Catholic leaders are calling for prayer and action in response to the May 7 school…
Two confessions: The need for prayer and action
I have a confession to make. Two confessions, actually — a long overdue sacramental confession and then the garden-variety public unburdening of my conscience. More on the latter later.
For the former, I’ll need to gather up my wife and kids on Saturday morning and drive to my confession parish. (We all have a confession parish that isn’t our home parish, right? Who wants to tell your own priest at your own parish all of the horrible things you’ve done? Only the brave, I suppose.) We’ve been trying to make confession a monthly ritual, but since COVID-19 closed the parishes and altered confession times, most of us in the house are in desperate need of our hug from God, as our pastor calls it.
As for the nonsacramental confession, two exceptional documents released this week have me thinking about the inadequacy of how I’m practicing my faith.
There are two lists I have in my head of people for whom I pray. The first are the regulars, and this list changes very little: my wife, my kids, their future vocations and spouses, our families, those I know who have left the Church, those who are hungry, homeless or poor, those who are fighting cancer or COVID or depression or other afflictions, our elected officials, the unborn, an end to racism, and a few others. The second list generally is harder for me to remember. It includes all of the people with whom I’ve interacted who have either asked for prayers or for whom I’ve offered to pray. And so after my head hits my pillow, I’ll rattle off these lists — as best I can remember — and call it a night. My obligation is fulfilled. Easy peasy.
I’m obviously a sheep in desperate need of a shepherd — aren’t we all? — and thankfully the wisdom of our pope and a number of U.S. bishops have poked and prodded me back toward the proper path as they have offered a reminder of the blessings that come from supporting our prayers with action.
The Vatican on Monday released Pope Francis’ message for the Fourth World Day of the Poor, which we as a Church will celebrate worldwide Nov. 15. The theme of his message, “Stretch forth your hand to the poor,” is drawn from the Book of Sirach. The pope writes that throughout the Old Testament book, “We discover a precious compendium of advice on how to act in the light of a close relationship with God. … This constant reference to God, however, does not detract from a concrete consideration of mankind. On the contrary, the two are closely connected. … Prayer to God and solidarity with the poor and suffering are inseparable.”
As I read those words, I nod along, proudly, at my consistent prayers for the poor. “Heaven awaits!,” I think to myself. Then I keep reading, and the pope — as he does often — douses my flickering pride with a bucket of ice-cold truth. He writes: “Time devoted to prayer can never become an alibi for neglecting our neighbor in need. In fact the very opposite is true: the Lord’s blessing descends upon us and prayer attains its goal when accompanied by service to the poor.”
I’m going to repeat one sentence of that so that it might stick — for you and for me. “Time devoted to prayer can never become an alibi for neglecting our neighbor in need.”
This isn’t to say that prayer isn’t beneficial. Of course it is. But our prayer is lacking — our openness to God is lacking — if it doesn’t motivate us to reach out.
In a similar manner, on the same day the pope’s message was delivered, the bishops of Maryland — including the ordinary and auxiliary bishops of the Archdiocese of Washington — released a pastoral letter on racial justice entitled “Building Bridges of Understanding and Hope.” They extend a challenge to the faithful, writing, “We call all people of goodwill to prayer to root out any hatred and animosity that has taken hold in one’s own heart.” But again, like the pope, they acknowledge that more is necessary. “Prayer and dialogue, alone, are not enough. We must act to bring about true change.”
They’re right. They’re all right. And so I hope — I pray — that I’m brave enough to accept the challenge of these good shepherds who are calling me (and you — all of us) to be moved to action by his love. To not only fold my hands in prayer, but to stretch forth my hands to those who truly need it. To withhold my helping hand is a sin that cries out for God’s mercy — God’s hug.
And I firmly resolve, with the help of thy grace, to sin no more.
Scott Warden is managing editor for Our Sunday Visitor.