The terror shootings in San Bernardino continue to trouble me and make me sad.

I am praying for the families and loved ones of those who were killed, and praying that those who were wounded and traumatized will find comfort and healing.

In the aftermath of the shooting, I was sad to see that this simple act of offering prayers is becoming controversial and complicated in our society.

On news shows and in social media, there were some politicians, journalists and others who were criticizing people for praying, saying that prayer is “useless” and suggesting that praying was an excuse not to deal with the challenges we face in the world.

I suppose this is a sign of where our secular society is heading. It is unfortunate, but many people today do not see God’s loving hand at work in the world.

A secular society tends to see only material causes and their effects. So when we have problems, we look for technical “fixes” — new laws and processes, new technologies. Prayer seems irrelevant because it doesn’t contribute a “solution” or produce “results.”

But the secular critics of prayer have questions that we as Christians need to take seriously. Why should we pray and what can we “expect” when we pray? What good does it do — does prayer actually “work”?

Jesus prayed all the time and he taught his followers to pray as children talking to our Father. He said God is always listening and that he cares for us with a good Father’s love.

Jesus taught us to ask for specific things — daily bread; the strength to fight against temptation; liberation from evil. He taught us to pray and to expect answers. “Ask and it will be given to you,” he said.

So it is natural for those of us who follow Jesus to turn to God for our needs and also to pray for others.

These are some of the most moving scenes in the life of Jesus — when people petition him to help a loved one who is in trouble. “My daughter is at the point of death. Please, come lay your hands on her that she may get well and live.”  

I thought of these words from the Gospel when I was reading about a text message that a young woman sent during the San Bernardino attack: “Dad shooting at work. … Pray for us.”

To pray for another person is a beautiful and selfless act of love. It is not “doing nothing.” In fact, it is doing everything that we can because we are asking God’s help — and with God all things are possible, and all things are possible for those who believe.

We pray with good reason and always with confidence in our Father. But prayer is a struggle. The Catechism has an article titled, “The Battle of Prayer.”

Prayer is a battle because we know that the world can be cruel. Sometimes it is hard to understand why God allows so much hurt, so much suffering, so much senseless violence. So often it seems that the wicked are “winning” and that God is not listening.

In the face of the world’s suffering and cruelty, our faith and our prayer teach us two things.

First, that we need to trust more in God’s providence and rely more on his mercy. He is the Lord of history and his creation is unfolding according to his plan of love.

God hears the cries of those who suffer. But he does not always give us the answers we want to hear. And that is hard.

But God does answer every prayer and he brings good out of every evil. We need to trust in his love, although we may not understand his answers until we meet him face-to-face in the world to come.

We don’t pray to change God, we pray to change ourselves. That is why the essence of prayer is to pray — not for what we want, but for what He wants. Thy will be done. Not my will.

The second thing our faith teaches is that we must overcome evil with good and respond to hatred with love.

Prayer for others is the beginning of compassion. Prayer leads us to suffer with those who are suffering, to work for justice, and to be instruments of God’s compassion and mercy. We pray for those who suffer. And we pray that we will be an answer to the prayers of those who suffer.

So let’s keep praying for one another and for our brothers and sisters in San Bernardino. Let’s pray in a special way for peace in our world, and the conversion of every heart that hates.

And in this season of Advent and this Year of Mercy — let us ask our Blessed Mother Mary to touch the hearts of those who do not yet believe and cannot yet find the reason to pray. 

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