But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you…For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same?
– Matthew 5:44, 46
Prayer, at least for me, comes easy. Perhaps I could state that more accurately: praying for my enemies comes far easier than actually loving them. The less-than-holy truth is that it is easy (or at least easier) to turn to God in prayer for the people who drive me nuts. The guy who cut me off in traffic. The trolls in the com boxes who tell me that I’m the reason marriage is dying. The person who constantly challenges every word I say. The person in the office who just grates on me. I can pray for them all, and while that prayer sometimes goes through clenched lips, the prayer comes. What doesn’t come so easily is actually loving them, but Jesus calls us to both.
It isn’t enough to simply pray for our enemies and those who persecute us, those who drive us nuts, make us want to pull our hair out, etc. If prayer were all it took then Jesus surely would have left out that bit about “love your enemies” but He didn’t. Just as faith without works is dead, so too prayer without love is meaningless. I can ask God all day long to make that person less annoying, but if I’m not willing to actually show them love then I’m not holding up my end of the bargain. God pours out more graces on each of us in a single day than we even realize. Those graces aren’t just for keeping us safe, they are to help us grow, to be holier versions of ourselves. As Pope Benedict XVI says, “The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.” Praying for our enemies is comfortable, and it gets half the job done. But we were not made merely for the comfort of prayer, we were made for the action and the love that comes with prayer.
Thèrèse of Lisieux describes prayer as “a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.” Prayer is a recognition of love, and love isn’t meant to leave us where we are, but to move us toward the source of Love. Prayer embraces the joy and the trial, including the trials of those who are our enemies. Jesus didn’t just pray for His enemies as He hung on the cross, He showed them love by the sweat of His brow and the blood He shed. Easier said than done, I know, but in the face of Christ, in His Passion, we see that merely praying for our enemies isn’t enough, we must love them. God calls us beyond the consolation, warm fuzzies, and pat-on-the-back-hooray-I-prayed-for-my-enemy feeling of prayer to the action of love. As C.S. Lewis reminds us, we are “to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” We are to love our enemies because He first loved us – enemy or not.
“I pray that you will understand the words of Jesus,
“Love one another as I have loved you.”
Ask yourself “How has he loved me?
Do I really love others in the same way?”
Blessed Mother Teresa