Tina Turner not withstanding, love is not an emotion, and that’s a good thing.
In today’s Gospel (from the modern lectionary), Jesus tells his disciples to “love your enemies” and “pray for those who persecute you.”
But how? I find it difficult even to be around certain people, much less love them. Surely, Jesus wasn’t serious when He told us to love our enemies, right? If Jesus meant what He said, then I must not know what love means.
If love is an emotion, acts of love and mercy, like loving one’s enemies, would be almost impossible. While we can train our emotions over time, we can never control them completely. We can control how we behave in response to those emotions, but we cannot control the emotions themselves.
Try this. Think of someone who makes your skin crawl. Picture that person big and close to you, so close you can smell them and hear strands of spittle pop when they speak. You can smell their unique smell they’re so close.
Got that feeling?
Now love that person.
Seriously. Love that person right now.
If love is an emotion, you probably can’t do it.
But what if love were no emotion at all?
What is love, if not an emotion?
Love is an act of will.
To love is to will the good of the other.
Roll that over in your mind a few times. Even whisper it to yourself, why don’t you?
Love is to will the good of the other.
I’ve been pondering this definition of love a lot recently. I’ve heard Bishop Robert Barron talk it about several times. It’s been like an epiphany to me, and I can’t stop praying on it.
This definition of love comes from Saint Thomas Aquinas, and understanding the real meaning of love is absolutely essential to understanding today’s Gospel. The only way you can love your enemies and pray for your persecutors is to will their good. You can’t make yourself feel the modern kind of love for them. They’re not cute little puppies. They wish you ill. You cannot feel about them like you’d feel about a warm, cuddly puppy.
But you can love them the way Christ commanded us to love them. You can will their good. That means willing for their temporal well being–health, safety, enough to eat, etc. But it means much more, too. In fact, their temporal well being is less important than their true good.
What is their true good?
God is their true good, because only God is good (Mark 10:18).
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good–except God alone.
Willing the good of the other is simply willing the other to find and worship God, to be forgiven by God, to surrender to the will of God.
The highest good we can will for another is also the highest good we can will for ourselves. So, when we will the good of the other, we are keeping both of the two great commandments according to Jesus: to love God above all things and to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-40). Whether your neighbor is friend or foe, you still will them to get right by God, just as you and I strive to get ourselves right with God.
Now, it all makes sense, doesn’t it? Now, it seems possible to love your enemy and pray for your persectuors. Now, loving God above all and loving neighbor as self seems, not just logical, but doable.
You can do this, and so can I.
Maybe I can’t feel all warm and fuzzy about Antifa radicals who want to see me dead, but I can pray that their hearts open up to God. I can also pray that Jihadists convert to Catholicism. I pray that they all live long enough to have their Road to Damascus moments.
To will the good of the other is why we refuse to consent to same-sex marriage and to abortion and to so many other sins our modern society promotes. It’s not just because of the social problems these and other sins cause. It’s because we will the ultimate good for everyone. You cannot possibly will the good of the other by applauding as they dig their way to hell.
Whoever you are, whatever you do, I will the good for you. If you don’t know Christ, I pray you find Him soon. He will lead you to His Father who is all good and deserving of all our love.
And that’s all the love I’ve got to give.
Jesus said to his disciples: “You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, 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. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers and sisters only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)