Beyond “Eye for an Eye”
Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.—Matthew 5:44
The weird thing about writing a column like this is the time lag between when I write it and when you read it. As I write this column in May, it has just been announced that Osama bin Laden is dead. You’ll read this column near the tenth anniversary of 9/11. Between my now and your now, God only knows what will happen. Will the world become a more peaceful place?
I remember September 11, 2001, as clearly as I remember any day of my life. We were about to start our Tuesday-morning staff meeting when one of the parish priests called us into the rectory living room where he had been watching the news. We sat together—taking in the horrific images that millions will never forget.
Instead of having a staff meeting, we prepared for an evening Mass. After hurried planning and notifying our local radio station, we were ready for the people who streamed into our church, some saying the rosary. We sang the opening song of the Mass—“Be Not Afraid.” My pastor, who had struggled most of the day with his homily, chose a passage from the Gospel of Matthew, recounting the events of the Sermon on the Mount. “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). It took courage to choose this Gospel. Most of us weren’t in a forgiving mood.
Following Osama bin Laden’s death, news outlets and social-networking sites showed images of people celebrating and dancing in the streets. Against the tide of such high feeling, a thoughtful statement was issued the next day by Federico Lombardi, SJ, director of the Vatican Press Office: “A Christian never takes pleasure from the fact of a man’s death, but sees it as an opportunity to reflect on each person’s responsibility, before God and humanity, and to hope and commit oneself to seeing that no event become another occasion to disseminate hate but rather to foster peace” (Vatican Information Service, May 2, 2011).
The death of an enemy is not cause for rejoicing. Relief, perhaps. Reflection, certainly. How else are we to move beyond the eye-for-an-eye attitude that seems to dominate our world? We are Christians. We are supposed to do what Jesus would do. We are supposed to be Jesus in this world. Thank God for those who remind us of these enduring truths when we may be tempted to get caught up in the mob mentality of the moment. c
Perhaps you will join me in saying this prayer on September 11:
Help me to want what Jesus wants.
Loving God, I pray for those who are the enemies of my nation:
for those who planned and executed the attack on 9/11,
for all those who would do us harm.
I pray for my personal enemies, too:
for those who have hurt me or my loved ones.
I pray in Jesus’ name because I love him.
Help me to want what Jesus wants. Amen.
From Prayers for Our Country © 2007 Liguori Publications