“…But I say to you, love your enemies,
and pray for those who persecute you…” (MT 5:44)
As a teacher, especially a new, young teacher, I enjoyed the reputation as a “nice” teacher, one that students could relate to. I guess that was largely due to being new and inexperienced. I believe being new, I was also open to learning, learning not only the ways to teach reading, writing, listening and speaking skills, but even more importantly learning to love my students. These students’ school experience, at least up to this point in their life, was a “troubled” one. They were tagged with the label of incorrigible. As a new teacher, that label was just a word. I had really never met someone who was “incorrigible”.
It didn’t take me too long to learn though. Soon, I realized the “incorrigible” students were the students who didn’t like me. Often, I believe, they didn’t like me because they saw me as the enemy, part of the establishment that had labeled and marginalized them. I didn’t understand all that as a new teacher, I just knew that some students resisted my attempts to get to know them and to teach them. They were “problems” and yes, I often wished that they would stay home or get sent to someone else’s class. I didn’t love them.
Today, looking back on those “problem” students I realize, they were the ones who taught me. They really weren’t my enemy, any more than I was their enemy. They taught me about a world of abuse and neglect and discrimination that I had never experienced, after all, I wore a different label, “good student”. I was a “smart” student and learned quickly. They taught me how to survive in a world that doesn’t like me, that sees me as the enemy.
Twenty years later, coming out as a gay man in the Catholic Church, I used those skills. I did what I told my students to do: “Just show up. No matter what, show up. Don’t fight back, but love those who hate and marginalize you.” Of course, some would say I should have learned that lesson from Jesus. My students, however, were much more present to me and I needed their presence.
God, help me to love my enemies today and see them as the gift they truly are.
Dan O’Donnell is a Passionist Partner and a longtime friend of the Passionists. He lives in Chicago.