Praying for our (imagined) enemies

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Overcoming the temptation to see life as a series of struggles

When I was just 3 years old, my happy family — my mother, my father, me and the dog — was subjected to the gravest of threats: the birth of my sister. Immediately upon her arrival, she began consuming precious resources like time, attention and food. Because my grandfather was a postman, I knew how the mail worked. Upon realizing that this small interloper had no intention of leaving, I took up the issue with my mother and proposed a win-win solution: “Can we put the baby in the mailbox?”

As adults, we laugh at the foolishness of our sibling rivalries. Unfortunately, sometimes our thinking about neighbors, coworkers and others can become just as defined by rivalry.

The narrative of conflict

We should expect to be tempted toward this sort of thinking. Original sin predisposes us to fear and anxiety. Also, we are awash in unhelpful political, cultural and social narratives.

Though often unacknowledged, many of these narratives are influenced by thinking like that of the 19th-century German philosopher Hegel. Hegel saw the world as the product of a struggle between competing forces, not unlike Darwin’s description of species striving against one another in an evolutionary struggle for survival.

Much of our social and political conversation adopts this interpretive key: international affairs as the struggle between nations, politics as the struggle between progressive and conservative, economics as the struggle between corporations — with change as “creative destruction,” the new order pushing out the old. This narrative of conflict even creeps into the way some people understand the relationship between men and women.

Our faith is not blind to the reality of conflict. Jesus preached about it early and often. However, our Lord never accepts conflict as the defining narrative of creation. Unlike Hegel, who saw the world shaped by synthesis resulting from the conflict of thesis and antithesis, Jesus was Lord before creation came into being, is Lord now and will be Lord forevermore. Satan may struggle against God, but he is never anything more than a creature. Evil has no power of its own; it is only deficiency of goodness.

God is Lord of creation

Jesus, as Lord of creation, tells us to love rather than hate our enemies. As a child, I eventually came to realize that my request to put my little sister in the mailbox may have been unreasonable. Over time, I began to realize that it was fun having her around.

God’s plan for creation is like this. Though the lion does not yet lie down with the lamb, and conflict is part of life, we cannot let it distort our thinking.

This means that we need to take an active role in correcting the lens through which we see the world. We need to be critical about what we listen to, read and watch. Most of our popular entertainment and commentary accentuates and even provokes conflict while paying little or no attention to God as Lord of creation.

In the same way that we sometimes need to count our calories to improve our diet, it’s a good idea to take an accounting of how much time we spend watching, reading or listening to things that fail to acknowledge God as Lord of creation. We should make sure that the amount of time we spend at Mass, adoration and prayer is greater. We need to give our Lord more time to inform our perception of the world.

We also need to take seriously Jesus’ admonition to pray for our enemies. Praying for our enemies reminds us that God loves them, too. It makes us realize that God is working through them just as he is working through us, and it opens our hearts to the possibility that God’s plan for us transcends what we expect.

Jesus’ inner circle included Zealots, Pharisees and tax collectors — people who, before they met him, agreed on very little. Once they began following Jesus, everything changed. Jesus put everything into perspective and, despite their differences, helped them see one another as brothers and sisters. If we give him the time to do so, he will do the same for us.

Northwest Catholic - July/August 2018

Deacon Eric Paige

Deacon Eric Paige is the Archdiocese of Seattle's executive director for evangelization, formation and discipleship. Contact him at eric.paige@seattlearch.org.