I’m not that old…and I’m not that young anymore. I remember the riots of the 60s, Son of Sam, and the horror of 9-11. And as bad as all those things were in the past, I’m seeing a disturbing increase of hatred and vitriol that is unprecedented in my lifetime.
We humans tend to try to simplify things. It makes life easier in some ways. Children’s stories do it all the time. There are good guys and there are bad guys. The dichotomy is clear.
But reality is not as black and white as fairy tales. There are many shades of gray. Villains sometimes change. And those that seem the holiest, can fall from grace.
The bottom line is we’re all wounded by Original Sin. Its principal effects are a darkened intellect and a weakened will. The same for actual sins. They leave us unable to see the truth right before us or without the strength to stand up for it.
When you see the world become more and more divided, it’s easy to get pulled into the vortex of hatred that threatens to consume us all—no matter where you stand on issues. Like the forbidden fruit offered to our first parents, it’s a trap set for our destruction. And just like that original temptation, the justification to hate is dangled before us as virtue, as something good, as something justified—even obligatory.
So, how do you avoid the hatred trap, especially when your anger is justified, your injuries real, or your moral perspective laudable? How can you be part of the solution and not a contributor to the problem?
Here are some suggestions:
1) Pray for your enemies and those who have hurt you.
Ok, I can’t take the credit for this one. It comes directly from Jesus. More than a lofty ideal, it is a clear directive for each of us. Is it easy? Nope, not at first. It may take a lot to get on board. You may have to fight against rage and revulsion. You may come up with all sorts of reasons how in this particular case, you’re exempt. The pain you experienced or the evil you see is so egregious that he could not possibly have meant that to be included. You may feel like you’re letting the wicked off the hook. You may believe there are others way more deserving of your prayers. Yup. I’ve been there. It may be one of the hardest things you ever have to do. But you need to do it. Jesus wasn’t kidding.
But how do you pray for your enemies?
2) Picture your enemies as children.
We all start out the same—created good in the image of our Heavenly Father. But stuff happens. Hurts leave us wounded and angry. Disappointments leave us disillusioned. We make choices—some good, some wicked. And out of those hurts we often hurt others. We’re all easily led astray and confused.
Remember Ebenezer Scrooge? A hardened, nasty, unfeeling individual. It’s easy to judge him…he was clearly one of the bad guys. But the ghost of Christmas Past sheds light on the young, sad Ebenezer. And our hearts are moved.
Whether it’s a parent that hurt you, a teacher, or a political figure you abhor, try to imagine the hurting child within them. Then pray.
3) Think of your own sins.
If you were to do a truly thorough examination of conscience, what would you find? Are there secrets you wouldn’t want anyone to know? Ugly attitudes and nasty thoughts you harbor within? Indiscretions of youth that you’ve written off? What was the worst thing you’ve ever done?
4) Meditate on the Cross.
With your own sins in mind, meditate on the passion of Jesus; the agony he experienced in the garden as all of the world’s sins—your own dirty little secrets were laid before him. Imagine your own sins as the nails that were driven into his hands and feet. We don’t often think of our sins that way. We compare them to worse ones and let ourselves off rather easily. How many confessions start with “Well, I didn’t kill anyone.” Only you did. We all did.
Now, contemplate his blood pouring out. His agony. His struggle to breathe as he said the words “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” I used to bristle when I read that. How could those soldiers do that and not know? But then I think of my own sins—the magnitude of evil when compared to his Divine Goodness. I didn’t know my sins did that to him…or at least I didn’t when I committed them. Darkened intellect. Weakened will. The sad human story.
5) Think about the Saints.
I don’t know who coined this phrase but it’s spot on: “Show me a great saint and I’ll show you a great sinner.” History is replete with amazing saints who were once terrible sinners. St. Augustine fathered a child out of wedlock and dabbled in the occult. St. Paul sought out and persecuted Christians. St. Mary Magdalene was a prostitute—and yet the first person to whom Christ appeared after the Resurrection. They’re the most well-known. But check out this list of depravity of all-stars.
Which of today’s modern villains will make that list of sinners-gone-saint? Will you? God does raise the unlikeliest heroes.
6) Go to Confession.
With the above in mind, make a searching and fearless moral inventory and get to confession. You may still struggle with anger…that’s a feeling and you’re human. But confession is where you’ll receive the graces to overcome anger and forgive.
7) Pray for your enemies and those who have hurt you.
Yep, we’re back to step one. Persevere in prayer for those who have hurt you and for your enemies, whoever they are. God can do amazing things to convert a soul. By praying for your enemies you become part of the solution and not a bigger part of the problem. Hating helps no one. When your emotions are strong, remember his grace is stronger.
Then no matter what happens, freed of the burden of hatred and anger, you’ll find that peace that surpasses all understanding.