A new front has opened in the Culture War. Now they are targeting prayer. The controversy was triggered by the fact that political leaders traditionally sent messages of condolences offering their “thoughts and prayers” to victims and their families.
Such innocent expressions of comfort have enraged liberals who claim the idea of prayer especially in times of a shooting is meaningless. Even prayer can be politicized as some protesters have resorted to “shaming prayer.”
They do this by becoming indignant with prayers, which they ridicule as ineffectual and infantile. Enough of your prayers, they cry, let us see legislative action! The more radical protesters go one step further by raging and blaspheming against God who allows such tragedies to happen.
The Narrow Vision of the Prayer Shamers
Indeed, it is tragic that there are those who shame prayer. They refuse the very means by which every suffering and problem might be overcome. Although they would be enraged at the suggestion, the prayer shamers need prayers.
Their problem is that they do not have Faith in God. Therefore, they do not understand the nature of prayer. For them, prayer is a kind of therapeutic exercise of weak individuals who cannot face reality. Such weaklings resort to appealing to an imaginary being from whom they imagine they receive favors. Such an opinion is not new, for Saint Thomas Aquinas says that even among the ancients “some held that human affairs are not ruled by Divine providence; whence it would follow that it is useless to pray and to worship God at all” (II-II: 83).
Hence, the prayer shamers’ mentality is sadly limited and narrow-minded. They recognize no reality or power beyond the physical world. They rely only upon themselves to realize their goals. And when they fail in life, as all eventually will do, they do not understand the meaning of suffering and become resentful.
God Desires to Help Humanity
If only they would have recourse to prayer! If only they knew just how much God wishes to help them.
Prayer is defined as the elevation of the mind to God in order to converse with him. While there are several types of prayer, the most common is that of petition, in which the person implores God’s aid, which he willingly and abundantly grants.
One of the most common themes in the Bible is God’s constant pleas to his people to call upon him. He implores: “Cry to me, and I will hear thee” (Jer, XXXIII, 3). The psalms likewise proclaim this great desire. “Call upon me, and I will deliver you from all dangers” (Ps. 49:15). And God delivers on his promises as can be seen: “Thou, O Lord art sweet and mild, and plenteous in mercy to all who call upon Thee” (Ps. 85:5).
In the New Testament, Saint John registers Christ’s complaint: “Hitherto you have not asked anything in my name: ask and you shall receive, that your joy may be full” (John 26:24). Saint James says succinctly: “You have not, because you ask not” (4:2).
Saint Augustine says God has a greater desire to give us his graces, than we have to receive them. Saint Alphonsus Liguori, who wrote extensively about prayer, says that God may well answer those who criticize prayer: “Do not complain to me if you do not enjoy complete happiness; complain of yourselves for not having asked my graces; ask me for them henceforth and you shall be satisfied.”
Tragically, the prayer shamers have not availed themselves to this great instrument. They do not believe in prayer and therefore do not ask.
The Conditions of Effective Prayer
Prayer shamers might raise the objection that they do not see immediate results. They might even give as proof their own past efforts when they may have whispered prayers in secret that were not answered.
The reason why prayers are not answered is because there are conditions attached to them. Saint James once again says succinctly: “You ask and receive not, because you ask amiss” (James 4:3).
The first condition for prayer to be heard is to be humble. “A humble and contrite heart, O God, Thou will not despise” (Ps. I:19). It matters not if one is a saint or sinner, God hears those who are humble. Those who approach with an attitude of resentment, entitlement, and pride are centered all on self. In their pride, they attribute qualities to themselves that belong to God. That is why Scripture says, “God resisteth the proud and giveth graces to the humble” (James 4:6).
A second condition for effective prayer is confidence, which is the unconditional hope of obtaining all that is helpful toward salvation. In teaching the Our Father prayer, Christ exhorted his disciples to approach God with the confidence of a child to a parent. Those with confidence believe God will keep the promises when Christ said: “If you ask the Father anything in my name, he will give it to you” (John 16:23).
Indeed, says Saint Augustine, “by promising, he has made himself a debtor.”
Yet another condition for efficacious prayer is perseverance. God wishes to united himself to those who “pray without ceasing” (I Thess. 5:17). Christ tells his disciples that it is not sufficient simply to ask, but to insist saying “seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened to you” (Luke 11:9). Persevering prayer will obtain results beyond expectations. As Saint Bernard says, “when we pray, the Lord will give either the grace we ask, or one that is more useful to us.”
A Need for Less Shame in Praying
Thus, those who shame prayer do not know prayer. They do not have recourse to God and shame those who do. They have recourse instead to government solutions that often make matters worse. Tragically, God has been banished from the public square, and people are surprised when disasters happen.
However, Christians also share in the ignorance of the power of prayer. The political figures that send thoughts and prayers, often do so as a matter of social convention without praying. The faithful also neglect to avail themselves of the good that can be obtained through prayer.
How much more effective these figures would be if they really prayed and asked for God’s aid to console those who suffer tragedy. How much more could be done if all the faithful would approach God with humble and contrite hearts asking that the nation be spared from certain tragedies. How many blessings could be expected if everyone would gather and pray in the public square to call upon God’s aid with perseverance.
Indeed, prayer shamers would be less effective if Christians had less shame in praying.
(Photo credit: David Gibson / Religion News Service)