The hallmark of the Christian is not one who has no enemies, but one whose enemies cannot disturb their inner peace. In his famous Sermon on the Mount (Luke 6), Jesus taught us that pathway to peace.
Like Teresa of Avila’s famous “interior castle,” this pathway is not linear, from point “A” to “B.” It is a maze of steppingstones through a series of rooms that lead to an innermost destination, which is God alone.
The first stepping stone is reconciliation how we choose to regard those who are no longer in relationship with us:
“But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.“
For most of us, our true enemies are not the nameless faceless on the other side of the ocean. Not even the anonymous, obnoxious commentators who troll our blogs and belittle our beliefs. By this definition, our enemies are those known to us. Therefore, if we are to follow Christ, we must begin by loving those who cause us pain by their proximity.
- The child whose choices cost us dearly.
- The associate whose whispered, underhanded machinations are difficult to confront.
- The “friend” who betrays out of her own self-interest.
For all these “enemies,” dear Lord, we pray for peace without and within.
Next, the stepping stone of detachment. We express our loving detachment not just in our thoughts, but in our very actions.
“To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic.”
For most of us, relinquishing our “rights,” up to and including our physical comforts, is one of the hardest forms of fasting. But it is the true path of humility and detachment, the place God can hear our petitions most clearly.
- The one who blindly ignores a mess or problem, leaving it for others to handle.
- Those who take credit for the ideas or efforts of others.
- Those who take advantage when we have the fewest resources to spare.
Lord, for all these “enemies,” we pray for your blessed abundance. And for our own willingness to let go.
With the next stepping stone, we take detachment to a whole new level . . . to generosity.
“Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
Why would Jesus give this advice? Why would he want us to leave ourselves open to be taken advantage of like this? Recently, I’ll admit, when I read the story of Pope Francis who offered to baptize the infant of the woman who had committed adultery, my first thought was: Why didn’t he, like Christ, tell her to “Go and sin no more?”
The answer is the next stepping stone: Imitate the mercy of Christ with those who know only too well their failings. They don’t need to be reminded of their weaknesses, but of the reason for their hope.
Lord, we pray for those who take without giving thought to what it costs us. Help us to find joy in the giving.
The final stepping stone is at the heart of all authentic love, which pours itself out not just in giving our possessions, but of our very selves in total self-giving, knowing that the more we give, the more we are emptied. And the more we are emptied, the more we will receive from God’s abundance.
“For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same. If you lend money to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit [is] that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, and get back the same amount.”
Lord, we are grateful for the opportunity to give as you gave, to love as you loved. Empty us of every last ounce of our own effort, so you can fill us more completely out of your abundance.
“But rather, love your enemies and do good to them, and lend expecting nothing back; then your reward will be great and you will be children of the Most High, for he himself is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as [also] your Father is merciful.”
STEPPING STONES FOR PEACE
And so, dear Lord, we offer our prayer for mercy.
Mercy without and mercy within.
Mercy near and mercy far, mercy deep and wide.
Mercy for those who know their need for it,
And mercy for those who will understand only in eternity.
Send your Spirit over these troubled waters and burning nations.
Do not let us destroy ourselves through our own pride and ignorance,
But enlighten and heal, and raise us up,
Illuminated by the Light of the World shining within us.
Have mercy on us, and on the whole world. Amen.