The violence needs to top
In today’s gospel, we have part of Jesus’ long and intimate prayer that he offers to the Father at the Last Supper—something we find only in the gospel of John. So, to begin our reflection on prayer, I want to offer two stories…
A man’s daughter asked the parish priest to come and pray with her father. When the priest arrived at their home, he found the father in bed, propped up by two pillows; an empty chair sat next to the bed. The priest believed that the father had been informed of his visit.
“I guess you were expecting my visit?” the priest asked. “No, who are you?” replied the father. “I’m the new associate in the parish. When I saw the empty chair, I figured you knew I was going to show up.”
“Oh, yeah, the chair,” said the bedridden man. I’ve never told anyone this before, not even my daughter, but all my life I have never known how to pray. At Sunday Mass I used to hear the pastor talk about prayer, but it always went right over my head; and so I abandoned prayer. Then, one day my best friend Joe told me that prayer is simply having a conversation with Jesus. Sit down and place an empty chair in front of you; now in faith see Jesus sitting on that chair. It’s not spooky because Jesus promised to be with us always. So, Father, you see, I tried it and I’ve liked it so much that I do it a couple of hours every day. I’m careful, though; if my daughter saw me talking to an empty chair, she’d send me to the funny farm.”
Two nights later, the daughter called to tell the priest that her father died that afternoon. “Did he appear to die in peace?” the priest asked. “Why yes, Father,” said the daughter. “When I left the house around two o’clock, he called me over to his bedside, told me one of his corny jokes and kissed me on the cheek. When I got home later, I found him dead. But there was something strange. Apparently, just before Daddy died, he must’ve fallen because I found him with his head resting on the chair beside the bed.”
Isn’t that a beautiful story? Now, for story number two… Shrieking in the middle of the night, the smoke detector startled a family awake. Immediately jumping from their bed, the parents yelled for their children to hurry out of the house. Once outside, the parents started counting and discovered that one child was missing. A parent’s worst fear was now realized. Then they saw their son at a second floor window, trapped by the flames.
The father, a very devout man, immediately dropped to his knees, praying that God would somehow work to save his son. The mother, too, was a person of deep faith, but also a very practical woman. Immediately, she ran next door, yanked a neighbor’s extension ladder from the garage wall, propped it against her house and rescued her son from the flaming house.
There are times when the best way to express faith is to get off your knees, go get a ladder and do what needs to be done in a given situation.
And that brings us to Jesus’ prayer in the gospel. He is praying for his followers and those who would come to believe in him through their efforts. His deep desire is for oneness, that his disciples allow his intimate presence to be with them, making them one with each other and with him. But even more, the oneness he prays for is taken up into the very intimacy of God, to the life of the Trinity, into the oneness that Jesus the Son has with the Father in the divine energy of the Holy Spirit.
But this prayer is not just an elevated experience in the mind and heart. There are practical consequences…the reason we are to be one is so that others may see our oneness, see our love, and then want to become Jesus’ followers. Our prayer needs to lead into our actions, our way of life, the demonstrated authenticity of who we are. Our prayer creates intimacy and strength, and then it leads to action, to everyday life, to the types of persons we are and what we do to demonstrate our faith.
We have been traumatized yet again by an enormously heart-breaking tragedy: nineteen young children and two teachers heartlessly killed by a rampaging young man with an assault rifle. And everyone is asking: What do we do? Will it be any different this time? Will anything change? Will the lives of innocent people be any safer?
So, what do we do? Of course, we pray. We pray for all those involved—parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents, classmates, teachers, administrators, law enforcement personnel, community leaders, neighbors, the entire community that has been bludgeoned by this act of violence. We pray that they will experience the closeness of God—a God who knows what it is to be crucified, to be cut down all too young when he was trying to do good and to bring hope to so many who lived with little hope. Prayer helps. Prayer changes things.
But is it enough? Do we remain silent? Do we simply accept the fact that an eighteen year old can so easily get his hands on weapons of mass destruction, meant primarily for use by soldiers? Do we accept the theory that the best way to respond is to get even more guns out there—into the hands of teachers, so the next time they can shoot back? Does that really make sense? It’s not working, and the insanity just goes on. Let me point out something very important. Some people are saying that this is solely a political issue. That’s not true. When innocent children die like this repeatedly, it is a moral issue. And let me suggest that we need more and more people to become angry enough, committed enough, compassionate enough, to demand change. How you do it is a question of tactics. Some will demonstrate, others will write to members of Congress, still others will talk to their neighbors to raise awareness and to help others to see the urgency around this issue. But little children are being slaughtered, and something needs to change.
So prayer certainly means having an intimate heart-to-heart relationship with the Lord. But sometimes, when the house is on fire, you have to use a ladder to get people out. And when the country’s awash in unspeakable violence, you have to act, you need the courage to speak the truth: what we’re doing isn’t working. And it has to stop.