Death of the Butterfly: Part IV: Joy in Persecution
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Jesus)
“These souls also have a deep interior joy when they are persecuted, with much more peace than that mentioned, and without any hostile feelings toward those who do, or desire to do, them evil. On the contrary, such a soul gains a particular love for its persecutors, in such a way that if it sees these latter in some trial it feels compassion and would take on any burden to free them from their trial, and eagerly recommends them to God and would rejoice to lose the favors His Majesty grants it if he would bestow these same gifts on those others so that they wouldn’t offend our Lord.” (Teresa of Avila)
“Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” (Abraham Lincoln)
In The Republic of Plato we find a question posed by Socrates: “Is it, then . . . the part of a just man to harm any human being whatsoever?” Alan Bloom inserts the following comment in his Interpretive Essay of the Republic: “As Lessing approvingly put it, ‘for the ancient Greeks moral greatness consisted in a love of friends that is as constant as the hatred of one’s enemies is unchanging.” Socrates dismantles this argument and concludes: “For it has become apparent to us that it is never just to harm anyone.” However, Bloom adds, “Socrates does not suggest that the just man would want to benefit all men, only that he would want to benefit his friends and remain indifferent to others.”
- “Ancient” Perspective: Love your friends and harm your enemies. Strike first and strike hard because your enemies may become strong and harm your family and friends.
- Socrates/Plato: Harming your enemies defies logic and exacerbates the problem. Instead, love your friends and be indifferent to your enemies.
- Jesus: Actively love your enemies and seek their blessing — even those who persecute you.
Teresa says, in spiritual marriage or oneness with Christ, persecution produces joy and peace “without any hostile feelings toward those who do, or desire to do, them evil.” Teresa then takes this a step further. Instead of hostile feelings or wanting to inflict injury on the persecutor we feel compassion for any suffering they experience. We would rather take on the trial of our persecutor and see the persecutor set free. And we would rather sacrifice the favors we receive from God and have those gifts given to the persecutor.
But why? We can seek the good of our “enemies” because of our confidence in our oneness with Christ and his care for us. We also want to see God praised. When our persecutor receives goodness from God (through us) this praise is more likely to happen. But when we choose an “evil for evil response”, we “dehumanize” the other person and give evil a greater stronghold in the world and in our lives.
For this post I used a translation of The Interior Castle by Kieran Kavanaugh O.C.D. and Otilio Rodriguez O.C.D., ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies: Washington D.C. Kindle Edition.
Translation of The Plato’s Republic and the Interpretive Essay: The Republic of Plato. Alan Bloom. Second Edition. Basic Books: A division of HarperCollins Publishers. Copyright 1968.