Prayer for Enemies

We often think that in the “good old days” of the early Church there were no conflicts and disagreements. Wrong!  The saints whom we celebrated on August 13 show that strong divisions were part of the early Church. St. Hippolytus was a theologian whose liturgical prayers became the basis of Eucharistic Prayer II in the Roman Missal.  He considered Pope Callistus “soft” on heresy and had himself declared pope, the first “anti-pope” in history.  He continued to oppose Callistus’ successors, Popes Urban I and Pontian. During a persecution in the year 235 Hippolytus and Pontian were both exiled to the mines of Sardinia where they died from the mistreatment they received and hence are considered martyrs or witnesses to the faith.  Tradition has it that Pontian abdicated so that the Church would not be without a shepherd while he was in exile and that the two were reconciled before they died.

How should we deal with conflicts? Jesus gives instructions in Matthew 18: 15-20. He says that if a brother or sister in Christ sins against you, you should first discuss the matter with that person. If you do not receive a hearing, then bring one or two witnesses with you and confront the person. This is similar to what we call an “intervention” today. If the person still refuses to listen and to accept responsibility, then you are to “tell the Church”—go to a higher authority within the Christian community.  And if that doesn’t work, then Jesus says “treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.” 

This sounds pretty negative.  But remember how Jesus treated tax collectors and Gentiles like the Roman Centurion? He called a tax collector to follow him and he brought mercy and healing to another one, Zacchaeus. He healed the Centurion’s servant and commended that Roman’s great faith.  Jesus loved tax collectors and Gentiles.  Ultimately, he died for them.

Perhaps the way to interpret these words of Jesus is in light of the entire Gospel message which includes the challenge to love our enemies and to pray for them.

Jesus is Mercy Incarnate. The Good News he brought is that God loves us very much. The Son of God suffered, died, and rose not only to bring mercy but to give us the power to forgive as well.  Conflicts are not new but the power to forgive is ever-new and ever-present through Jesus present in the Sacraments.

How should we treat those with whom we are in conflict? Even if the conflict continues, we should "will" their good and pray for them, for their conversion and salvation.