with, while driving a person from salvation through our abusive attacks. If someone’s soul is at risk, and we do not try to bring them back to Our Lord, we risk judgment on ourselves. As God the Father told Ezekiel:
7 You, son of man—I have appointed you as a sentinel for the house of Israel; when you hear a word from my mouth, you must warn them for me. 8 When I say to the wicked, “You wicked, you must die,” and you do not speak up to warn the wicked about their ways, they shall die in their sins, but I will hold you responsible for their blood. 9 If, however, you warn the wicked to turn from their ways, but they do not, then they shall die in their sins, but you shall save your life. (Ezekiel 33:7–9).
We cannot pretend that God intended that message only for Ezekiel, and not for ourselves. Nor can we pretend that speaking to others in an abusive way qualifies as warning them. As Pope Francis told us, if we behave in such a way that our Christian witness leads people to say it would be better to be an atheist than a Christian, things will not go well for us at the final judgment. The Church teaches that there is nobody that Our Lord did not die for (CCC #605). We also must remember Our Lord warned us about the sin of scandal: "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of things that cause sin! Such things must come, but woe to the one through whom they come!” (Matthew 18:6–7).
318 [DS 623] Chap. 3. Omnipotent God wishes all men without exception to be saved [1 Tim. 2:4] although not all will be saved. However, that certain ones are saved, is the [gift] of the one who saves; that certain ones perish, however, is the deserved punishment of those who perish.
319 [DS 624] Chap. 4. Christ Jesus our Lord, as no man who is or has been or ever will be whose nature will not have been assumed in Him, so there is, has been, or will be no man, for whom He has not suffered; although not all will be saved by the mystery of His passion. But because all are not redeemed by the mystery of His passion, He does not regard the greatness and the fullness of the price, but He regards the part of the unfaithful ones and those not believing in faith those things which He has worked through love [Gal. 5:6], because the drink of human safety, which has been prepared by our infirmity and by divine strength, has indeed in itself that it may be beneficial to all; but if it is not drunk, it does not heal. [Council of Quiercy (AD 853)]
Henry Denzinger and Karl Rahner, eds., The Sources of Catholic Dogma, trans. Roy J. Deferrari (St. Louis, MO: B. Herder Book Co., 1954), 127.
If we drive people away from salvation, making the “drink of human safety” seem repulsive, by allowing those we hate to believe our hateful behavior is what Christianity is all about, we are causing scandal. Whoever we find offensive—radical traditionalists, Trump supporters, Obama supporters, the divorced/remarried, homosexuals, etc., are still children of God, whom God desires to be saved. We must make known to them the way they must live of course, but through the commandment to love our enemies. If we want to understand the anger the Pharisees felt in Matthew 21:31, consider how we would feel if Our Lord told us “The Trump Supporters and Divorced/Remarried are entering the Kingdom of Heaven before you”? (These are two of the groups social media attack violently depending on their views). Our Lord did not say this because the tax collectors and prostitutes were morally better people. He said this because they were the ones seeking to repent. (Cf. Matthew 23:13)
We especially do wrong when we accuse our opponents falsely, assuming that all of them share in willful support of evils found only in the worst among them. Contrary to rhetoric, not all people who like the Extraordinary form of the Mass hate the Pope. Not all people who voted for Donald Trump are bigots. Not all people who oppose the current immigration laws support amnesty for felons. When an action is not intrinsically evil, when the acting person does not have a bad intention and when circumstances do not make their act bad—then they do not do evil, and we have no right to lump them in with the people who actually do support evil. If we accuse them of supporting the evil they actually reject then at best we are guilty of rash judgment, at worst, we commit calumny. Both are sins in God’s eyes.
We need to beware the ideology trap that makes the one who thinks like us a neighbor and the one who disagrees to be an enemy. If we fall into this trap, we do what Our Lord warned against—love our neighbors and hate our enemies. No matter how effective we are in loving our neighbors, we still fail to do God’s will. If we fail to love our enemies, what we do counts for nothing:
1 If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. 2 And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1–3).
The Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) tells us to go out to all the world, not just those we happen to agree with or find their sins less offensive. Those who refuse to listen may be damned, but what will happen to us if we drive them away, because we’ve made Our Lord’s message seem hateful because of our own hatefulness?
No. Watching how we behave is not a behavior of “Kumbaya” Catholicism. It is a matter of loving our enemies and realizing that God does not desire the damnation of anyone—even our personal enemies.