But to you who hear I say,
love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you,
pray for those who mistreat you.
–Words of Jesus recorded in Luke 6:27-28.
The tenth anniversary of 9-11 will soon be upon us, and I wonder: What I have learned in those ten years? Have I overcome my fears and anger? Have I become more compassionate towards those who are “different” from me?
While thinking about this, I thought it might be worth revisiting a column I wrote at the time of the first anniversary of 9-11, published in The Catholic Spirit and a few other newspapers around the country.
Back then I was pondering the meaning of Jesus’ command to love your enemies, and the context was the ongoing threat of terrorist attacks. Today when I reread it, I think about how so many Americans have turned against each other in their extreme enthusiasm for their favorite political agendas. At times it seems hostility has become the national pastime.
Being kind to those who hurt us is no easy task, and I certainly struggle with “love your enemies” myself. Nevertheless, if we call ourselves Christ-followers (Christians), then we must strive, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to practice all that Jesus taught.
Here’s that original article:
Praying for Enemies on the Anniversary of 9-11
As the one-year [now 10-year] anniversary of the tragic events of September eleventh approaches, I am pondering the meaning of Christ’s command to “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Just what did Christ mean? Should I pray for terrorists?
A priest I know did just that during a time of shared prayer at church. Some people questioned what he meant by praying for terrorists. Was he condoning their acts of violence and murder? Did he want terrorists to “win” the war?
Praying for one’s enemies does not mean that we agree with their ideas or support evil. Praying for enemies does not mean staying in an abusive relationship. It certainly does not mean that we eliminate praying for the poor, the oppressed, and victims of violence.
- Therese of Lisieux at age 15
A startling example of praying for “society’s enemy” is found in the autobiography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. When she was a teenager, Thérèse heard about a notorious murderer named Pranzini, whose story made headline news. While waiting on death row, Pranzini showed no signs of repentance. Because Thérèse felt a great longing to prevent sinners from suffering the pains of hell, she prayed ardently that God would forgive Pranzini, granting him eternal happiness in heaven. On the day following his execution, Thérèse read in the newspaper that “Pranzini had mounted the scaffold without confessing and was ready to thrust his head beneath the guillotine’s blade when he suddenly turned, seized the crucifix offered him by the priest, and thrice kissed the Sacred Wounds.” Thérèse tells us that she felt such joy over this news that tears came to her eyes.
I find it difficult to pray for mildly irritating people, let alone violent criminals. However, someone taught me a method that helps. Setting aside your own agenda (that’s the hard part!), simply ask God to grant this person a pleasant day, peace, joy, etc. If you like, envision the blessings like a gentle rain showering upon this person.
When I pray this way for someone everyday for a month, I often notice a change in myself. Sometimes I begin to see this “enemy” in a slightly better light. I listen to him or her more at meetings.
Some wounds in life—like childhood sexual abuse—are so painful that we cannot do this type of prayer exercise. In these cases, we can pour out our troubles to the Lord, ask for God’s help, seek necessary professional help, and give ourselves time for the healing process. God understands.
Nevertheless, Christ calls us to deepen our love for others by praying for someone we dislike. Why do such a distasteful thing? Jesus explains that because God gives the blessing of sun and rain to all people—both saints and sinners—we must do the same. We ask God to grant our enemies the same love and mercy that God has given us.
Jesus also reminds us that being kind to people we like is not really so special or virtuous. (Even terrorists are kind to people they like!) The Lord Jesus forgave his executioners and the repentant thief during his own crushing agony on the cross. This same Lord promises that when we love our enemies, we will truly become children of God.