The wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God.
1 Corinthians 3: 9
What can be as crazy as loving your enemies, as Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel, Matthew 5: 44?
What can be as foolhardy as praying for your persecutors – except praying that they may die before killing you?
An “eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” makes sense, until you realize, with Gandhi, that taking an eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.
Love your enemies.
We won’t even talk to those who hold a political position different from ours.
This is not just a problem in the polarized situation in the US. It is a problem here in the deeply polarized climate of Honduras. A friend recently told me of a base community in which two families have stopped coming – since they are in conflict largely because they supported different political parties (the Nationalists and LIBRE) in the last election.
Pray for your persecutors.
You’ve got to be kidding; they are out to kill me and take away my liberty.
But Saint Polycarp, the second century bishop of Smyrna whose feast is today, made sure that the soldiers who came to take him away had dinner. He went off to pray as they ate.
Closer to our time, one day, Dom Helder Camara, the twentieth century bishop of Recife, Brazil, opened the door of his humble dwelling to a man who was sent to assassinate him. The man demurred – “I cannot kill a man of God.”
Praying for persecutors, responding in love to them is not going to assure that we are not killed or injured. But it can make a difference in our lives and in the world.
Consider the example of Bud Welch whose daughter Julie was killed in the Oklahoma City bombing. It was not easy and it took him a while but he went and visited the father of one of the bombers, Timothy McVeigh.
Bud came to realize that it would be wrong to kill McVeigh and the other bomber, for “the day that we might kill either one of them would be a day of vengeance and rage, and vengeance and rage is exactly why Julie and 167 others are dead.”
How to begin this?
Very simply, pray each day for someone with whom you are in conflict. Let God change your heart as well as theirs.
When I was a kid we prayed at the end of each Mass for the conversion of Russia. We forgot to pray for the conversion of our own country, the United States.
We forgot what Thomas Merton wrote at the end of one of his most poignant articles “The Root of War Is Fear”:
…instead of loving what you think is peace, love other men and love God above all. And instead of hating the people you think are warmongers, hate the appetites and the disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed—but hate these things in yourself, not in another.
Let us pray for our own conversion and then we may be able to begin to love our enemies.