Editorial: Thoughts and prayers
Your Facebook feed informs you that the loved one of a friend has died or that someone you know has taken ill.
“Sending thoughts and prayers,” you type in the comments section. Then, having expressed your concern 2018-style, you return to your normal day. Perhaps you offer a quick “Be with them, God” prayer. Perhaps you remember them in your night prayers or at your next Mass. Perhaps you don’t remember.
The days following the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, were rough ones for expressions of “thoughts and prayers.” Some of the grieving families and friends of the victims, as well as others calling for changes in gun laws, said they didn’t want the thoughts and prayers of politicians, religious leaders, or others. They want action.
We understand a desire for more than a well-intentioned, but perhaps hollow-sounding, common condolence in the aftermath of yet another gut-wrenching, life-changing act of mass violence. But we believe that some in the “don’t send” camp are underestimating the offer of sincere, devout prayer.
Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, spoke of the power of prayer in his first Festival Letter to the Diocese of Peoria 15 years ago.
“We all have challenges and limitations,” he wrote in early 2003, “and we all are aware of our own sins and personal fears. So surrendering our problems to the absolute power of God is fundamentally an act of faith. The philosophy that I can’t, God can, let God is not just for people in a 12-step program.”
“Where there is faith,” Bishop Jenky continued, “where two or three are gathered together, where believers agree in prayer with one another and the saints in glory, miracles can happen, the sick healed, disasters averted, peace restored, and all our human contingencies abundantly met.”
Trusting in that truth, by all means we should offer prayers on behalf of the victims in Parkland, as well as for our loved ones and others in need.
But for those in the “we want action” camp, know that Pope Francis agrees with you, at least in part.
“Prayer that doesn’t lead to concrete action toward our brothers is a fruitless and incomplete prayer,” he said in a Sunday Angelus talk in 2013 that focused on the Gospel story of Martha and Mary. The pope reminded his audience of St. Benedict, the father of monasticism, whose motto was “ora et labora,” — “pray and work.” But prayer, he said, comes first.
“From contemplative prayer, from a strong friendship with the Lord, is born in us the capacity to live and carry forth the love of God, His mercy, and His tenderness toward others,” said Pope Francis.
Our broken world needs our prayers and our actions. The Parkland school shooting is another tragic reminder. If we pledge prayer to someone in person or on social media, let’s be sure our offer is more than words. Follow up with time in God’s presence on their behalf, especially in Scripture and the Blessed Sacrament. And then listen, and be open, to how God wants us to act. — Thomas J. Dermody