Thursday, December 26, 2013

Feast of St. Stephen: Oh Yeah, I've Got Enemies

St. Stephen
The command to love my enemies never really seemed all that difficult to me.  That's because, I never really felt like I had enemies.  There have never been people in my life that I've wished would come to some catastrophic end.  Mostly, "enemies" always seemed to me to be some sort of ambiguous group of people who lived in some far off country and who were my "enemies" because of some sort of political situation.  So, loving them didn't seem like too much of a challenge because I never really meet these enemies.  Basically, I never had enemies.

Today is the Feast of St. Stephen and the opening collect (prayer) for the Mass suggests that I do have enemies. It almost presumes it.  "Grant, Lord, we pray, that we may imitate what we worship, and so learn to love even our enemies, for we celebrate the heavenly birthday of a man who knew how to pray even for his persecutors."  There you have it. I've got enemies.  You do too.

As I prayed before offering Mass today, I thought about who my enemies are.  They are not some far away and ambiguous collection of combatants.  My enemies are specific.  They are the people who have hurt me in my life.  They are the people who have been uncharitable towards me.  True, I don't ever wish them harm.  I don't sit around imagining what disasters I would like seen visited upon them.  But, the prayer at Mass didn't say, "Grant O Lord that we may not wish fire and brimstone to incinerate our enemies."  It said, "Grant that we may learn to love even our enemies."  

A few things strike me about the prayer.  Firstly, it presumes that we have enemies. It presumes that there are people who seek to hurt us and who have hurt us.  Secondly, it doesn't try to solve the situation by getting rid of our enemies.  Chances are, we will always have people in our lives who do not love us and who do not seek our good.  The solution that the collect offers is not one of "converting  our enemies into our friends."  The solution it offers is for us to love them even though they are our enemies.  Thirdly, I liked the words "learn" and "even."  The prayer doesn't presume that loving our enemies comes easily.  It is something we have to learn.  And it says, "even our enemies."  In other words, loving our enemies doesn't come naturally.

Today, I offered Mass for my enemies.  I prayed for them by name. (Don't worry, nobody else heard me!)  I figured that is a good step towards learning how to love them.   The person who is my enemy is not my enemy because I am against him.  The person who is my enemy is the one who is against me.  He might always be my enemy.  He might always be against me.  I don't have to convert him to be my friend before I can love him.  I have to learn how to love him "even" when he is my enemy.  

That prayer touched me today in its humanity.  It acknowledges the reality of enemies (it doesn't skip over it or try to pretend it is not real), it acknowledges the difficulty in loving "even" them, and it acknowledges that this is something we "learn" to do.  

As St. Stephen was being killed, he prayed for his enemies and thus, he loved them.  On this Feast of St. Stephen, maybe we could all think about those people who do not treat us with charity and ask God to help us to learn how to love "even" them.  By loving them--especially through praying for them--we may not ever win them over to be our friends.  But, we will prove ourselves to be true friends of the One who has loved us "even" when we have not loved Him.

Christmas brings extraordinary graces to us.  May this Christmas Season bring us the grace to love even those who are our enemies.

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