“The most damaging idolatry is not the golden calf but enmity against the other,” wrote anthropologist Rene Girard. Most of us like to believe we do love our neighbours and are free of enmity towards others. But is this so, asks Fr Ron Rolheiser.
In our more honest, more accurately perhaps, in our more humble moments, I think that all of us admit that we don’t really love others in the way that Jesus asked. We don’t turn the other cheek. We don’t really love our enemies. We don’t wish good to those who wish us harm. We don’t bless those who curse us.
And we don’t genuinely forgive those who murder our loved ones. We are decent, good-hearted persons, but persons whose heaven is still too-predicated on needing an emotional vindication in the face of anyone or anything that opposes us.
We can be fair, we can be just, but we don’t yet love the way Jesus asked us to, that is, so that our love goes out to both those who love us and to those who hate us. We still struggle, mightily, mostly unsuccessfully, to wish our enemies well.
But for most of us who like to believe ourselves mature that battle remains hidden, mostly from ourselves. We tend to feel that we are loving and forgiving because, essentially, we are well-intentioned, sincere, and able to believe and say all the right things; but there’s another part of us that isn’t nearly so noble.
The Irish Jesuit Michael Paul Gallagher, (who died recently and will be dearly missed) put this well when he wrote (In Extra Time): “You probably don’t hate anyone, but you can be paralysed by daily negatives. Mini-prejudices and knee-jerk judgements can produce a mood of undeclared war. Across barbed wire fences, invisible bullets fly.” Loving the other as oneself, he submits, is for most of us an impossible uphill climb.
So where does that leave us? Serving out a life-sentence of mediocrity and hypocrisy? Professing to loving our enemies but not doing it? How can we profess to be Christians when, if we are honest, we have admit that we are not measuring up to the litmus-test of Christian discipleship, namely, loving and forgiving our enemies?