Drawing of Most Holy Trinity Church in Hartford, the first Catholic church in Connecticut. (As published in book Lift High the Cross)In any family, the celebrations of birthdays and anniversaries are truly special occasions on which we look back in gratitude for the many graces that God has bestowed on us in the past, and we look forward with great hope for the many blessings that are yet to come.
Q: Dear Father Joe: I know Jesus says we have to love everybody, but I really can’t stand one of the people I work with; we simply can’t work together. I’ve prayed about it, but no matter how hard I pray, I get angry just thinking of the person. How can I love this co-worker?
A: First things first, you are not alone! This is a very common problem that, I would imagine, everyone experiences at some point.
As Christians, we recognize how utterly important it is that we love. When Jesus was giving his last series of speeches before his Passion and death, he reiterated this over and over: “This I command you, love one another.” I think most of us know that, but we forget the end of that sentence: “ ... like I love you.”
Jesus isn’t simply giving us a command to love. He is telling us that our love needs to change and grow so that it looks just like his love — powerful stuff. If we don’t embrace that, we end up slapping the “love” label on everything we agree with and everything we want, until we hit the brick wall of people we don’t like. Then things can get very, very confusing.
So, let’s go step by step and see if we can’t figure out a way to love people we don’t like.
It seems to me that the first step has to do with that distinction — love vs. like. In that distinction, we find something I assume you’ll view as good news: As far as I can recall, Jesus never commanded any of us to like anyone.
To like someone normally indicates that we want to be around them. Maybe they make us happy, maybe we share hobbies or have complementary personalities — who knows? Whatever it is, there are people we run into or work with whom we want to be around. These are people we like.
Love, however, is something different.
When we are called to love one another as Christ loves us, then we want to make sure that we are adapting what we feel, what we want, to what Christ shows us. Love is not a feeling, it’s a commitment. I think the best way to think of it is this: When we love someone, we desire what is best for them. When we love someone, we act and move in a way that helps them get to heaven.
When you think of your co-worker, you feel irritation, anger, discomfort — things like that. That’s OK; you can’t help it. What you want to do is make sure that those feelings do not compel you to sabotage them or be apathetic when they need your assistance or support.
To be clear, you do not have to choose to be around them. You don’t have to pretend you like them. You don’t have to volunteer to hang out with them or be “besties.” What your faith in Jesus requires is that you love them.
What I’d like to do now is offer you some suggestions as to ways you can love them without liking them.
First, I want to be clear about an important distinction. It may be that the reason we don’t like certain people is because they are wicked or they act wickedly. If that is the case, we simply avoid them and make sure we don’t put ourselves in a position to be hurt by them. Keep the treasure that is you safe from evil, narcissistic people — I believe that is common sense. What I am dealing with here are the people we don’t like simply because our personalities clash, or they have different priorities than us, or different world views. I invite you to remember that your dislike doesn’t mean they are bad, dishonest, evil or any such thing. What we don’t want to do is pretend that our personality conflict means anything of value. Until the person we do not like proves to be evil or untrustworthy, we should be awfully careful not to pretend that our dislike has any real value. We should be careful not to ascribe awful motives to the person’s actions or decisions.
Second, make sure you are meek in regard to the person. To be meek means to refuse to do harm, and that is what you need to do. Remember — you don’t have to volunteer to be around your co-worker any more than your work requires. You don’t have to give him or her your time or your inner self in the same way you do a friend. You just need to make sure that you are not letting your personality conflict interfere with the person’s life. Don’t sabotage, don’t undermine.
Third, no gossip. Don’t talk about the person behind his or her back or get dragged into collecting horror stories about him or her. Don’t spread malicious talk or speculation.
Finally, pray for your co-worker’s well-being and salvation. Ask God every day to bless and guide him or her home to the kingdom of heaven. When the person irritates you or gets on your nerves, ask God to soothe you and to strengthen your commitment to act for his or her benefit.
So there it is! A guide to help us to love those we do not like.
May God bless our efforts to be the people he created us to be. Enjoy another day in God’s presence.
Father Joe Krupp is a former comedy writer who is now a Catholic priest.
I have a new saint I pray to in addition to Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. Joseph, St. Ann, St. Jude, St. Agnes and St. Michael. And while this saint is new to my prayer list, he’s not “new.” In fact, he’s been around a long time, since the very first Pentecost. And while he hasn’t been designated the patron saint of any particular cause, he should be the patron saint of the disappointed.
I had arrived at Superior Court in Hartford early. The judicial marshals hadn’t unlocked the doors to the courthouse yet, but already there was a line forming at the entrance. Standing in line is a waste of time, and wasting time is a mortal sin in the practice of law. I decided that this was as good a time as any to try my hand at praying the rosary. Of course, I’ve recited the rosary before, but I’m not particularly good at it and, admittedly, I don’t do it very often. Nevertheless, I keep a rosary around the rearview mirror for the same reason as many Catholics: to remind me not to use the middle finger or yell obscenities while driving.
The Church’s answer to these questions of hell is clear. The existence of hell and the possibility of condemnation to hell are real because we have been given the gift of free will. God will respect this free will because God is love — and love must be freely given and freely received in order to be love at all.
Sometimes, we hear an argument against the existence of hell that goes something like this: A loving God could never condemn anyone to hell so, in the end, everyone will be saved … even Satan himself.
Let’s go back a bit in Church history. This history refers to the doctrine of universal salvation as apokatástasis (also spelled apocatastasis), which literally means a reconstitution or restoration to the original condition. The more common name for this is universalism, and it holds that all human souls will eventually be saved. (Some proponents even extend this salvation beyond humanity, to Satan.)
This belief is most often attributed, rightly or wrongly, to one of the major theologians of the early Church, Origen. Given that he lived from 185 to 254, we can see that this doctrine is not a new phenomenon. It was partially condemned in 544 by the patriarch of Constantinople and this condemnation was ratified in 553 by the Second Council of Constantinople, the fifth of the Church’s ecumenical councils.
The problem with universalism, like all heresy, is that it reduces the fullness of the truth to a partial truth. It affirms only the truth that Jesus Christ died for the sins of all, while passing over the truth that not everyone will accept this gift of grace. So while this teaching that hell doesn’t exist may be appealing and make us feel good, the truth is that there simply is no compelling basis for it in Scripture, tradition or the teaching of the magisterium.
It’s only logical
Another way to discern the validity of the doctrine of universalism is to look at it from the point of view of logic. For example, a foundational principle for Aristotle’s metaphysics and philosophy is the law of non-contradiction. This law states that opposite truth claims cannot both be true.
In the case of universalism, we have the claim that a loving God cannot ultimately condemn anyone to hell precisely because such a thing would be unloving. At the same time, we have the claim that love both presupposes and demands that the one loved is free to receive or reject the offer of love, for a love imposed upon another is no love at all. So can both these claims be true?
Consider this ...
In the Christian tradition, the existence of Satan and hell is often explained through an allegorical story of an angel, magnificent in a beauty unmatched in all the heavens. This angel over the ages eventually became known as Lucifer, Latin for “light-bearer.” The story goes on to weave a tale of pride giving birth to envy and ultimately rebellion as Lucifer attempted to usurp the God he could no longer tolerate as his creator. He was not able to see his own beauty granted to him by God. Instead, all he could see was that the light, which made him most exalted among the angels and most truly himself, fell short in comparison to God.
The rebellion was an abysmal failure. Lucifer was expelled from heaven and was transformed into Satan, from the Hebrew word meaning “adversary.” From his location outside of heaven, Satan continues his war against God. Interestingly enough, this former bearer of light can no longer stand light of any kind. His world is one of darkness, much like the vampires of the modern cinema that are not only repulsed by light, but find the end of their “immortality” in the light.
Will God’s love for Satan override Satan’s desire and choice for life apart from God? Is it loving to force someone into a life with God against his or her will? Ultimately, it comes down to free will. God loves all of us — and even Satan — enough to allow us to choose love or hell.
For further reflection
Consider prayerfully reading the following Scripture passage, a parable told by Jesus and recorded by Luke:
There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores.
When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, and from the netherworld, where he was in torment, he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he cried out, “Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.” Abraham replied, “My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented. Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.”
He said, “Then I beg you, father, send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment.” But Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.” He said, “Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.” Then Abraham said, “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.” Luke 16:19-31
1. Reflect for a few moments on the above passage. The Church teaches that each of us will face judgment at the moment of our death. The state of our soul will determine whether we go to heaven, purgatory or hell. How does this parable of Jesus support or undermine this teaching?
2. What does the passage suggest about the finality of hell?
3. How might the passage help you discuss the reality of hell with someone who believes everyone will be saved in the end?
Earlier this year, Pope Francis denounced “fake news,” which is the widespread distortion of the facts, often used to manipulate public opinion and promote a particular agenda.
Soon after, I saw this comment online: “The pope condemned fake news, then told everyone there’s a magic man living in the sky.”
Sometimes snooty atheists can be so tedious. Yeah, we get it. You don’t believe in God. And in your view, folks who do believe in God are obsessed with a non-existent “magic man living in the sky.”
This snarky comment reminded me of the most important question in the world, the question that is at the heart of our cultural polarization nowadays. Oh, you thought the large gulf in our society was caused by a conflict between red state v. blue state, Democrat v. Republican, rich v. poor, black v. white, old v. young, Planned Parenthood v. the NRA? Not at all. The root cause is the answer people give to this, the most important question in the whole world: Did God create mankind or did mankind create God?
Every aspect of our lives — our purpose, our plans, our dreams, our goals, our values — will be based on how we answer that question.
If God designed and created mankind, then he, as the supernatural divine Creator, has the final authority for defining right and wrong. He is perfectly within his rights to tell us how we should live our lives, since we are accountable to him.
On the other hand, if mankind created God, if our fearful and ignorant ancestors invented a concept called God (in other words, they mistakenly declared that there is a “magic man living in the sky”), then we, as the highest evolved beings on the planet, have the final authority for defining right and wrong. We are perfectly within our rights to decide for ourselves how we should live our lives, since we are accountable to no one.
Those who believe God created mankind (my view today), understand that we were created for a sublime purpose, that we are called to live our lives according to God’s plan, and that this natural life on earth is only a dress rehearsal for eternal life in heaven.
Those who believe our existence is a cosmic accident, that we are the product of matter and energy shaped by blind random chance (my view three decades ago), understand that we were not created for any particular purpose, that we do not have any transcendent calling, and that this life on earth is all there is. Once we die, we cease to exist.
It is not a coincidence that the people promoting ideas such as moral relativism, hedonism and nihilism so often hold a secular, atheistic worldview. After all, if our existence is nothing more than an accident, it is difficult to argue that there is much ultimate meaning to life, above and beyond our nation’s theme song during the past 50 years: “If it feels good, do it!”
Can I prove scientifically that God created mankind? No, not really, not any more than a smart-aleck atheist can prove scientifically that random swirling molecules accidentally formed themselves into a complex living organism capable of reproducing. But the thing is, 100 years from now we all will know with certainty which view is correct. I suspect it might be a bit dicey at that point, not to mention surprising, for the snarky atheists among us.
On the other hand, if I’m wrong and atheism is true, 100 years from now today’s snarky atheists will ceased to have existed (as will I, of course), and they won’t be able to tell me I was wrong.
It’s a very simple question, but with profound implications. I ask you, please, sincerely ponder this question and let the answer shape your life: Did God create mankind, or did mankind create God?
Bill Dunn is a recovering atheist who resides in Torrington. He loves Jesus, his wife and kids and the Red Sox (usually in that order). He can be reached at MerryCatholic@gmail.com.
When each of our two daughters was baptized, our dear friends gave us a framed picture of Jesus, smiling and holding small children. Anita and I hung those pictures, one in each of our girl’s bedrooms, right over their beds.