Love Your Enemies for Lent

American FlagAnother campaign season is upon us with a vengeance. Actually it’s campaign seasons—since the U.S. presidential campaign goes on for over two years. That’s summer, fall, winter, spring, summer, fall, winter, spring, summer ,and the final (gasp) fall.

As for vengeance, this seems to increase with every four-year cycle. Could there possibly be more vengefulness articulated than we’ve been hearing these past months?

Which brings me to Lent. For years, during every Lent that coincides with a presidential campaign, my Lenten project has been to try to “love my enemies.” Enemies in this case are the politicians whose views and words disgust me. Terrify me. Yet I know that these people are all children of God.

In years past, I’ve failed in this Lenten practice. My self-righteousness and judgmental nature have gotten the better of me. But I’m trying yet again, because I’m convinced that this practice can be good for my soul. Lent is always a fresh opportunity to come closer to God, to become more like the person God wants me to be.

So, can I look at each of the presidential candidates—yes, even Donald Trump—and see a child of God? That’s my current Lenten challenge.

My husband and I discuss this at dinner. I pose the challenge this way: “If I say that Donald Trump is an egotistical, racist bigot, is that off limits for Lent, or simply true? If I say that Hillary Clinton is an opportunist, is that off limits, or simply true?”

My husband shakes his head no. “You don’t know the inner being of these people. You don’t know if X is a racist or Y is an opportunist. What you can say is: ‘I’m hearing X make racist remarks. But he is still a child of God.’ Or you can say, ‘I’m hearing Y express views inconsistent with those she has previously held. But she is still a child of God.'”

How can I not concur? God loves every single person equally. I truly believe this; or I profess that I do. God doesn’t play favorites in the human family.

And how about my own sinfulness? God loves me despite it. Or even, Pope Francis might say, because of it—because my sinfulness gives God the opportunity to embrace me in mercy.

Surely I’m no less a sinner than Pope Francis declares himself to be! Listen to him in the new book of interviews The Name of God is Mercy. “I have a special relationship with people in prisons, deprived of their freedom. I have always been very attached to them, precisely because of my awareness of being a sinner. Every time I go through the gates into a prison to celebrate Mass or for a visit, I always think: Why them and not me? I should be here. I deserve to be here. Their fall could have been mine.”

Reading this, I praise God with gratitude for the genuine humility of this pope. Still, (perversely?), I think I’d find it easier to love prisoners than to love politicians. What is it about our national political culture that seems to bring out the worst in nearly every public figure?  As I watch yet another nasty debate among candidates, can I see God embracing each of them in love?

Pope Francis can. In this book he describes God’s mercy as like “a great light of love and tenderness because God forgives not with a decree, but with a caress.”

Here am I, issuing decrees to politicians (you are bigoted; you are dishonest), while God is “caressing the wounds of our sin.”

“How in practice,” I muse with my husband, “can we watch these candidates or read about them in the news without mumbling with disgust under our breath? Shall we consciously say a prayer before each of these ‘encounters’—a prayer something like: ‘Gracious God of mercy and love, help me see each of these people as you see them. Forgive me my own sins. Amen.'”

If I offer this prayer with every political encounter, what will happen in my heart as I then listen to the candidates’ words and watch their gestures? Will my heart soften toward them? I hope so. I pray so.

 

Peggy Rosenthal is director of Poetry Retreats and writes widely on poetry as a spiritual resource. Her books include Praying through Poetry: Hope for Violent Times (Franciscan Media), and The Poets’ Jesus (Oxford). See Amazon for a full list. She also teaches an online course, “Poetry as a Spiritual Practice,” through Image’s Glen Online program.

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