Here’s something you might not know about me: There was a time when I could debate scripture with the best of them. I went to Catholic school for eight years, back when there were actual nuns, tough old biddies who would cut you off at the knees as soon as look at you if you gave them one ounce of lip. So it was religion class what seems now like every day, or at least every other day, alternated with science. It was mass every First Friday, as well as every holy day, every Sunday, and any time the nuns felt it was in our best interest. And even after I graduated, it was CCD for confirmation, mass on Sundays and holy days right through my first year of college.
So I get the whole prayer thing. I prayed hard and often. I prayed for my family, I prayed for the world, I prayed for whatever special petitions we had at church. I prayed I would pass my math test, I prayed that special boy would notice me, I prayed I would learn how to diagram a darn sentence before I had to lose another week of recess, staying in under the eagle eye of Sister Mary Rose, working on compound predicates at the black board.
I’m sure the nuns prayed too, prayed long and hard after a particularly challenging day with us. But here’s the thing — they didn’t just pray. They put their backs into it, each and every one, molding and shaping and very occasionally whacking our souls into shape. It must have been exhausting work, and I loved them for it.
But it was exhausting being molded, too. I would have loved, before one of those recess sessions, to have gone up to Sister Mary Rose and said “I prayed I would learn how to diagram this sentence, Lord! So we’re good now, right?” and then skipped outside to be with my friends. But I knew without even trying what would have happened. She would have pulled me back by my ponytail, sat my bony butt in the chair, and made me do the work. So I prayed to myself, and then stayed in for what seemed like a month until I finally got it right.
The nuns knew what we’ve forgotten: We’re not just supposed to pray. We’re supposed to get off our butts and do the work. I’m heartsick at seeing ‘prayers’ posted on social media yet again in the wake of a mass shooting. Prayers aren’t doing it, people. We can pray all we want, but prayers won’t bring back the fifty people who died yesterday, won’t do them one bit of good. Won’t help the 32 in Virginia, the 27 in Sandy Hook, the countless others who are shot every day. Won’t help the ones who will be shot tomorrow, or the day after that.
What WILL change things is doing the work. The work of electing candidates who believe in gun reform, who will stand up to powerful lobbyists and say no civilian needs a weapon that can slaughter 50 people in the space of a song. Period.
Prayer can be good. But not by itself. It’s past time. Let’s get to work.