Someone told me a few weeks ago, in the middle of a martial arts related discussion, “I think that stuff is cool, but I don’t do martial arts. I am a lover, not a fighter.”
It is no exaggeration to say that I have been thinking about that pretty exhaustively ever since.
I have been thinking about it because my initial reaction was, “That’s a contradiction in terms.”
I did not voice that thought because I did not want to start a controversy with a half-formed thought that I wasn’t prepared to defend. I have been examining it ever since, however, and I am pretty well convinced that my initial gut reaction was correct. How can you love anyone or anything without being willing to fight, at least in theory? Being a lover without being a fighter is impossible.
I admit to taking that a little bit out of the context in which it was spoken. We were discussing martial arts and it is quite possible to love without doing martial arts. For instance, Jesus never did any martial arts, as far as we know. Neither did the vast majority of the saints. Even the military saints, who presumably practiced their craft in one form or another, as often as not gave it up at some point to become monks.
So it isn’t martial arts or military training per se that I mean when I say that being a lover without being a fighter is impossible. However, martial arts is a handy example of what I am trying to get at. Too often, I think, our pacifism is not motivated by love or compassion, but by denial or indifference. My reticence to begin a discussion about this is a prime example. I didn’t hold back because I cared about my colleague’s sensibilities but because I didn’t care enough to begin a dialogue.
If my wife or daughter are attacked, the “I’m a lover not a fighter” dichotomy is instantly revealed for the hogwash it is. At that moment I had better become a fighter, or I am a lousy lover. The kind of “love” that refuses to fight for the beloved’s well-being is not worthy of the name.
Of course, fighting takes many forms. The most enlightened and effective form of fighting is the form that eliminates a conflict before it can occur. It preempts the danger, ideally by turning the enemy into a friend, or by finding a mutually acceptable compromise, or by avoiding the circumstances that would lead to conflict, or finally by preempting imminent attack so effectively that it neutralizes the threat before it can become fully developed.
Suppose we have fully developed this enlightened approach and our family is perfectly safe. We have no threats impending on ourselves or our family or friends. Are we now justified in considering ourselves a lover and not a fighter?
I contend that no, we can’t. Firstly, because that is not actually the case. We are not perfectly safe. We are in the middle of an all-out spiritual war, we just don’t see it.
Secondly, because the only reason any of us has any safety is because, somewhere, somehow, someone is fighting to make that possible.
Throughout this world countless people are under attack every day. There are homeless and immigrants a few miles from your door, if you live in most American cities. There are more than 600,000 children being murdered by abortion every year in our country. 20.9 million people around the world are held in slavery. Children are being abused, exploited, raped, murdered, tortured, and forced to do all of these things as child soldiers. Women are being abused by their husbands and boyfriends, probably on your block or in your apartment complex. Within your city there are hundreds of elderly who have not had a visit from a family member in months or years.
As Catholics we believe that all people are beloved by God and all are worthy of being loved, wanted, and cared for because of that. Of course we are required to show love first and foremost to those closest to us (subsidiarity). However, we are still responsible in some degree to all and for all (solidarity).
This is why we, as Catholics, cannot claim to be lovers but not fighters. Love in a fallen world requires fighting, because the world is horrendously dangerous. Threats are all around us. We cannot allow that to paralyze us with fear or hopelessness. Jesus has died and risen. The war is won, it just isn’t over yet. We must be cheerful, but we must fight.
One day we will stand in judgment. On that day we will see a crowd of children, too vast to count. They will be bearing the scars of their abuse: saline burns, limbs torn off by landmines or industrial machines, physical scars, mental and emotional scars, and spiritual scars. All of these wounds will be glorious, not limitations but badges of glory, transfigured in the Mercy that suffered with them and for them. They will look upon their abusers and murderers: abortionists, terrorists, pedophiles, pornographers, drug dealers, unscrupulous politicians and business owners. They will look upon them with love and mercy and say, “We forgive you.”
I suspect a large part of the eternal fate of such people will depend upon how they react to that forgiveness, either humbling themselves and accepting it, or hardening their hearts and despairing. But that is not our concern, right now.
Those children will also look at us. It is good to think about what they will say to us.
What will they say to me? Will they say, “Thank you for everything you did for us. For all your prayer, fasting, sacrifice, sleepless nights, donations, risks; everything you did and suffered on our behalf to give us a whole, healthy, and happy life”?
Or will they have to say, “We forgive you for turning your back on us.”
And how will I respond?
Whatever they say to me, Jesus has already told us what He will say: “Whatever you did for one of these, the least of my brethren, you did it for me.”