Many have criticized prayer as a response to a clergy abuse crisis. Clearly mass injustice runs throughout our Church, and just getting together to hold candles or read the psalms won’t remove those from power who have abused the most vulnerable. We can’t just walk around the walls of Jericho and assume that God will make the structures of injustice collapse once we’ve made that trek on the seventh day. God not only calls us to contemplation. He calls us also to action.
But in times like these, we don’t know where to begin. Justice is impossible here. Nothing can be done to undo the trauma of the victims of clerical abuse. No punishment of the abusers would be sufficient retribution. There is no way to make these past wrongs right. The Church is beyond justice in this crisis.
And this is where we begin. Prayer, in the first instance, reminds us of our poverty. While we can move forward for the protection of our children and address past wrongs, we are utterly powerless to make things right. And so we come to God, recognizing our weakness, our utter inadequacy to respond to these crises, no matter what we do. We go to God as beggars, asking for mercy for what can never be undone, and asking for clarity in our confusion as we consider our next steps. Prayer in this crisis reminds us that, whatever grandiose visions we may have for ourselves, the Church is poor.
Mary Karr has written how, during her struggles with alcoholism, one friend recommended prayer:
“And then my friend said, ‘I want you to develop your relationship with this higher power.’ I said: ‘I don’t believe there is one. What kind of God wants you to get down on your knees?’ And she said: ‘You don’t do it for God. It’s not about God. You’re doing it for yourself.’
I told her, ‘This doesn’t make any f–ing sense.’ And she said: ‘You are not the right size in the world. You don’t understand your position in the world.'”
Prayer reminds us of who we are. We are not the big creatures in control that we think we are. We are small. We are poor. And we need help.
But prayer should not be an excuse for complacency. Prayer forces us to recognize our poverty. But, in this poverty, prayer also pushes us to speak what we need. Like little children with their parents, we need to slowly grow from wordless babbling to a recognition and articulation of our needs. And like any Father, as we grow, God will expect that we participate in addressing those needs. “You pray for the hungry. Then you feed them. This is how prayer works,” says Pope Francis.
For these reasons, we begin our response to this crisis with prayer. Tomorrow we will speak. And then we act.
This post was originally published at YArespond.
As part of our continuing work, Catholic young adults of the Twin Cities are invited to an evening conversation on the abuse crisis on August 28 at 7pm. Share your perspectives, hear from your peers, and brainstorm with us on how to bring light, promote healing, and build trust in our diocese. More information at YArespond.
Pray. Educate. Dialogue. Act.
Prayer is indeed important. But prayer means nothing if we don’t listen to how the Lord calls us to act (something that prayer can help with).