In the wake of Vegas shooting, prayers still matter

So I hear that Jimmy Kimmel doesn’t want our prayers.

Well, not exactly. But he did, in a very emotional monologue, decry politicians who offered their “insufficient” prayers, saying they should instead pray for forgiveness regarding their inaction on gun control.

One one level, I understand his frustration. Las Vegas is his home town. I know from my Columbine experience that when attacks hit close to home, the horror becomes more real. It feels personal.  And Kimmel, like the rest of us, wants to do something, to keep this from ever happening again.

My purpose here isn’t to wade into the gun debate. Rather, I want look at the prayer side of Kimmel’s monologue.  Because I suspect many of us are feeling the same way.  “Our prayers don’t seem to be helping.”

But are they?  Is prayer just another failed tactic?  If we are asking “Have our prayers stopped the violence?” then obviously they haven’t.  It continues.

But making that the only gauge of “successful” prayer misses the point of who God is.

Of course, I could no more explain God and the mystery of suffering than I could manufacture a mountain range.  But I do know what God has revealed about Himself to us in Scripture.

I know that He hates evil.  He hates the destruction of innocent life.  And the man (or woman) who destroys innocent life will face His judgment.  But He gives us free will, which we can use for good or for evil. And ever since Adam and Eve used it to defy Him, evil has been let loose into the world.  And the God Who loves us and intervenes in human history does not always intervene to prevent it.  He in fact didn’t prevent the physical evil perpetrated against His own Son.

Why?  We can’t fully know.  His ways are above our ways. He sees this world through the lens of eternity.  We are all destined to die, whether in our beds at a ripe old age, or at a Jason Aldean concert in our prime.  It is evil for one man to take the place of God in deciding when another man should die.   But the greatest evil is not the loss of our earthly life.  It is the loss of the eternal life that God desires to share with us. His interventions into human affairs are, I suspect, most often geared toward guiding us toward our eternal destiny than toward keeping us safe and comfortable in the here and now.

Most important, I know that “all things work for good for those who love Him, and walk according to His ways.”  All things.  Even the choices of evil men.  If He could use Roman executioners to bring about our salvation, He can bring good from any evil.

Have our prayers been answered?  Yes, even if we can’t know the extent. Has He thwarted other attacks?  Has His hand of protection minimized the casualties?  And, more important, have our prayers impacted the eternal fate of those whose lives were lost?

I know we see His love in action in the heroism of first responders and others on the scene.  We see it in the outpouring of love and support from a grieving world.  And we know that He is with us as we grieve, and as we search for solutions.

God isn’t a god who protects us from every evil that could befall us in this life.  He is the God of all consolation — the God who knows suffering because He suffered, who walks with us in our suffering, and works it all for the greatest good, our eternal salvation.

So in this situation, like all others, we need to act.  We need to work toward effective ways of protecting innocent human life.  But as we do that, we also need to pray.  Earnestly and consistently.

All of us.  Even politicians.

Even Jimmy Kimmel.

Featured image by Drew Angerer | Getty Images

COMING UP: Nothing about us without us

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

The slogan “Nothing about us without us” was used by Solidarity in the 1980s in Poland, borrowing a royal motto from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the mid-second millennium. Then, it was expressed in Latin: Nihil de nobis sine nobis. Later, it appeared in Polish on the banners of 19th-century Poles fighting their country’s partition by Russia, Prussia, and Austria: Nic o Nas bez Nas. Today, it’s often used by disability activists asserting their claim to be fully participant in society.

“Nothing about us without us” also applies to the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region, which will meet in Rome in October.

That Synod will involve seven bishops’ conferences from nine Latin American countries who will consider their pastoral situation under the theme, “Amazonia: new paths for the Church and for an integral ecology.” As is usually the case in these meetings, the bishops at the Synod will work with materials drafted in Rome. Early indicators from the Synod’s preparatory document suggest that the Amazonian Synod will be longer on environmentalism than on theology. International media attention will doubtless focus on the Synod’s discussion of climate change and its relationship to Amazonian deforestation.

Recent synodal history suggests, however, that more will be afoot at the Amazonian Synod than what its announced theme suggests.

The 2014 and 2015 Synods were called to consider the crisis of marriage and the family throughout the world. Yet they became the occasion for powerful churchmen to try to deconstruct Catholic moral theology and sacramental discipline, according to the tried-and-failed theologies and pastoral practices of the 1970s. The 2018 Synod, summoned to discuss youth ministry and vocational discernment, began with an effort by the Synod general secretariat to enshrine the world’s language of sexual plasticity (and the lame understandings of happiness that underwrite that language) into an official Church document. When that failed, Synod-2018 became the occasion for the Synod general secretariat to promote an ill-defined notion of “synodality” that struck more than a few bishops present as a prescription for local-option, choose-your-own-doctrine Catholicism on the model of the (imploding) Anglican Communion.

This pattern seems likely to continue at the Amazonian Synod. There, the deeper agenda will be the ordination of mature married men — viri probati — to the priesthood. Proponents will argue that this dramatic change in the Church’s longstanding tradition of a celibate priesthood (which, contrary to much misinformation, antedates the early Middle Ages by hundreds of years) is necessary because Amazonia is a Catholic area deprived of the Eucharist by a lack of priests. One hopes that the counterclaims — that Amazonia is mission territory requiring wholesale evangelization, and that Amazonia’s lack of priests reflects racial and class divisions in Latin American Catholicism that discourage priests of European pedigree from working with indigenous peoples — get a serious hearing.

Proponents of ordaining viri probati in Amazonia, including retired Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, OFM, have insisted that any such concession there would have no implications for the universal Church. That cannot be, however. Should the Amazonian Synod request the Pope to grant a dispensation from the discipline of celibacy for that region, and should he grant it, it will be just a matter of time before bishops conferences elsewhere — Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, and Austria come immediately to mind — make similar requests, citing pressing pastoral needs. On what ground would those requests be denied?

In a year-end interview with Vatican News, the Synod’s general secretary, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, insisted that the Amazonian Synod would not discuss environmental issues only, but would also confront “ecclesial themes” — and would do so in a way that Amazonia could be “a model for the whole world.”

We can be grateful to the cardinal for his candor in, however unintentionally, letting the celibacy cat out of the synodal bag. Any decision to ordain viri probati in Amazonia would inevitably have major consequences for the entire Church. A decision of this magnitude cannot be taken by an unrepresentative segment of the Church and then turned into a “model” for everyone else.

That is why the principle of “Nothing about us without us” must apply here. Whatever else “synodality” may mean, it surely must mean that decisions bearing on everyone should involve as broad a consultation and as global a reflection as possible. Bishops who agree should make their concerns known now, not after the Amazonian synod meets.

Featured image by Vatican Media | CNA