ASK FATHER: Can we ask God to strike down enemies?

michael_fighting_the_dragon1From a reader:

Is it a sin to ask God to strike down an enemy of the Church?

Christ the Lord has commanded us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44).

Love for “enemy” comes in different forms.  It can be expressed different ways.  That said, we must be vigilant that hatred toward our enemies is vigorously resisted.  We obey Our Lord.

Love for our enemies does not mean that we wish them to prosper.  It means that we will their good. We will their salvation.

If they are our enemies because they are opposed to the Church, opposed to goodness, then our love for them means that we desire they be converted.

Can we – ought we – pray that God strike down the enemies of the Church?

Holy Scripture is full of prayers offered for the defeat of the enemies of God.

The unfashionable “maledictory – cursing – psalms” (5, 6, 11, 12, 35, 37, 40 52, 54, 56, 58, 69, 79, 83, 137, 139, and 143) call for judgment and disaster to fall upon the enemies of God and God’s people.  Many of these psalms were “edited” or even wholly excluded from the revised psalter used in the Liturgy of the Hours, but that’s a different crock of bagna cauda.

We certainly are within our rights to use the psalms in our prayers.

There are many traditional prayers that ask God to visit calamity upon our enemies. The underlying implication of course is a desire for the protection of the Church and the conversion of those who oppose her. Let us not become like the Prophet Jonah, who was so desirous of seeing the destruction of evil Nineveh that he was disappointed that Nineveh repented, converted, and did penance.

We pray for the protection of Our Holy Mother the Church against all enemies.  We pray that those who oppose Her be stopped.

Perhaps the firearms training many of us have undertaken is helpful as an analogy.  First, you seek to avoid conflicts or deescalate them.  When you can’t avoid violence you try to discern the level actually needed.  Of course, this sometimes must happens in seconds.  In the case that you are forced to act in defense of your life or the lives of others, you use deadly force to stop the threat.  That means you shoot effectively to stop the threat.  You don’t try to shoot the gun out of the enemy’s hand (this isn’t TV).  You don’t shoot to hit the leg (because, again, this isn’t TV).  You shoot center mass, to do maximum damage so the threat will stop, because … that’s the point you are at.  You don’t shoot “to kill”.  Shoot (or whatever) so that the clear, present danger to life and limb is no longer a threat.  If a punch in the face or a kick in the ‘nads is enough, and the threat stops, then stop there. Stop punching and kicking.

That’s an analogy from a few horrifying seconds of immediately conflict or threat.  In prolonged situations, we have time to analyze our motives and consciences.

If the actions of enemies reveal that you (Church, country, families) won’t be safe without them losing the ability to breathe… then we purify our motive, ask God for help (for us to be effective and to not sin, and against or upon them to give them graces and/or sufferings adequete to change their minds and hearts.

It is one thing to turn one’s own cheek.  It is another to turn the cheeks of your wife and child and all your neighbors.

In our prayer we desire the conversion of hearts.  When our enemies do convert, rather than continuing to seek bloody revenge, we rejoice in the magnificent grace of Almighty God who desires not the death of the sinner, but that he be converted and live. (Ezechiel 33:11)

We must examine our consciences and purify them.


Aedificantium enim unusquisque gladio erat accinctus.

And now, a prayer. It’s from a movie, but it has some great elements.

Moderation is ON.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. jfk03 says:

    Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered: let them that hate him flee before his face. As smoke vanishes, so let them vanish away. As wax melts before the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God. But let the righteous be glad; let them rejoice before God: yea, let them exceedingly rejoice. (Psalm 67)

  2. Mike says:

    The bowdlerized post-Vatican-II Divine Office aside, there is plenty of grist in the Penitential Psalms (LXX 6, 31, 37, 50, 101, 129 and 142) as well. Save for 50 and perhaps 129, most of these do not seem to have merited much attention from modern liturgists.

  3. “We certainly are within our rights to use the psalms in our prayers. There are many traditional prayers that ask God to visit calamity upon our enemies.”

    In the Introduction (by Pius Parsch) to the Baronius edition of the 1962 Roman Breviary, we read that

    As Christians we may never wish evil upon a sinner directly and personally, but these [curse] psalms have nothing to do with personal enmities. The theme of all our praying is God’s kingdom and sin, and the curse passages in the psalms are expressions of absolute protest against evil, sin and hell. Try changing the curses into an expression of divine justice and you pronounce them no longer with your own mouth, but with the mouth of Christ and the Church. The curse thus resembles the woes that our Lord addressed against the Pharisees. There is something quite stirring and grand about these curses. The all-just God steps before us as we pray and warns us of the punishments of hell.

    In regard to Psalm 108 (109)—perhaps the most maledictory of all the so-called curse psalms and omitted entirely from the LOH psalter—he says that

    Psalm 108 is a curse formula and very difficult to reconcile with the Christian idea of prayer. Let us suppose that the Church or Christ Himself is praying this psalm. Then the curses become no longer wishes, but rather the solemn sentence of divine justice upon unwillingness to repent. With tears in her eyes the Church prays these terrible words–just as Jesus once declaimed his eightfold “Woe is you . . .” against the Pharisees. At the opening of the psalm, the Church laments. In the following two sections, where curses and punishments are asked for, a picture of the everlasting hell is painted for us. The petition which comprises the fourth part of the psalm can be a prayer of the individual soul; I stand terrified before the picture I have seen: “Have mercy on me, a poor weak mortal!”.

  4. KAS says:

    This is what I am doing about a problem person trying to turn my husband against the Church. His conversion would solve the problem in a way pleasing to God. I’ve a group of devout Catholic women praying for him and I hope to get some nuns on him too.

    And I will apply some of those psalms. The devil may be using this man to try and unsettle my marriage but I get ticked off when my family is under attack. I will happily pray those psalms for the fall of the enemy while also praying for the conversion of that same enemy. Honestly, it would be major awesome to see him leave the service of the devil and go back to God.

    I do the same with all the news of the evils being done by ISIS and the other groups like it– I pray for their utter destruction and the conversion of all of them. After all, if the men murdering Christians convert, ISIS is destroyed as much by losing all the people to conversion to Christianity as it is by fire and brimstone– and I find conversion far more satisfying a solution– after all, dead merely stops the evil they were doing, it doesn’t change anything much, but their conversion? Oh that can change far more than merely stopping murders.

  5. DeGaulle says:

    Father, how far can we go in terms of abortionists and their cadaverist?While desiring their conversion and doing our best to only hate what they do, would it be wrong to wish a plague or worse on the lot of them for the sake of their victims?

    [I like The Bux Protocol, which I have mentioned and suggested many times. Pray to St. Joseph to help the X either to open his eyes to to close them permanently.]

  6. dochm13 says:

    “Many of these psalms were “edited” or even wholly excluded from the revised psalter used in the Liturgy of the Hours, but that’s a different crock of bagna cauda.”
    True, and imagine the negative effect this has had on spiritual warfare.

    “First, you seek to avoid conflicts or deescalate them. When you can’t avoid violence you try to discern the level actually needed. Of course, this sometimes must happens in seconds. In the case that you are forced to act in defense of your life or the lives of others, you use deadly force to stop the threat. That means you shoot effectively to stop the threat. You don’t try to shoot the gun out of the enemy’s hand (this isn’t TV). You don’t shoot to hit the leg (because, again, this isn’t TV). You shoot center mass, to do maximum damage so the threat will stop, because … that’s the point you are at. You don’t shoot “to kill”. Shoot (or whatever) so that the clear, present danger to life and limb is no longer a threat. If a punch in the face or a kick in the ‘nads is enough, and the threat stops, then stop there. Stop punching and kicking.”

    You, sir, have received proper training. You might add some words regarding threat response vis a vis closing distance. Thanks for a great post!

    [Closing distance…! brrrrr. A shiver went down my spine with that. Many people don’t realize how fast an attacker can cover distance between you and where he was just a moment ago! If he gets to you with his hands or knife or… whatever and you are frozen or can’t act fast enough…. Add to that his weight (yes, laws of physic apply in self-defense situations) and perhaps drugs which keep the attacker from feeling damage and pain (yes, biology and chemistry apply), and crazy (yes, psych applies too). One must be a situationally aware accute observer location, position of others, avenues of exit, cover, etc., and practice practice drill drill drill. When the hearing fades and sight tunnels you revert to your level of preparation. I think this applies in the macro level as well. What applies to nations and armies, applies to individuals as well. I think it applies also to our Church as a whole, dioceses and parishes. For Holy Church as a whole, for dioceses and for parishes… we must be realistic about the world around us, recognize the attacks, have plans and revitalize our sacred worship (simultaneously our supply line, communications, situational awareness, strategic goal…. etc.]

  7. Gregorius says:

    One of the most interesting books I ever found in the liturgy section of the school library was a small little red tome called something like “Benedictine book of Maledictions”. It basically contained an outline of a bunch of different liturgical rites medieval monasteries used to protect themselves- they couldn’t take up arms, so they literally cursed their enemies, using mainly the psalms. Also gave some history and theology behind their use. What a different world that was!

  8. my kidz mom says:

    An old Gaelic blessing

    May those who love us, love us
    And those that don’t love us,
    May God turn their hearts;
    And if He doesn’t turn their hearts,
    May He turn their ankles
    So we’ll know them by their limping

  9. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:

    My prayer for these sorts of situations:

    “For the enemies of the Church, both within and without”.

    There’s another prayer (which I don’t have at hand) in the Ecclesia Dei Red Booklets which tackles this problem, too.

  10. majuscule says:

    I thought I recognized Mel Gibson even though the “start” button in the video was covering his face. I don’t care what they say, he’s a good actor.

  11. Sconnius says:

    King Arthur: Consult the Book of Armaments.

    Brother Maynard: Armaments, chapter two, verses nine through twenty-one.

    Cleric: [reading] And Saint Attila raised the hand grenade up on high, saying, “O Lord, bless this thy hand grenade, that with it thou mayst blow thine enemies to tiny bits, in thy mercy.” And the Lord did grin. And the people did feast upon the lambs, and sloths, and carp, and anchovies, and orangutans, and breakfast cereals, and fruit bats, and large chu…

    Brother Maynard: Skip a bit, Brother…

    Cleric: And the Lord spake, saying, “First shalt thou take out the Holy Pin. Then shalt thou count to three, no more, no less. Three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shalt thou not count, neither count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out. Once the number three, being the third number, be reached, then lobbest thou thy Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch towards thy foe, who, being naughty in My sight, shall snuff it.

    Brother Maynard: Amen.

  12. YoungLatinMassGuy says:

    Per signum Crucis de inimicis nostris libera nos, Deus noster.

    After receiving Communion at every Mass, I say a prayer for the Conversion of the muslims worldwide, and for the defeat of islam.

  13. Allan S. says:

    As part of my police training we watched “Surviving Edged Weapons” by Calibre Press. The bottom line is that anyone armed with a knife within 21 feet of you can inflict lethal wounds in you before you can fire two shots centre of mass (the objective “stopping” force required).

    So, yes – you do in fact have to bring a gun to a knife fight. The blitz attack is the standard encounter one encounters in “the real world.” Most martial arts cannot prepare you to survive this sort of attack – you must anticipate it, and deter or flee it.

  14. ofHippo says:

    “crock of bagna caudal” Thank you- for that- much needed chuckle.

  15. ofHippo says:

    And thank you my kidz mom what words of wisdom…Consider that copy and pasted!

  16. defreitas says:

    How about this one:

    Let God arise,
    let his enemies be scattered;
    let those who hate him flee from before his face!
    As smoke vanishes,
    so let them vanish;
    as wax melts before the fire,
    So the sinners will perish before the face of God;
    but let the righteous be glad.

    This is the day which the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!

    Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and on those in the grave bestowing life.

  17. Dienekes says:

    Found One! ‘Benedictine Maledictions: Liturgical Cursing in Romanesque France”

    It should go nicely with my 1911.

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  19. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Perhaps too tangentially? The second verse of the ‘standard version’ of “God Save the Queen” seems based on Psalm 67:

    O Lord our God arise,
    Scatter her enemies,
    And make them fall:
    Confound their politics,
    Frustrate their knavish tricks,
    On Thee our hopes we fix:
    God save us all.

    (How problematical, or the reverse, its anti-Jacobite origins may be, is a distinct matter.)

  20. rtjl says:

    We have many enemies. Some of them human and some of them not human. I believe we may pray for God to “strike down” our enemies but we must make a distinction between the human on non-human enemies. While we may pray that God will strike down our human enemies as a matter of self defense, we must temper our desire for justice and even vengeance with a desire that mercy be shown them. I pray that God will strike down the drug dealers and pornographers who pray on our children, for instance; no questions about that. But I still desire and pray for their repentance, conversion and redemption.

    Ou non-human enemies, on the other hand, area different story. We may be merciless in our prayers against them. This includes the spiritual and demonic forces that pray on the human race and it includes other natural forces that afflict us; sickness and disease, ignorance, poverty, oppression, hatred, violence and even death. Our prayers against these realities need not be tempered with mercy.

    “Vengeance is mine, I will repay” says the Lord. One of the advantages of praying the psalms is that they give us the opportunity to give expression to the darker sentiments of desire for vengeance, retribution and anger against the enemy while at the same time releasing those darker sentiments into God’s hands. We can surrender those sentiments to God because we know that He is the one who can administer justice while being merciful and who can adminster mercy without being unjust. This enables us to let go of our thirst for vengeance and it frees us to go about the business of *prudently* doing the good He has commanded us to do.

  21. The Masked Chicken says:

    This raises a very interesting question. I was going to say that all of these maledictions occur in the Old Testament, where God also told the Israelites to kill entire populations – to slaughter them (see 1 Samuel 15: 2 – 3, Deut. 2: 34, 3: 6, 20: 16 – 18) and that, as such, belong to a time of imperfect revelation and a people under the Law (no group was ordered to be killed by the Israelite sword until after the Ten Commandments were given, although Moses killed the Egyptians, indirectly, when he closed the Red Sea upon them). It belongs to the realm of uncertainty whether or not St. Paul issued a malediction in Galatians 5: 12:

    “11But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished. 12I wish that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves.”

    It is a well-recognized rule in the New Dispensation of Christ that people have a right to self-defense, including, by the doctrine of Double-effect, killing one’s aggressor, par accidens, in the attempt to stop them. What one may not do is initiate a conflict or be the aggressor. Christian action is always defensive, although that defense may involve deadly force.

    As such, is it right in the New Covenant to pray that God defend you and yours from the actions of your enemies. That defense, as I say, may involve your, personally, using deadly force. What it is not right to do, in my opinion, is to ask God to smite your enemies as an aggressive act. Defending yourself or your loved ones is an act of charity; aggressively pursuing your enemies to finish them off, or equivalently, asking God to do it for you, seems to me to violate, exactly, the Fifth Commandment. Why God told the Israelites to do so in the Old Testament (the Maledictory Psalms are echoes of that) is a question still not entirely resolved, theologically. God can do what He pleases. God can even suspend His own Commandments, if necessary, although, killing populations because God tells you to do so is not an act of personal aggression, so one is not guilty of sin – God told us not to kill – he said nothing about Himself.

    The problem why this phraseology is so dangerous – asking God to smite one’s enemies – is because in the doing, you could, actually, be getting in God’s way. Asking God to smite your enemy can become a vicious habit, to the point where you even ask God to smite the guy in the barracks who is snoring. People have been shot dead, for less. What if God took you up on that, eh? More than that, suppose you are schizophrenic and believe the God told you to smite someone in His name? Tricky business, this.

    It is always right to ask God to defend you or to give you the strength to defend yourself or others, but the idiotic Bush Doctrine of pre-emptively striking down one’s enemies is presumption of a high order and a form of pride. It is certainly good to protect a country by force of arms, but it is a sad form of double-speak when offense is mistaken as defense. This is not football. WWII was a defensive war and America had the moral high-ground and even the Afghan invasion after 9/11 was in defense of country, but the idea of asking God to smite one’s enemies goes up against the edge of a Just War theology, which can be cast in this case as:

    1. the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
    2. all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
    3. there must be serious prospects of success;
    4. the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.

    The key word is aggressor. Before one asks God to smite one’s enemies, one has to, at the very least, be morally certain that one is not asking God to do this out of aggression. Just Wars, even invoking God’s aid, are always defensive. Thus, if one understands smite = defend against, then, yes, it can be morally justified, if one understands the situation and causes, properly (smiting someone who snores is a terrible way to eliminate sleep apnea!), but if in one’s heart, for that particular situation, smite = aggression, then it would be, possibly, gravely sinful.

    So, this question can only be answered by each individual, in my opinion.

    The Chicken

  22. Jack Orlando says:

    I can see the curse psalms both ways:

    On one hand, sometimes the only resort with a threatening enemy is to pray that He may throw him out.

    On the other hand, to pray that one may bathe one’s feet in the blood of one’s enemies or that one may be able to bash the heads of an enemy’s infant against a rock, violates Our Lord’s clear teaching in Matthew 5:38-48.

  23. cwillia1 says:

    The best way to read psalm 108/109 is to treat the bulk of the curses as directed towards the psalmist by his enemies. Early in the psalm the psalmist switches from dealing with his enemies to quoting the curses his enemies are directing at him. The psalm is a plea for justice and protection in the face of vicious persecution.

    Verses 1 to 5 use they for the psalmists enemies (they). Verses 6-19 are curses directed at the psalmist (him). The rest of the psalm is a call for God’s mercy, vindication and poetic justice.

    I have no trouble praying this psalm. I can see how someone could get lost in the curses v 6-19 and resist identifying with these evil sentiments.

  24. chantgirl says:

    Yes, I often implore God during Mass to thwart murderers, pornographers, pedophiles, rapists, bad theologians, bad clerics, the ACLU, abortionists, and ISIS. How God might choose to thwart them is completely up to Him.

  25. Uxixu says:

    Also reminded of Pope St. Gregory II’s response to the Iconoclast Emperor Leo’s threat to come to Rome and break the statue of St. Peter that he would withstand the emperor’s tyranny at any cost, with no defense but to pray that Our Lord would send a demon to torment the emperor’s body that his soul might be saved (per 1 Cor 5:5).

  26. Uxixu, Chicken and rtjl, Great points!
    We have many enemies including, unfortunately, ourselves. The thought of that alone ought to sober one up when praying God’s word to smite one’s enemies.

  27. KateD says:

    The account of Peter striking down Ananias and Sapphira is in the New Testament. That’s more than just praying for it.

  28. jameeka says:

    I would just like to say…. cool picture.

  29. Allan S. says:

    Funny thing, grace is. In the worst moments of my life – extreme physical agony, persecution, despair – I turn to the daily (traditional) Office and pray the applicable Hour. Inevitably, the Psalms of those particular Hours speak directly to my personal troubles at the time. This includes the maledictory Psalms, censored from the post-Vatican II Liturgy of the Hours (LOTH).

    I simply can’t imagine turning to the eviscerated LOTH at those times. The Divine Office brings me a certain perspective and peace applicable to my needs. It is a timeless treasure through which God soothes our pains and tribulations, and becomes present in our lives.

    Woe be to those bound to pray the Office, who neglect this priceless debt owed by them to God as a matter of justice.

  30. The Masked Chicken says:

    “The account of Peter striking down Ananias and Sapphira is in the New Testament. That’s more than just praying for it.”

    That was God doing it, not Peter asking for it.

    The Chicken

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