“I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time- waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God- it changes me.” —C.S. Lewis
The world can be a really hard place. Sometimes we turn on the news to see reports of a natural disaster followed by political turmoil followed by human rights violations — all across the world.
“Sending thoughts and prayers” has come under fire in recents months, with critics claiming that “thoughts and prayers” do not help suffering people recover from the tragedy affecting them.
It’s true that “sending thoughts and prayers” does not help people in the same way that sending clean water, donating blood, or volunteering to search and rescue does.
As Pope Benedict XVI explains in God Is Love, “Christian charity is first of all the simple response to immediate needs and specific situations: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for and healing the sick, visiting those in prison, etc.”
So why did Jesus tell us to pray?
Prayer is a natural response to grief and tragedy, not because we can expect God to swoop in and fix things, but because He can give us the grace to make us bearers of change. Prayer does not make God “more good,” but it does bring goodness into the world when we express to God our sincere concern for our brothers and sisters.
How prayer makes a difference
The power of prayer does not come because it changes God — but it does change things and it does change us.
When we pray, we allow our hearts to respond rightly to evil and suffering in the world. Our hearts open to the pain of injustice — something that helps turn us toward doing what is right.
Pope Francis reminds us that “in prayer our hearts find the strength not to be cold and insensitive in the face of situations of injustice. In prayer, God keeps calling us, opening our hearts to charity.”
Suffering people needs our prayers and our solidarity, and the two are forever linked. Prayer encourages us to live in solidarity, and by living in solidarity, our eyes are opened to the need for prayer.
Pray and act
Prayer without action, Pope Francis explains, is an incomplete prayer.
We are called to act in a way that will promote what we are asking God to do in our prayers. God gave us the ability to do His will in this world, so we have the responsibility to work for good — especially in the face of severe suffering.
But with all the bads news we hear about on the news, it can be overwhelming to think about all there is to do. Just like C.S. Lewis, I feel helpless when I can’t drop everything to fight the Thomas Fire or welcome every refugee into my home.
When I pray for the suffering happening all around the world, it opens my heart to the people suffering right in front of me.
I can’t pray for those who lost their homes in Hurricane Maria and not feel something when I walk past a homeless man downtown. Instead of walking past briskly, I look him the eye and offer him what I can, and then I remember to bring donations to the food pantry at church on the weekend.
I won’t solve the world’s problems, but I can certainly bring more goodness into it.
Which is why we mustn’t stop praying.
Why we pray
“We believers have no recipe for these problems, but we have one great resource: prayer. We believers pray. We must pray. Prayer is our treasure,” Pope Francis explains.
When you “pray for peace” or “pray for Puerto Rico,” consider also praying for the courage to make a difference — because we are called to be catalysts of the change we are asking God to send.
Let prayer be the first step of any action you take to right wrong or bring good into the world.
We can change the world
Pope Francis invites us, “Dear friends, by simple gestures, by simple prayerful actions which honor Christ in the least of his brothers and sisters, we can bring the power of His love into our world, and truly change it.”
Whether my prayer translates into actual service work, sending money to Catholic Relief Services, or being extra kind to my coworkers today — prayer does change me, and one small action at a time, it changes the world.
So, the next time you hear about some darkness in our world, don’t be afraid to pray. Let your prayer change you and open your heart to empathy for others and courage to do what it right.