Prayer, Not Despair — By Fr. Rich, O.P.


If you are a regular reader of this space, you will recognize much of what is written here. Pope Francis’ letter continues to be a touchstone for me, so likely, it will be back. I think it bears repeating.

Wherever you find yourself on the spectrum of politics, education, religion; whatever your stand on sexuality, drugs, gun control, or any of the myriad issues and challenges that engulf our world today, you must be very, very tired. I know that I am. Each time there is news of hatred, violence, or terrorism, evil finds a path. Charlottesville is the latest in an ever-growing list of places where evil breaks through and threatens to overwhelm.

I was in Denver, in 1999, when the Columbine shooting occurred, in St. Louis when the towers fell, in Albuquerque when the Sandy Hook killings took place, here in Columbia when the murders in Orlando were committed and, of course, Charlottesville. Each of these events, and the many others that make up this chronology of hatred, death, and pain, brought me to my knees. Not in despair, but in prayer. Not despair; prayer.

I’ve become aware that, though prayer is a powerful response, it must be coupled with a greater participation in the world around us. I’ve found, in Pope Francis’ message celebrating the 50th World Day of Prayer for Peace, an option for that challenge. In “Nonviolence: a Style of Politics for Peace,” Pope Francis offers a concise history of the power of Catholic nonviolent participation in global politics over the last 50 years. Beginning with Blessed Pope Paul VI’s declaration, “Peace is the only true direction of human progress,” he brings us to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s observation of Jesus’ teaching on nonviolence, “For Christians, nonviolence is not merely a tactical behavior but a person’s way of being, the attitude of one who is so convinced of God’s love and power that he or she is not afraid to tackle evil with the weapons of love and truth alone.”

Pope Francis acknowledged that the challenge of peace is not simply a mandate for our Church. He spoke of Mahatma Gandhi and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan; he remembered Martin Luther King, Jr. He spoke of Leymah Gbowee, a woman who was a key figure in the non-violent protest that helped to bring about the end of the second civil war in Liberia.

“This is also a programme and a challenge for political and religious  leaders, the heads of international institutions, and business and media executives: to apply the Beatitudes in the exercise of their respective responsibilities. It is a challenge to build up society, communities and businesses by acting as peacemakers. It is to show mercy by refusing to discard people, harm the environment, or seek to win at any cost. To do so requires ‘the willingness to face conflict head on, to resolve it, and to make it a link in the chain of a new process.’ To act in this way means to choose solidarity as a way of making history and building friendship in society. Active nonviolence is a way of showing that unity is truly more powerful and more fruitful than conflict. Everything in the world is inter-connected. Certainly differences can cause frictions. But let us face them constructively and non-violently, so that ‘tensions and oppositions can achieve a diversified and life-giving unity,’ preserving ‘what is valid and useful on both sides.'”

He is inviting us to make some fundamental changes in how we approach conflicts in our personal, public, and faith lives. He offers a Biblical blueprint that form the foundation for those changes.

Jesus offers a “manual” for this strategy of peacemaking in the Sermon on the Mount. The eight Beatitudes (Mt 5:3-10) provide a portrait of the person we could describe as blessed, good, and authentic. Jesus tells us, Blessed are the meek, the merciful and the peacemakers, those who are pure in heart, and those who hunger and thirst for justice.

If you’ve not had the opportunity to read the 50th anniversary prayer for peace, I invite you to do so. Even further, I would like to take this opportunity to invite each of us to make the closing line of Pope Francis’ letter a commitment for the coming year:

“In 2017, may we dedicate ourselves prayerfully and actively to banishing violence from our hearts, words, and deeds, and to becoming nonviolent people and to building nonviolent communities that care for our common home. ‘Nothing is impossible if we turn to God in prayer. Everyone can be an artisan of peace.'”

You can read two statements from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops regarding the protests in Charlottesville by going to these website addresses:

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, President of USCCB, states: “Let us unite ourselves in the spirit of hope offered by the clergy, people of faith, and all people of good will who peacefully defended their city and country. We stand against the evil of racism, white supremacy, and neo-nazism. We stand with our sisters and brothers united in the sacrifice of Jesus, by which love’s victory over every form of evil is assured. At Mass, let us offer a special prayer of gratitude for the brave souls who sought to protect us from the violent ideology displayed [yesterday]. Let us especially remember those who lost their lives. Let us join their witness and stand against every form of oppression.”