God sees all of our prayers from eternity, or so we believe as Catholics. When tragedy befalls us, either personally or in our local, state or national community, it is a natural instinct in us to turn to prayer for the comfort of the victims and their families. As more and more innocent people die in the communities of Newtown, Aurora, and now San Bernardino many are growing tired of prayer. After Wednesday’s shooting in California, the New York Daily News ran a headline that said, “God Isn’t Fixing This,” calling out high-profile, right-wing politicians, many of whom are running for president, for their apparent hypocrisy of praying without taking action to stop gun violence.
The anger about this is well justified. Innocent people are dying everyday from gun violence, and prayer does not appear to be changing things on the surface. It is not wrong, either, to be disturbed or frustrated with the empty tweets that send prayers to the affected area, but later that day will advocate for the laws and policies that gave the criminal responsible a gun in the first place. Blindly praying for an end to violence without taking earthly actions to bring about change ourselves is also wrong. But that does not mean that prayer is not important.
Those who criticize the prayer of Christians (and of other religions) after these tragedies miss the entire reason we turn to prayer in the first place. Many secularists see God as the Genie from Aladdin granting wishes to our hearts content. As we know, this is not how prayer works. Prayer moves us, not God, into becoming more in union with His plan.
Today, we live in a more polarized political climate than perhaps any time in our nation’s history since the Civil War. Democrats have one world view while Republicans hold another, and we as Americans are forced to pick a side. The issue of gun violence is no different. We are forced to conform to the stereotypical beliefs of legislative action on the left, or cling to the “cold dead hands” stereotype of the right. Society has given us no other option, the two sides are mutually exclusive.
This polarization is a unique situation in our history. Political action on issues of social justice and religious motivation have been joined together throughout various social reform movements. Whether it was the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s, or the women’s suffrage movement of the 1910’s, America’s history has been built on fundamental religious principles and prayer. Today, prayer and religion seems to belong to exclusively right wing politics.
As Christians, and as people of any religious belief, we should not feel afraid to pray in public or in private. Prayer has a unique healing power for those who believe that no piece of legislation can accomplish. Instead of criticizing politicians because they choose to pray after a tragedy, an attempt to further divide us as Americans, these tragedies should bring us closer. They should make us hug our loved ones closer and appreciate the gift of life that God has given to all of us.
We can look back to December 16, 2012, just four days after 20 first graders were killed in their elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, where President Obama held an interfaith prayer vigil in the memory of the lives lost. Grieving for those lost in such unspeakable tragedy, President Obama promised action to prevent such a tragedy from ever occurring again. He also invoked prayer, a reminder of a time when we could unite despite our religious differences to heal the wounded and the downfallen.
As gunmen terrorized and killed people in San Bernardino this week, one woman who was trapped sent a text message to her father. “Pray for us,” she said. Outside, as rescue workers attempted to eliminate the threat and free those hiding, the workers joined their hands together and they prayed. Let us pray for those victims and for victims of gun violence everywhere. Let us pray for peace. Let us pray for the comfort of those who lost loved ones. And let us not be frightened or shamed for praying.