If we want to follow the pilgrimage of prayer all the way to the end, we must not be frightened by the threats of the world. We have already seen how St. John of the Cross calls such worldly forces wild animals. They try to frighten the prayerful man or woman because these forces are frightened of the holiness of God. The trick to not succumbing to fear is to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and His great love for us. This means we must search for His love everywhere, even in those places where it seems most absent. What does that mean? St. John of the Cross says “where there is no love, put love, and you will draw out love.”
It is in this radical availability to God that the Lord is achieving His greatest work: the perfection of His creation is the human person fully alive. Human beatitude is the ultimate purpose of God’s creative and salvific act. Such beatitude is not brought about by rising above our frail humanity but by becoming more vulnerably human. To thrive, to really live to the fullest, one must become fully oneself, fully human.
Forgiveness and Beginning to Pray
One obstacle to beginning to pray and living within is the struggle to forgive. Whenever someone hurts us in a serious way, there is a spiritual wound that remains. As we begin to pray, it is common that we find ourselves going back over these wounds again and again. What is most frustrating is that many times we thought we had already forgiven the person who hurt us. But when the memory comes back, we can sometimes feel the anger and the pain all over again.
What do we do with the wounds so that they no longer impede our ability to pray? The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, “It is not in our power not to feel or forget an offense; but the heart that offers itself to the Holy Spirit turns injury into compassion and purifies the memory in transforming hurt into intercession” (#2843).
Beginning to pray for those who have hurt us is difficult. In Scriptural terms, those who hurt us are our enemies, and this is true even when they are friends and close family members. Christ commands us to love our enemies and to do good to those who persecute us. Betrayal, abandonment, indifference, scandal, abuse, scorn, sarcasm, ridicule, detraction, and insult — these are all bitter things to forgive. The Lord grieves with us and for us when we suffer these things. He has permitted us to suffer them for a profound reason.
The Lord explained to his disciples that those who hunger and thirst for the sake of justice, those who are merciful, and especially those who are persecuted for righteousness and for the Lord, are blessed. Their mysterious beatitude only makes sense when we see through the eyes of faith the injustice and persecution they have endured. Somehow, trusting in God in the midst of such things makes them in the likeness of Christ. Trusting God means to pray for those who harm us, to seek to return good for evil. When this act of trust is made, the power of God is released in humanity. For two thousand years, this is what every martyr for our faith has revealed to the Church.
God Permits the Persecution of those He Loves
In his mysterious wisdom and profound love, when the Father allows someone to hurt or oppose us in some way, He is entrusting that person to our prayers. When our enemy causes us to suffer unjustly, our faith tells us that this was allowed to happen so that we might participate in the mystery of the Cross. Somehow, like those who offered their lives for our faith, the mystery of redemption is being renewed through our own sufferings.
We have a special authority over the soul of someone who causes us great sorrow. Their actions have bound them to us in the mercy of God. Mercy is love that suffers the evil of another to affirm his dignity so that he does not have to suffer alone. Whenever someone hurts us physically or even emotionally, he has demeaned himself even more. He is even more in need of mercy.
From this perspective, the injury our enemies have caused us can be a gateway for us to embrace the even greater sufferings with which their hearts are burdened. Because of this relationship, our prayers on their behalf have a particular power. The Father hears these prayers because prayer for our enemies enters deep into the mystery of the Cross.
-from Hidden Mountain, Secret Garden: A Theological Contemplation on Prayer by Anthony Lilles (Ch. Ten: Prayer and Mercy, pp. 170-172)