I don’t know about you, but I am afraid to turn on the news. Every day – every day! – there seems to be not just sad news, but horrible news: shootings on a mass scale, radical hatred being played out in our communities, our nation, and our world. Terrorists, mentally unstable fanatics, and simple urban violence have made us scared to go outside. I hope it’s inspired more intense prayer; I know it has for me.
If it has, then the world has a question for you: “So what?”
After the terrible events in San Bernardino on Wednesday, the Thursday morning headline in the New York Daily News read in large white-on-black print: “GOD ISN’T FIXING THIS.” The implication is that our prayers, our appeals to God on behalf of our world are meaningless platitudes that offer no solutions, and that God simply doesn’t care.
Now, it is good, I think, to challenge our prayer to be more deep and meaningful. However, this particular headline was more in response to leaders who expressed “thoughts” and “prayers” in the immediate wake of the tragedies. As “their hearts went out” to those affected, others decided to attack such apparently empty words. I learned a new phrase this week: “prayer-shaming.” It refers to attacking a person for offering “thoughts and prayers” as if they have done nothing meaningful or helpful for someone else.
So, why do you pray? I don’t mean what do you pray for. Rather, why? What are you hoping to accomplish? We are called to prayer by Scripture. Jesus prayed regularly. I offer to pray for people on a daily basis. But why?
When we pray, it is good to reflect on that question. Are we hoping to change God’s mind? Are we hoping to “lasso” Him so He does what we want? Are we trying to force Him to “fix this?” Is that how prayer works?
Actually, no; that’s not how it works. Prayer, in fact, is meant to change us. We are transformed by the power of prayer. God doesn’t “fix this.” Rather, God fixes us.
In the Gospel, we hear St. Luke set the stage for the arrival of Jesus Christ. We hear of powerful and influential people – people who are, coincidentally, associated also with Jesus’ Passion. The world that Jesus entered needed “fixing” too; but God didn’t “fix it” the way we’d have wanted. Jesus was born as a weak, dependent baby – in a stable; His life after that wasn’t much easier; and He died an apparent failure. All the while, God did not “fix it.” Rather, He made that encounter with Jesus – even in His suffering and death – the means of our salvation.
Tomorrow evening, we will begin the Church’s Jubilee Year of Mercy, during which we are called to reflect on the power of God’s merciful love in our loves – how God has forgiven, healed, loved, and sustained us in our lives. We are also called to reflect on how we can be agents of that mercy to others. In fact, our Church has the wonderful tradition of the “Works of Mercy” – like the corporal works:
Feed the hungry
Give drink to the thirsty
Clothe the naked
Shelter the homeless
Visit the sick
Visit the imprisoned
Bury the dead
These are ways in which we act – act – as agents of God’s mercy and love in our world. Notice that “liking” a Facebook post, or wearing an “awareness” ribbon is not. Nor is simply “promising prayers.” We are called to be active.
But first, we must be transformed.
The Holy Father has noted that Mercy is “the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.” How do we cross that bridge? Prayer. Prayer opens our hearts to that love, expands us, and transforms us into agents of mercy. Our feeding the hungry won’t bring back any of the victims of the shootings in San Bernardino; our visits to the sick won’t erase the terror attacks in Paris. However, they will, when practiced regularly by people of prayer and mercy, forge a world in which these acts will be more and more unthinkable.
Mercy is the summary of God’s relationship with us. Mercy is how God forms us in love. It is His “fix.” When we respond in love to that mercy, we learn to create a world that can be new, because God fixes us.