It seems as if a national tragedy occurs almost monthly. Immediately after, many people post “thoughts and prayers” to whatever tragedy has taken place, and for those upon whom it had fallen. Many other folks, frustrated that nothing has changed, have begun dismissing “thoughts and prayers,” and calling for greater action with actual results. I will admit that when “thoughts and prayers” become a political statement or cliché, then, yes, they are empty words. After such tragedies, I have often thought about what took place and prayed for those affected. However, I don’t voice this only because, well, what good does that do? It’s about like the person who tells someone that they’ll pray for them and then forgets to do so, but because they said they would, it was appropriate for the moment.
Ignatius of Loyola is credited with having said, “Pray as if everything depended on God and work as if everything depended on you.”(1) However, Isaiah the prophet also warned that we not honor God with our lips if our heart is far from Him (Isaiah 29:13). When such tragedies occur, prayer can and should be utilized, and if we can take action, we should. Christians have for centuries believed in prayer, but depending on how we might view prayer is telling about how we pray.
Sunday night after learning about the shooting in Texas at a Baptist Church, I was assigned the opening prayer for our worship since it was our singing service and I didn’t have to preach. I asked for God to be with the family who remained to bury their loved ones who’d died—that God would give them peace and comfort. I prayed that God would execute His justice upon all evildoers, for His judgment is just and His motives right. I prayed that though we live in a sin-filled world that we would not contribute to hatred and abuse, but give love. I prayed that our minds and hearts would be focused on the day when we can be with the Lord and away from this cruel world so stained by transgressions.
My prayer wasn’t able to take away what had happened. However, the action that we are taking is to ensure that our church building is secure during assemblies and that we have taken precautions to make sure that this body of Christ is protected should, God forbid, such an event ever happen here. We are also resolved not to let fear overcome us to the point that we would become unwelcoming and thus subvert the purpose of being a body of Christ—inviting sinners of all stripes to the Lord.
This matter, I don’t believe, is an issue of politics. Some do, and I’ll let them do the preaching for that arena. This issue, I believe, is a matter of humanity being so overtaken with sin. Many of us who are Christians wouldn’t imagine harming another, but there are some who are Christians or non-Christians who do just that. Some are truly mentally disturbed. Others are, dare I say, ensnared by Satan.
To be Christian means to pray, and not just trying to think of what to say, but to say what saints of old have already said. Some of my favorite prayers to pray are contained in the Psalter. I also will often pray Francis of Assisi’s prayer for peace and the Lord’s Prayer. Prayer shapes my life, so when a tragedy comes, I’m usually always moved to prayer. God can do far more with so much than I can, so I entrust Him with the matter and then do my part. Yes, prayers can be enough, but I would also urge action, not just an empty sentiment.
- Joseph de Guibert, SJ, The Jesuits: Their Spiritual Doctrine and Practice (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1964), 148.