On this day, I am reminded of an experience that led me to the ability to pray for my enemies and those who persecute me, as well as see them as children of God and deserving of love.
On an anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 (I think it was the fifth anniversary), I was watching a special on the terrorist attacks. Okay, maybe I watched several of them after the kids were in bed. I remember watching one documentary about the people on the planes which focused in on the phone call between Betty Ong and ground control, which ended this way:
…Still on the phone at 8:45, with the plane flying very low and ground controllers attempting to determine its location, she told them chillingly, “I see the water. I see the buildings. I see buildings.” After a pause, she said quietly, “Oh, my God.” At about the same time, Betty Ong was repeatedly saying, “Pray for us. Pray for us.” …
I was so angry when the specials were over. It was so raw inside of me, and I cried for those who had died, but muttered of those who did it, “God damn them all. God damn them to Hell.”
I went to bed, praying a Rosary. I was alone that night, as my husband was on a business trip, so I whispered my prayers aloud, unable to sleep at all. And then it happened, right in the middle of the first decade. I heard a voice inside of me say:
Pray for the terrorists.
NO. I thought. No, I won’t. I won’t pray for them.
But the voice kept insisting, again and again. I kept hearing it.
Pray for the terrorists.
And so in the second decade of the Rosary, I started to pray for them, too, sobbing as I did so. I didn’t want to pray for them, but I understood that, as a Christian, I had no choice if I were to truly follow the Man who prayed for those who killed Him on a cross.
That was the first time I’d ever prayed for someone that I had actively hated. There were times my guardian angel seemed to remind me, especially when I was particularly angry, that I needed to pray for my enemies – for those who persecuted me. And I would do it at the prompting.
Eventually, it wasn’t as hard as it was at the start. I’d feel the prompting, so much more subtle than it was before, and I’d say a prayer for someone who had committed evil. I would pray for a murderer, pray for those who committed crimes, for those who worked in abortion clinics…
Slowly but surely, God was removing my stony heart and putting in its place a new one, replacing my hard spirit with His own. I was learning to love as God loves.
But I didn’t realize what God had done to my heart until the day that George Tiller was murdered in the narthex of his church. I heard of his murder and the very first thought I had was, “Oh, God have mercy on his soul! I hope he repented!” and I prayed for his soul on the spot. No prompting necessary.
This is not at all my doing. It’s not a natural thing to pray for someone who hates you, who hurts you. It’s not a normal reaction to forgive someone or to pray that they can still go to Heaven when they die, even if they don’t show any sign of remorse or repentance.
But living in Christ gives us the ability to live a supernatural life, to imitate the One Who, as He died a horrible death, prayed that His Father in Heaven would forgive the people mocking Him at that very moment.
Each year, on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania, I pray for the victims of the attacks, the survivors, and those who perpetrated the attacks. And I don’t do it because I’m any kind of extra-good person, but because I have allowed God to refine me so that I might conform to His will.
I’m certainly not perfect in this respect, and I have a long way to go, but I am working towards not just loving my enemies and praying for them, but also forgiving more freely than I have in the past. I pray for the ability to do this because I know that holding on to my hatred of others is pointless. It does nothing but poison my own soul and keep me from loving God properly.
If you’re having trouble forgiving, start by praying for those who have hurt you. If you can’t do that, then begin by praying for yourself – that you’ll have the strength to pray for your enemies. God can work wonders, if only we ask Him for the graces we need to overcome our weak, human nature.