Praying for our enemies can heal our hearts: that was Pope Francis’ message at Mass in the Casa Santa Marta chapel on Tuesday morning. Recalling his own childhood in Argentina, when people prayed that dictators would go to hell, the pope recalled how Jesus himself tells us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us.
Reflecting on the Gospel reading from St. Matthew where Jesus tells his disciples to love their enemies, Pope Francis noted that this instruction was in contrast to what the doctors of the law taught in those days: “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” The Jewish law, he said, was being taught in a way that was too theoretical, based only on the letter of the law and not on the love of God at the heart of that law.
For this reason, the pope said, Jesus repeats the most important commandment of the Old Testament: Love your God with all your heart, and with all your strength, and with all your soul, and your neighbour as yourself. This was not at the heart of what the doctors of the law were teaching, he said. They were only worried about details and individual cases, but Jesus shows the true sense of the law which he came to fulfill.
The pope noted how Jesus offers many examples to show the commandments in a new light and to prove that love is more generous than the letter of the law. From ‘Do not kill’ meaning don’t insult or be angry with your brother, to the instructions to give your coat to the person who demands your shirt, or go the extra mile with the person who wants to be accompanied for one mile.
This is not just for the fulfillment of the law, the pope said, but it also helps to heal our hearts. In Jesus’ explanations of the commandments, especially in St. Matthew’s Gospel, he said, there is a journey of healing. Every heart wounded by sin—as each one of us has—must undertake this journey of healing in order to be more like our “heavenly Father (who) is perfect.”
The last and most difficult step on this journey towards perfection, Pope Francis said, is contained in Jesus’ words from today’s reading: “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.” The pope recalled that as a child, people used to pray for God to send the dictators of that period to hell, but instead, he said, God calls us to examine our consciences and to pray for our enemies.
May the Lord give us grace, he concluded, to pray for those individuals who hurt and persecute us. The power of prayer, the pope said, will do two things: it will change that person for the better and it will make us become more like children of our heavenly Father.