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When all you can do is pray

The news breaks, and it’s horrific.There has been another mass shooting. People are injured. People are dead. Lives are shattered. Forever.

We see pictures of the victims—lives full of promise cut short. Smiling faces show adults and children that we could have passed yesterday at the grocery store, shaken hands with at church, or waved to in our neighborhood. Now they are gone. The lives of those they have left behind will never be the same.

After an act of such violence, none of us is ever the same.

Every time there is a shooting—yet another shooting—I feel so helpless. We live in a world where, much as I try to explain that it is unlikely, my children think they might die by gunfire. They hear and see the news. They participate in drills at school where they imagine armed intruders attacking them. Thanks to the drills, they know how to hide, how to run, and how to throw items from their lunchboxes at a perpetrator. I’m not arguing that those simulations aren’t needed. Yet, how is that our reality?

What can we possibly do when faced with such evil? It’s easy to feel so overwhelmed that we think we are incapable of doing anything. But, as I tell our sons, there is always something we can do: We can pray.

We can take all our anger and grief and confusion and frustration and worry and sadness and turn it over to Him. We can ask Him for solace and solutions. And we can ask Him what we might be able to do to help build the Kingdom of God on earth. Each of us has a role. Each of us can make the world a little better—for the greater glory of God.

It begins with a conversation with God. It begins with prayer.

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,” the Prayer of St. Francis begins. “Where there is hatred, let me sow love.”

When we have no other words, no certain direction, we can start there. We can take that one single, small step.

Some people argue that offering “thoughts and prayers” is meaningless. They mock prayer as if it were empty and without action. But prayer is powerful. Through prayer, we turn the situation over to God. We admit that the situation is not within our power alone. We need God. Only God, perhaps—can bring true comfort and peace to the loved ones left behind. Only God can help change the hearts of those who don’t see a need for the change that must occur to prevent these shootings from happening again.

Prayer isn’t just a bunch of words that are recited passively and then forgotten. Prayer is active. It engages mind and spirit—and sometimes body, too. It’s a point of connection and commitment. It brings clarity and strength. Prayer also inspires intentional, purposeful action. Because, you see, prayer doesn’t simply go in one direction. Prayer opens the person praying up to communication from our Creator, our Father in Heaven.

When we turn our heart and mind over to God, we might find Him helping us identify ways we can act to bring about essential change. Maybe God is calling us to speak out about legislation. Maybe He wants us to get involved in young people’s lives at church or in our community. Maybe He wants us to focus our energy on raising our children with love. Maybe He wants us to work to fight racism and other forms of hatred and bring greater justice to our small corner of the world.

Maybe He will guide us to be an instrument of His peace. That might require large, vocal action. It might mean working in small, quiet, impactful ways. We won’t know what is needed of us, however, until we ask.

“Prayer is the best weapon we possess,” St. Padre Pio said. “It is the key that opens the heart of God.”

It’s easy to feel that all we can do is pray—and that is often true. But what if prayer is not just a last resort, but our best, most powerful option?

Lord, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

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