Are Prayers Not Enough?

Dear Friends in Christ:

I have been thinking and praying in the wake of the tragic shootings in Santa Fe last week. It has been difficult because of the emotional intensity and great sadness. In some ways, it is similar to what we experienced with the flooding after Harvey. By that, I mean it is overwhelming. Life goes on but it is hard. People want understanding. We want the hurt to stop and the clock to turn back to before. We want the anger to go away and the numbness lifted. Somehow or other, we want simple answers to make sense of senseless situations. We want a definitive course of action to guarantee that we will never have to deal with this pain again. Unfortunately, that is easier said than done. Throughout the course of human history, suffering and pain have been with us. So too, have sin and evil.

A flooded home and a mass shooting are not the same thing, no more than cancer is the same as a bank robbery, but they all produce tremendous suffering and pain. They are emotionally, intellectually and even spiritually hard to wrap our heads around. In the end, we are left with the question of “Why?” In the wake of this shooting as in so many other acts of evil, we will no doubt learn many things about the shooter, but the ultimate reasons for this evil act will remain elusive. We will see that the reasons are not reasonable, that the actions of hate and violence cannot make total sense. We will see that there is no equation where the results equal the causes. The problem of pain, the problem of suffering and the problem of evil are sadly part of our fallen human state. One of the characteristic hallmarks of modernity is the vain belief that all pain, suffering and evil can be eliminated. Modernity (modern thought, social philosophy, social progressivism, secularism, etc.) is committed to the notion that all human suffering and pain can be eradicated and that evil and its effects can be overcome by changing its definition!

O how slow we are in admitting the fallacy of this hubris, this empty ideology!

How many times have we heard in the wake of this shooting and other evil events, that ‘prayers are not enough!’? How utterly silly and what a total misrepresentation of prayer. Quite frankly, I sometimes wonder how many people who say that have actually followed through and offered a prayer to God. For too many of us, it is nothing more than a sentimental throwaway line. In the wake of our pain and incomprehension, it is easy to set up a straw man argument of prayer versus “fill in the blank” to eliminate our problems or justify our demands that other people must change. As St. James the Apostle clearly states,

“Faith without works is a dead faith!” (Jas 2:17)

Our problem is not that faith is insufficient to the task, it is that faith has not truly been tried or lived. The truly false premise is the notion that suffering, pain and evil can be eliminated and conquered by human effort alone. The reality is that we can work to make things better and indeed we should, but ultimately all of us need God. We cannot overcome sin or death, suffering or pain all by ourselves, not by our sincere efforts or by our wishful thinking of “good thoughts”. Only in God and with God can we overcome suffering, pain and evil. God has indeed shown us the way in Jesus! But our world continues to fail to see it. God did not eliminate suffering and pain through the incarnation of Jesus, He joined himself to us in our pain and suffering. Jesus’ death on the cross did not stop people from dying, but his resurrection keeps death from being eternal and permanent. Jesus’ life of holiness and sinlessness did not take away our human freedom to sin and to choose to do evil acts, but Jesus gives us grace so that we do not have to sin, and he gives us mercy and forgiveness so that we can be freed from our sinfulness and live a new life. Maybe if more people prayed more and turned to God more often, then we would have fewer horrible acts of evil.

In Pace Christi,
Fr. Troy Gately