“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven”. -Matthew 5: 44-45
Once upon a time I had a job outside the home, a career even. As a middle school teacher at a Catholic school, I enjoyed my job, but there were a few days out of the year I loathed. Two of these days were our staff retreats. You see there are few things more torturous to a teacher than to use one of her days without students, namely the day before Thanksgiving, as a day to put her in a room full of crabby women and insist she do ice-breakers and reflections.
Sounds awful right?
Ok, maybe I just didn’t have the right outlook. At least that’s what I told myself the morning of one of these said retreats in 2007. I reminded myself that some people would love the opportunity to get paid to attend a spiritual retreat. So, I pulled up my big girl pants and went in with as much of a positive attitude as I could muster.
Our retreat started out with Holy Mass and there must have been some sort of staff meeting and speaker, but I don’t remember any of those things. I do remember though what Fr. Sean Kilcawley asked me to do for our meditation, and what he asked of us seemed utterly impossible to me.
He asked us to pray for the student, the parent, or the situation we were most struggling with in that moment. He asked us to pray for our adversaries, our enemies. This of course made sense, and it’s something we often hear, but what struck me was how he asked us to pray. Now, I must unfortunately paraphrase and hope that the Holy Spirit can guide me to explain with His words; Fr. Kilcawley asked us to, “use the power of the rosary and the Holy Mother’s guidance in conjunction with the Sorrowful Mysteries to gain a better perspective of your enemy’s life and your role in it.”
Wait. What? I had to consider the pain of a person whose very presence made my skin crawl? Not cool Father, not cool. But like I said, I had put on my big girl pants that day, so I told myself it was time to attach the suspenders and get over it.
So, there I sat, rosary in hand, ready to pray. I knew whom God was calling me to pray for, and even admitting that was rough for me. I didn’t want to pray for this person, in fact I didn’t even want to think of this person on my “day off”. But believe me when I tell you, that this was one of the most powerful prayer experiences of my life.
I began the rosary, with much trepidation. This time as I came to each Sorrowful Mystery, not only was I asked to ponder the sorrow of Mary, but Father had asked me to consider how each mystery could relate to my “enemy’s” life and the crosses that he or she might have to bear.
The Agony in the Garden, The Scourging at the Pillar, The Crowning with Thorns, The Carrying of the Cross, and finally The Crucifixion; as I progressed through the rosary, I found myself becoming more and more compassionate toward my enemy. I will admit that the most difficult mystery for me was The Crowning with Thorns, and I must have pondered that for a good 5 minutes before coming up with something, but just those five minutes of considering someone else’s hardships was so important to changing my heart. I did my best to imagine my enemy dressed as Jesus, with Jesus’ wounds and with our Blessed Mother crying tears of sorrow for his pain.
By the end of the rosary, I truly felt my heart had changed. Not only did I feel differently about this person, but I felt different, period. It was one of the most intense prayers I had participated in up to that point in my prayer life, and I left the church feeling as though God had really heard me.
If you would like to implement this meditation in your prayer life, here are some ideas to get you started. I fully concede that this may not be easy for you at first, but it will aid you in letting go and giving full control over to God.
Agony in the Garden – How has your enemy agonized over decisions that he or she has made? When they have made decisions that upset you, were they easy choices for that person to make?
The Scourging at the Pillar – What emotional, physical, verbal, or spiritual abuse has your enemy suffered, both in his or her past or currently? Have you caused any of this abuse?
The Crowning with Thorns – How has your enemy been made fun of, or mocked in his or her life? Does your enemy make choices you disagree with in order to save face or because of peer pressure?
The Carrying of the Cross – What crosses does your enemy have to bear alone? Has your enemy asked you for help carrying these crosses, and have you refused? Are you a cross for your enemy to bear?
The Crucifixion – How have you crucified your enemy? Have you allowed your enemy to get down from the cross?
I think about this prayer often when I am in disagreement with someone, or when there is a person whom I just cannot trust. I often use this as a last resort prayer, because to me it is so powerful and it is serious spiritual work. But, when I do pray for my enemies using this prayer, my heart is changed.
We know we cannot change anyone else, but we can soften our hearts and pray for others.