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Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J., Ph.D.May 10, 20244 min read

Fr. Spitzer on How to Pray for Your Enemies and Forgive

Jesus encourages us to pray for our enemies and forgive one another from the heart; He tells us to forgive seventy-seven times (Mt. 18: 21-22) and to ask the Father to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Mt. 6:12).

It will probably come as no surprise that Jesus mentions this more often than any other commandment, injunction, or prescription in the New Testament. Why? Violence begets violence, vengeance begets vengeance, and resentment begets resentment, and the cycle will continue and grow so long as one of the offended parties does not let go.

If one party does let go (forgives), the cycle frequently devolves, and forgiving eventually turns into forgetting. As you know, forgiving—the intention to let go of an offense intentionally and unjustly perpetrated against us—takes far less time than forgetting. 

In any case, one thing is clear: without forgiving, forgetting is impossible. Indeed, the opposite occurs. The memory of an offense seems to mushroom in its proportions and emotional discharge.

How to Pray for Your Enemies: A Prayer

When I am in a “non-forgiving mood,” I tend to exaggerate all the destructive features of memory, omit all the good features of the perpetrator, and attempt to construct a scenario whereby the demon-other has perpetrated the unforgivable—then I get good and mad. Without forgiveness, reliving a scenario seems to worsen with every self-retelling. This prayer has helped me immensely in this regard:

“Lord, You are the just Judge. You take care of it.”

A Time I Discovered the Power of Praying for Your Enemies

I remember the time I discovered this prayer. I had written a philosophical paper, and a colleague criticized it behind me. When I publicly read the paper, I gave ample opportunity for questions and even submitted it to selected individuals before reading it. This particular colleague said nothing. But a few days later, he was not only critical of the paper but also of me.

When someone brought this to my attention, I was pretty angry. Even after I had redressed the criticism in writing, I felt no relief, and my anger began to grow.

Every time I opened my breviary, this person’s face suddenly appeared. Instead of taking God's hint, I stew in my anger. Finally, it occurred to me that this was only hurting me, and furthermore, it might cause me to say something I would regret, so I had to face it.

Letting the Holy Spirit Do the Work

I first tried to face it alone: “Okay, now I’m going to stop thinking about this, and I’m going to forgive this person from the heart.” However, every time I tried the “solo method,” I found about a half-second of peace followed by an intense burst of anger. I was quite helpless.

Finally, it occurred to me—why not let God help? So I continued the prayer:

“Okay, Lord, You’re the just Judge. You can see into the hearts of every human being. You understand our history and our failings. You can effect reconciliation where mere mortals cannot. Okay, You take care of him; in fact, You take care of the whole situation—please.”

Unbelievable peace began to come over me. By putting this person (and the past situation) into God’s hands, I allowed the Holy Spirit to work His reconciling love through His infinite providence in my heart. In letting go (into God’s hands), I could eventually forget. In the forgetting, I could not only find peace but also smile at and acknowledge the person who had offended me.

This is a powerful prayer, and I have used it often. The immense reconciling love of the Holy Spirit cannot be underestimated in its power to transform and bring peace. 

How Praying for Your Enemies Helps in Life and Leadership 

Jesus admonishes us to “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Lk 6:27-28). Paul does the same by saying, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.” (Rm 12:20). In both my life and leadership positions, I have found no greater advice.

What at first appeared to be virtually impossible (and purely ironical), I have found to be not only possible but utterly efficacious and transformative. Throughout my career, I have conflicted with people (sometimes justifiably, sometimes not). I have seen how these conflicts can intensify in emotion when people continue to think the worst about one another.

These emotions can become so heightened that it seems impossible to reconcile (or even communicate) with the conflicting parties.

When this occurs, I begin my campaign to pray for those who feel highly angered by me or are trying to harm me. I ask at least three or four times daily that the Lord enter their hearts, show them His love, and bring them to Himself.

The response of praying for enemies is remarkable. Most of the time, the person I pray to will show a marked decrease in hostility within days. Sometimes, they are open to compromise and even manifest understanding and compassion for me and my position.

Ask the Holy Spirit to Help You Pray for Your Enemies

This connection between prayer and completely unexpected results is so highly correlative that I recommend that people practice it to effect reconciliation and to see firsthand the power of prayer! For help praying for your enemies, see my article, "Fr. Spitzer’s Prayers of Forgiveness." See also a discussion of forgiveness on EWTN's "Father Spitzer's Universe" below:


Again, the power of the Holy Spirit to work through the hearts of intrinsically dignified human beings and to draw them toward the love for which they were created cannot be underestimated.

*Originally Published on August 31, 2020


Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J., Ph.D.

Fr. Robert J. Spitzer, S.J., Ph.D. is a Catholic Priest in the Jesuit order (Society of Jesus) and is currently the President of the Magis Center and the Spitzer Center. He has made many TV appearances including: Larry King Live (debating Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow), the Today Show (debating on the topic of active euthanasia), The History Channel in “God and The Universe,” a multiple part PBS series “Closer to the Truth,” and the Hugh Hewitt Show. Currently appearing weekly on EWTN in “Father Spitzer’s Universe“.