July 31, 2020

The Face of Mercy / Daniel Conway

Prayer is the appropriate Christian response to evil

(En Espanol)

During his June 29 homily on the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, the twin pillars whose fidelity to Christ still upholds the Church 2,000 years after their martyrdom, Pope Francis appeared to contradict those who argue that “prayer is not enough” in times of crisis.

In fact, the Holy Father says, when bad things happen, prayer should be the Christian’s first and most consistent response. “If we spent more time in prayer and less time complaining,” the pope said, “so many doors would be opened, so many chains that bind would be broken.”

Of course, the Holy Father does not mean to suggest that we should be passive or indifferent in the face of evil. We are called to be a prophetic people who speak the truth with love. “Today we need prophecy, real prophecy,” Pope Francis says. As he understands the gift of prophecy, it does not consist in spectacular displays, but in bearing witness in one’s life to the love of God. “Prophecy is born whenever we allow ourselves to be challenged by God.”

The pope has frequently cautioned us to beware of what he calls “the sin of indifference.” This is the sin committed by the priest and the Levite in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. They were indifferent to the plight of the man beaten by robbers and simply continued on their way without stopping to help him. The Samaritan, a despised foreigner, showed that he was a man with compassion, a good neighbor. He was a man of action who went out of his way to help someone in need.

Pope Francis would say that the Good Samaritan’s compassionate response was made possible because he was not a narcissist (someone concerned only with himself). He cared for others—even strangers. He was also not a pessimist or a complainer (someone who spends all his or her time bemoaning the way things are today without ever lifting a finger to alter the status quo). “It is useless, and even boring, that Christians waste time complaining about the world, society, what is wrong. Complaints don’t change anything,” the pope says.

“Narcissism takes you to the mirror, to continually look at you,” the Holy Father says. “Discouragement, complaints, pessimism, in the dark. These three attitudes close the door to the Holy Spirit.” To open the door and let the Spirit of God act in our personal lives and in our world, we must be people of prayer who give witness to the merciful love of Christ in both our words and our actions.

According to Pope Francis, at a time when Peter was arrested, during a severe persecution of the early Christians, “Herod was raging, the persecution was violent, the Apostle James had been killed. And now Peter is also arrested. The community seems beheaded, everyone fears for their own life. Yet in this tragic moment no one escapes, no one thinks to save their skin, no one abandons the others, but all pray together. From prayer they draw courage, from prayer comes a unity stronger than any threat.

“Unity is activated with prayer, because prayer allows the Holy Spirit to intervene,” the pope said. “In those dramatic situations, no one complains of the evil, of the persecutions, of Herod. Nobody insults Herod—and we are so used to insulting those responsible.”

Those Christians did not blame, but prayed, he said. “What would happen if we prayed more and murmured less, with the language a little calmed? What happened to Peter in prison: as then, so many doors that separate would open, so many chains that paralyze would fall. And we would be amazed.”

Pope Francis noted that St. Paul exhorted Christians to pray for everyone and first of all for those who govern. He said: “Let us pray for the rulers. Let us pray: they need prayer. It is a task that the Lord entrusts to us. Shall we? Or do we talk, insult, and that’s it? God expects that when we pray, we will also remember those who don’t think like us, those who have closed the door on us, those who struggle to forgive. Only prayer undoes the chains, like to Peter; only prayer paves the way for unity.”

Let’s be people of prayer whose action springs from caring hearts and a deep desire to let the Holy Spirit intervene and make us one in Christ.

(Daniel Conway is a member of The Criterion’s editorial committee.)

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