April 15, 2013

Making Space for God in the Face of Grave Evil

How do we pray in the face of grave evil and personal disaster?  Often grave evil has a stifling affect on prayer.  One feels overwhelmed and helpless. In this despondency, the mind struggles to search for God's presence, if it struggles at all.  In the face of unexpected disaster, the crushing burden of difficult questions torments the soul.  Yet, the world in which we live and in which we pray has always been riddled with the mystery of grave and overwhelming evil.  How do we begin to pray when God's love seems so absent and the reason for our hope so difficult to affirm?

Sometimes it feels impossible to pray and prayer is reduced to its most essential and simple movement - the cry of the heart for mercy.  On this point, Pope Emeritus Benedict's Spe Salvi refers to Cardinal Nguyen van Thuan's experiences during his long internment in Vietnam (see #34).  Sometimes, there was nothing the Cardinal could offer from his heart and all he could do was repeats passages from Scripture or prayers he memorized.

I have also spoken to those close to death who complain about the same kind of difficulty in prayer.  They want to want to be able to pray - but there are no words, no thoughts, no feelings, nothing to intuit, nothing to imagine, nothing.  In such moments, God seems so absent and in effort to pray, if effort can be made at all, seems so wasted.  So they repeat simple short phrases they have memorized, "now and at the hour of our death" or else "our hope does not disappoint" or even "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus…"  

In such cases, all that is left to the soul seems to be a sort of last vestige of prayer, a feeble desire to raise one's heart to God, a desire hidden in the overwhelming pain that, in this moment and under these circumstances, cannot realize fulfillment and yet chooses to hope anyway.  It is an effort to pray or to desire to pray baptized in heartbreak and dismay -- and in this annihilation, we have already entered deep into the infallible prayer of Christ Crucified.

Who is not reduced to this kind of prayer when the mystery evil crushes the innocent and vulnerable?  When we learn about a friend's daughter paralyzed after a fatal accident, when we learn about explosives killing people at a foot race, or when we learn about the horrific slaughter of babies who having survived callous attempts to abort them were subjected in the most inhumane brutality, it is difficult to pray - the heart is numb, but not our hope.  When the simple words of the Our Father, a Hail Mary, or even the whispered name of Jesus is all that can be offered -- this is what the Lord needs us to offer and this with what love we can muster: for even in the poverty of our prayer, the most frail effort to pray makes space in the world for God to act.  So we find the courage to pray.  The power of God is at work in so many hidden ways that, even when our conversation with the Him is reduced to nothing else than the most humble cry of the heart, the Lord unleashes anew that flood of hope that helps the world begin to see the triumph of good over evil even in face of heart-breaking circumstances.