St Aelred, abbot, in this morning’s Office of Readings, talks at length about Jesus’ love for his enemies, as demonstrated in his prayer from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!” Jesus’ enemy-love is twofold, says Aelred: first, it prays that God would forgive them, and second, it readily makes excuses for them.
We might also think of this morning’s Gospel reading, where Jesus commands us not to even think contemptuous thoughts about our brothers and sisters.
Enemy-hate—or if not hate, then a more low-level contempt–is a natural inclination for those who have suffered at the hands of another. When I think of my “enemies” I have more than one face come to mind, and they are men who have caused me to suffer through their violence or through their negligence. How am I to treat these people as Jesus did? How can I overcome my feelings of contempt for them—let alone love them?
This morning’s reading concludes with a recommendation: I must “enlarge the whole horizon of my love” and contemplate the “serene patience” of Jesus on the cross. Jesus has not merely given me a command of enemy-love, but also an example of it:
If someone wishes to resist the promptings of his sinful nature he must enlarge the whole horizon of his love to contemplate the loving gentleness of the humanity of the Lord. Furthermore, if he wishes to savor the joy of brotherly love, he must extend even to his enemies the embrace of true love.
But if he wishes to prevent this fire of divine love from growing cold because of injuries received, let him keep the eyes of his soul always fixed on the serene patience of his beloved Lord and Savior.
That last line, about love growing cold because of injuries received, is perfect. The injuries others cause me in life carry with them a temptation to resent, or even hate, the offender. Yet if I succumb to resentment, it is certain that the fire of divine love will grow cold.
The three medicines prescribed by Aelred, then, against resentment and hatred: first, to pray God will forgive them and welcome them into the kingdom; second, to think of every possible excuse for their bad behavior; and third, to meditate on Jesus’ suffering, forgiving, patient love, even for those who hated him.