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.
Recently, during the memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I recalled her growth "from grace to grace and freedom to freedom."
This freedom of obedience is mysterious. How can one be free if she is always obedient?
Perhaps it's easier to describe the lack of freedom which we experience with sin. Although the decision to sin was freely taken, it inevitably leads back into slavery. A bad decision immediately sets a precedent. If I can steal a cookie from the cookie jar, I can swipe a slice of pie from the refrigerator, and a five dollar bill from the cash jar. If I can get away with it once, I can get away with it twice, and thrice and so forth until a single exception has become a habit that grows out of all proportions.
But the decision not to take the cookie in the first place remains as a road not taken, at least for another day and another decision.
In today's gospel Jesus urges us to "love your enemies." That commandment precludes a great many thoughts, words and deeds against one's enemies. I may have to imprison him but I cannot kill him. Imprisoned he will need and deserve as a human being who is created in God's own image all the attention of any other human being. He has the right to food, clothing, shelter, protection, medical, psychological, psychiatric and spiritual care, educational and work opportunities, and dignity. We put him in prison to protect him from harming others and to protect him from harm by others. But even there we do not have the right to judge or punish. Revenge in mine, says the Lord.
The fact that we don't like this person is irrelevant. We cannot disrespect his human integrity without endangering every other human person.
I heard that point raised in a radio discussion about torture. Where will the American torturers -- who were supposed to serve our security and our national interests with their violence against defenseless human being -- be in ten years, or twenty or thirty? Might they be serving their communities in police stations? And how will they deal with difficult citizens who are suspected, but not convicted and still legally innocent, of crime? How will they address their children and grandchildren, not to mention their wives and lovers, when those relationships get complicated? Will they have forgotten how to extract information from their enemies? Will they remember how to inflict agonizing pain without leaving scars. How will the decision to torture change those individuals for life, and the people who authorized that treatment? Isn't it better not to take that road in the first place? Love your enemies may feel like an extreme limit upon our freedom; there are so many attitudes we cannot indulge, and so many forbidden thoughts, words and deeds. But the law prevents us from taking a road through slavery into hell; and it leads us on the road to respect for the dignity and rights of every human being -- born and unborn, innocent or guilty.