Editorial: We are called to love, pray for our enemies

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People mourn at the graveside of Eden Guez during her funeral in Ashkelon, Israel, on Oct. 10, 2023. She was killed while attending a festival that was attacked by Hamas gunmen from Gaza. OSV News photo/Violeta Santos Moura, Reuters

What does it mean to pray for peace?

As Catholics, peace is a state of being that we strive to attain. We wish each other peace in Mass each Sunday. The priest bids us to go in peace as we depart back into the secular world.

In its guidance on Catholic social teaching, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops reminds us that, “Our love for all our sisters and brothers demands that we promote peace in a world surrounded by violence and conflict.”

As heartbreaking violence in and around Jerusalem continues to unfold, more innocent lives are lost. In one week of fighting between the Israeli military and Hamas, thousands have been killed and injured—more civilians than soldiers—on both sides of the conflict. It seems we’re moving further from lasting peace among our brothers and sisters around the world. We can easily call to mind other conflicts that occupy a place of prominence in our prayers, like the ongoing Russia-Ukraine War.

Just as Pope Francis has urged us to pray for peace for the Ukrainian and Russian people since the beginning of the conflict in February 2022, he has passionately proclaimed that same message once again.

“May the attacks and weaponry cease. Please!” he said, during his general audience on Sunday, Oct. 8. “And let it be understood that terrorism and war do not lead to any resolutions but only to the death and suffering of so many innocent people.”

So, how do we help that to be understood? What does it mean to pray for peace?

It means that we must lean into our call as Christians to pray bold, audacious prayers. In the case of these deadly conflicts, we are naturally inclined to pray for the victims. We are also called to pray for those who have brought a new round of devastation upon the region. We are called to pray for our enemy.

This is a call we received from Christ Himself.

Jesus says in the Gospel of Matthew (5:43-48), “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.

“For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same?

So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

To evolve our prayers for peace to the next level, to bring them closer to perfection, we must embrace the words of Christ. Yes, it is difficult, but, what would Jesus do?

We in the Diocese of Nashville pray for all involved in the devastating events that continue to plague the Holy Land, both our neighbors and those many perceive to be the enemy. We encourage all Christians and those who wish the fighting to stop to do the same.

That is what it means to pray for peace.

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