To pray or not to pray?
Letter to the Editor | Monday, October 7, 2019
In the Oct. 3 issue of The Observer, a fellow letter-writer stated the following:
“Protest in the Capitol. Pray at home.”
Those sentences, when provided together, seek to accomplish two things. The first such intention is to distance “prayer” and “protest” from one another, to make them seem incompatible, such that they may only be performed separately. The second is to discourage public prayer by private individuals, to encourage the isolation and concealment of prayer so that others may feel comforted by its absence.
The former is, of course, entirely contradictory to the nature of prayer and its invocation throughout history. Even putting aside the many thousands — perhaps millions — of religious martyrs who prayed with the knowledge that doing so would result in their untimely death (writing this in the heart of London, I cannot help but recall the many Roman Catholics who were executed for exercising their faith through prayer during the second half of the last millennium), prayer has been employed by all sorts as a central component of their protest, if not the sole embodiment of it. Martin Luther King Jr., for example, did not often speak publicly as an activist without incorporating some measure of prayer. Indeed, when the well-known picture was taken of Dr. King and Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, arms interlocked, in 1964 at Chicago’s Soldier Field, they were singing “We Shall Overcome,” a gospel song — a prayer — and an anthem of the Civil Rights Movement. Mahatma Gandhi, meanwhile, well-known for peacefully protesting the British occupation of India through hunger strikes accompanied by prayer, once said, “We can over-indulge in food. But we can never overindulge in prayer.” Even more, Thomas Jefferson, so often admired for his role in promoting the separation of church and state in the American system of governance, went so far as to sponsor, as a member of the House of Burgesses in 1774, a resolution proclaiming a year of fasting and prayer, with the hope that it might “electrify” the colonial citizens of Virginia for the benefit of the Revolution.
On the other hand, the second of these intentions serves as no more than an expression of the author’s personal belief about what it means — or rather, what she believes it should mean — to exercise one’s faith. For any governmental authority in this country to require as much would, of course, violate the First Amendment, not to mention the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
At the risk of revealing a possible misinterpretation of my own making, the contributor of the article does little to disguise her overall purpose, which would seem to be calling into question the sincerity of those who seek to pray and, as they see it, carry out a pilgrimage. Yet, no matter how self-righteous one may or may not be, no matter how wise or inquisitive, no one is capable of making that determination. Religious differences aside, the true sincerity, and therefore legitimacy, of one’s prayer can only really be measured by the one to whom the prayer is being submitted. (The author’s understanding of a pilgrimage also leaves much to be desired, but I choose not to expand on that point here.)
Although this letter is not intended to weigh in on the highly contentious issue of abortion and its use, it is worth noting the inherent inconsistency of the position so often adopted by the procedure’s most adamant supporters — namely, those who would see groups such as Notre Dame Right to Life barred from praying (or protesting, for that matter) outside of establishments such as Whole Woman’s Health of South Bend. That is, a so-called choice in which support for only one option is made available is not really a choice at all — in actuality, it is nothing short of coercion.
Finally, while the author of the aforementioned article desires for you to pray in a particular place, the simple reality is that others — even at Our Lady’s University — will prefer you not pray at all. In an increasingly secularized world, with irritation, even hostility, shown toward the outward profession of faith becoming more common, you, dear reader, may very well find yourself hesitating. To pray or not to pray? So, to you, I say this: Whenever, wherever, with whomever, and for whatever you choose to pray, “pray without ceasing” (Thess. 5:17).
Pray at home; pray at school; pray on the bus; pray in front of the U.S. Capitol (or inside of it); pray outside of abortion clinics and immigrant detention facilities; pray alone; pray with friends, family and colleagues; pray inside of your church synagogue, temple or mosque; pray for those whom you love and for those whom you struggle to love; pray aloud; and of course, pray in the silence of your own heart.
While we, as people of faith, must never force others to pray and must always show great sensitivity toward those in difficult situations (neither of which requires that we conceal or suppress our own prayer), know that your prayer is powerful. Why else would others try so hard to discourage it?
David P. Spicer
third year law student
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.