By Derick Cranston
One of the hardest things about being a Christian is Christ’s call to love. Not only are we called upon by Jesus to “love your neighbor as yourself” but to also love your enemy as you love yourself. The history of our faith is full of examples of many saints and martyrs who did this very thing. But how does the average person do this?
Perhaps an experience by pro-life activist Roxie Richards, related in a newsletter circulated by Informed Choice of Iowa, can illustrate how. “We went to the ISU campus to stand with our pro-life signs…I was wearing my ‘I Regret My Abortion’ sign when a young woman came and stood beside me with a sign that said ‘I’m With Stupid’ with the arrow pointing toward me! Anger rose up in me…” Roxie goes on and talks about how she contacted her husband to tell him what was happening and to ask him to pray for her. He suggested that she move to another spot away from the sign.
However, a sudden feeling of peace overcame her as she thought about the pain and suffering Jesus went through on his way to his crucifixion. She decided not to move and felt maybe she was being tested.
So what has happened here? We have a person confronted with a direct insult by another person who disagrees with her. The first emotion she experiences is anger. Anger is a normal response when we feel that we are being insulted. Sometime we think the command to “love thy enemy” means that we never get angry or frustrated with people. We conjure up images of a totally serene and laid back person as the only type of person who can love his or her enemy. I don’t think this is what “love your enemy” means. It is not so much a sloppy emotionalism where we fawn all over someone, but more a will to overcome our initial instinct to retaliate and lash out at others.
Oxford theologian Timothy Radcliffe says that whenever you encounter someone whom you are in conflict with, ask yourself “what is this person afraid of.” We are so often governed by our fears and anxieties, that we usually do not even realize it.
Think back to the last time someone cut you off in traffic or pulled out in front of you. You probably became angry with that person. But many times when this happens, the person driving simply did not see you and did not intentionally cut you off. But that anger we feel is really based upon fear; the fear that is always in the back of our mind when driving, namely that we run the risk of being in a traffic accident. That first split second when you are forced to quickly step on your brakes, the fear of a car accident comes to the forefront of your consciousness and immediately transfers into anger.
The second thing Roxie did was pray. After she prayed, she remembered the suffering that Jesus faced and how angry he could have become, but did not. As a Christian we believe in a God who is personally revealed to us and seeks to be in relationship with us. Not only does God tell us to love, but enters into history and shows us how to truly love. Our God is not a far off deity who is incomprehensible and is unaffected by our suffering. God enters into to the suffering experienced by humanity and transforms it through his responsive and creative love. God shows us that the only way to overcome evil and suffering is through love – even love of our enemies.
The story continues. After about twenty minutes of standing there, Roxie noticed that that young girl did not have any socks on. “Oh honey, aren’t you cold?” Roxie asked. The young lady responded that yes she was and that she had not come very prepared. This broke the ice. After a few minutes they exchanged names, and with tears streaming down her face Roxie sobbed “I am not stupid and you do not even know me.” The young woman took down her sign and apologized and thanked Roxie for not being combative. They started to talk and Roxie found out that the young lady was the same age as her son and was adopted. Roxie shared with her the experiences of her own abortion, three miscarriages, and the blessing of her son. At the end of the talk, both ladies hugged and exchanged e-mails.
There are many lessons to be learned here. We see how prayer can open us up to God’s grace and help us overcome our anger. We see two people who overcome their animosity and recognize in each other the unique humanity each possesses. But most importantly we see how love can absorb hatred and transform it into joy. This is the lesson of the cross. This is a lesson that has to be learned over-and-over again. It is a lesson that we are all called to learn and practice in our lives everyday. Jesus endured a horrible death upon the cross to teach us this lesson. Are you willing to learn it?
(Derick Cranston is youth minister for St. Mary Parish in Riverside, Holy Trinity Parish in Richmond and St. Joseph Parish in Wellman. He is going through diaconate formation and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)