In the wake of Vegas shooting, prayers still matter

Avatar

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: Radical living and my friend Shelly

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

I saw my friend Shelly the other day, for the first time in 28 years.

Back in the day, she was Shelly Pennefather, basketball phenomenon. She led Denver’s Bishop Machebeuf High School’s women’s basketball team to three undefeated seasons, a 70-0 record. In her senior year, her family moved to Utica, New York, where she led the Notre Dame High School team to a 26-0 season, giving her a no loss record for her entire high school career. She remains Villanova University’s all-time scorer — men’s and women’s — with a career total of 2408 points.  She also holds the women’s rebound record, at 1171. She is a three-time Big East Player of the Year, the first All-American out of the Big East, the 1987 National Player of the Year, and a winner of the prestigious Wade Trophy. She’s been inducted into the Philadelphia Women’s Big Five Hall of Fame, and Villanova has retired her jersey. After college, she played professional women’s basketball in Japan. She was making more money than anybody I knew.

She doesn’t go by Shelly anymore. These days, she is Sister Rose Marie of the Queen of Angels. She lives in the Poor Clares Monastery in Alexandria, Virginia. She joined their community in 1991 and took her final vows in 1997. They are cloistered, which means that they don’t leave the monastery, except for medical emergencies. Her only contact with the outside world is through letters, and very limited visits with family and friends. She’s never used the internet, doesn’t know what Facebook is, and when she saw a visitor answer a cell phone, she asked “What is that?”

Why? Why on God’s earth would a basketball star of this magnitude just walk away from the game and the fame, or go from being one of the world’s highest paid women’s basketball players to taking a vow of perpetual poverty? Why would an attractive, funny, vivacious 25-year-old woman renounce marriage and family to lock herself up in a monastery? Why would a loving daughter and sister embrace a religious discipline wherein she could only see her family — through a screen —a few times a year, and hug them only once every 25 years? Why would anybody voluntarily live a life in which they could own nothing, sleep no more than four hours at a time (on a straw mat), eat no more than one full meal a day, and use telephones, TV, radio, internet and newspapers — well, never?

It all boils down to this: We’re all gonna die. And when we do, all of the money and the prestige and the accomplishments and the basketball awards are going to fall away. All that will be left is us and God. If we play our cards right, we will spend eternity beholding his face and praising him. And, as St. Augustine says, that is where our truest happiness lies — in this life as well as in the next: “Our hearts were made for Thee, O Lord, and will not rest until they rest in Thee.”

Cloistered sisters like the Poor Clares make the radical choice to live that way now — to begin their eternal life here on earth. As religious sisters, they are brides of Christ, and they focus their lives entirely on their bridegroom, without the distractions of all the stuff that’s going to fall away after death anyway. They spend their lives primarily in prayer — praying for you and for me and for this entire mixed up world and in deepening their own relationship with Christ.

This, it goes without saying, is a radical way to live. It is not for everyone, or even for most people. It is a free choice on the part of the sisters. But they do not take the initiative. God himself is the initiator. He calls them to this life, and they freely respond. Sister Rose Marie herself told her coach that this was not the life she would have chosen for herself, but it was very clear to her that it was the life God was calling her to.

I finally got to see Sister Rose Marie last weekend, as she celebrated the 25th anniversary of her solemn vows. I had the privilege of witnessing the once-every-25-year-hugs she gave her family. I spoke to her briefly, from behind the screen. She was always a cheerful person. But I saw a joy and a radiance in her that day that I have rarely seen ever, in anyone. It was beautiful.

The great gift these sisters give to us, aside from their prayers, is that they remind us that this life, and all its pleasures and distractions, will not last forever. And their dedication and their joy give us a small glimpse into the joy that is in store for us, if we can only imitate in some small way their singular focus on their Bridegroom.

Pray for them. And pray for the grace to do what they do — to rise above the distractions of this world and look toward the life that never ends.