Petitioning God

How do we ask things of God? On his comment a bit earlier tonight Max asked:

I’m not angry. I’m not the one with power. I’m not (G)od. I can’t do anything to intercede on an attack on innocent children. If God exists he just watched the executions.

How do I ask (G)od to intercede to protect the children, if he is already watching the executions by himself?

When I work with writers of the General Intercessions, I’m cautious about how petitions at Mass are worded. Few statements raise the fur on my back more than something like this:

For the poor people of the world, that God will help them.

It turns the Mass into a feel-good exercise in apathy. Let’s remember people worse off than ourselves, and then turn them all over to God who should be, through other people, taking care of them. And we can move on with our disengaged lives.

To be sure, no single person or community can solve the problems of all the needy. A tenacious campaigner can make life miserable for politicians, to be sure. A quantity of people in an election, at a shareholder meeting, or active in their community can crank one issue now and then to the good.

Not to demean Sandy Hook or belittle Max’s life disruption over it, but more than twenty innocent children die all over the world each day. Thousands of lives are lost because politicians can’t remove the blockades to distribute food and medicine effectively and fairly. Overpopulation is not yet the human problem on this planet. It is politics. It is all in our hands, meaning the fourteen billion limbs with seventy billion fingers at the end of them.

What makes twenty Massachusetts kids the last straw more than a few thousand Africans?

Saint Ignatius would counsel people beset by discouragement and darkness to pray a bit more, to stay active, and to serve others.

I am sure that Max and likely many other atheists do get involved. They serve in soup kitchens, as tutors and big siblings, even as they care for the relationships within their own families. Good. I think this is a start.

Turning back to tragedies like mentally ill people getting their hands on guns, there are indeed ways to lobby, fuss, protest, and make an unholy nuisance of oneself. If I felt with Max’s depth, I wouldn’t be blaming God. I might sit in front of the gun store where Adam Lanza’s firearm was purchased with a simple sign “Remember Sandy Hook.” Maybe I would sit there sawing plastic water pistols into small pieces. Maybe I would volunteer at a psychiatric hospital.

After our own hearts have been moved from desolation into doing something, perhaps we can keep a closer watch over our prayers. God isn’t going to suspend the laws of nature, just to wave a magic wand to clean up a mess we’ve had a hand in making. God’s agency is through people. Teresa of Avila’s credo is almost a cliché, but perhaps it bears reminding just who God’s agents are on this planet.

For the poor people of the world, that they will know love, fulfillment, and friendship, from the people God sends to help them. And God help us, if we are unwilling.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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