Duccio di Buoninsegna, “Christ Accused by the Pharisees,” c. 1310 (Public Domain)
“When we pray, do we speak from the height of our pride and will, or ‘out of the depths’ of a humble and contrite heart? He who humbles himself will be exalted; humility is the foundation of prayer...” (CCC 2559)
I want you to know that I am praying for you. I hope you are getting professional help so that you don’t have to be so insecure, which everyone can plainly see.
This is the gist from an email sent to a friend’s daughter—a knife alongside a prayer. There is a back story, but back stories that disfigure prayers hurt both parties. The daughter who received it felt ridiculed, not loved.
Whenever our intention is to hurt, we hurt ourselves the most. God never said: “Do me a favor and get revenge.” He specifically told us to back off. “Beloved, do not look for revenge but leave room for the wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’” (Romans 12:19).
Jesus told us to love one another and forgive each other our hurts. He also said that “the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you” (Matthew 7:20). So if instead of hurting those that hurt us, we pray for them, we heap love and mercy upon our very selves.
It may be alarming for many to realize that failing to strive to forgive, opens us up to the demonic. I have heard this from exorcists during past interviews. A wound that festers is an opportunity for the devil to influence a person to anger and revenge. That is exactly the reaction the devil wants. But instead, if we invite Christ into those wounds, he offers supernatural healing. It is not a one-and-done scenario, but something that requires an ongoing relationship with Christ and asking for his help to forgive and heal.
Pride, revenge, gossip and unforgiveness contained in a prayer is no prayer at all. Below are five ways we hide behind the cover of prayer while in reality we do what the devil wants: sin.
1. Using prayer as a concealed weapon. As in the example above, it is used as a way to strike with the intent to harm under the guise of prayer.
2. Prayer as a cover for gossip. Venting or blabbing information, disguised by the excuse that you’re asking for prayers for the person. This is just plain gossip.
3. Bragging to God about how great you are. It was the way the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14 prayed when he compared himself against the tax collector.
Jesus told this parable: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
4. Expecting God to give you a front row seat to someone’s punishment. This is a meme currently floating around: “No need for revenge. Just sit back and wait. Those who hurt you will eventually screw up themselves and if you’re lucky, God will let you watch.”
Looking forward to the pain of others is a desire for revenge. And why in heaven’s name would anyone expect God to arrange for them to watch and enjoy someone’s personal pain?
5. Praying for God’s punishment on someone. “Dear Lord, I pray for her to be strong enough to handle the punishment you will send her.” Someone once suggested we pray together about a shared difficulty and that is what was expressed. Such an intention has the attitude of conferencing in with God, that the punishment is understood between us, and we are so kind as to wish them well while they suffer.
We all know the feeling of resentment and the temptation to lash out. It is only through the teachings of Jesus that we can pull back from it. Sometimes it is very hard to pray for someone who hurt us. All the more pleasing it must be to God, for it is not easy and done out of obedience and faith.
Dear Lord, help us to pray with a humble heart; to be edified and to love others through prayer. And when it’s hard for us to pray, please send your angels to lift us up and your Blessed Mother to help form our hearts,t so that our prayers will be productive and pleasing to you.