In the last few years, particularly thanks to social media, we’ve had a rise of a disturbing phenomenon called “Prayer Shaming.” That’s when news of some horror or tragedy becomes national news – whether it’s evil like a terrorist attack or mass shooting, or even stories of devastations from a weather related event like a hurricane or tornado – a number of individuals in the public eye (like a politician or celebrity) will share the sentiment of “sending thoughts and prayers” to the victims and their families.   Prayer Shaming is where there will be an ugly backlash to this – where other politicians or celebrities will respond dismissively. A few years ago in the wake of a terrorist attack in Paris the phrase and image #PrayForParis was trending, some media outlets pushed back with images saying “Don’t Pray for Paris – Religion caused this tragedy in the first place.”  When another terrorist attack occurred in Orlando in 2016, killing almost 50 people, one late night TV host sarcastically responded to the call to pray for the victims and families –The biggest, most helpful thing you can do to ensure this never happens again is sit quietly in a room with your eyes closed, talking to nobody. The magazine, The Atlantic tried to frame “Prayer shaming” – saying one side was more caring because they were advocating doing something, taking action – while the other was in their opinion offering meaningless prayers.

Hi everyone. This is my homily for July 21, 2019 – 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time. The readings for today’s Mass can be found HERE Thanks as always for reading; sharing this blog on your social media sites; and your feedback and comments. I appreciate it. Have a good week – God Bless – Fr Jim. AUDIO . Also you can get the audios of the homilies from iTunes as a Podcast: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/fr-jim-cherns-homilies/id1440618142?mt=2

There’s probably many reasons that this is happening.  Obviously we are living in an increasingly secular/non religious society.  But the fact that we can see and hear whatever violence, evil, killing in terrifyingly extreme ways almost immediately, even on our phones, has left many scared and angry.  So there’s this frustration that we want to immediately see some action.  Add how divisive politics has become and dismissive people are to one another’s different points of view, creates an environment that the calls to do something – anything begins to get louder… and can take over things like thinking and sadly prayer as well.

But one of the points that article in The Atlantic on Prayer Shaming so accurately made was that Prayer and political action have a deeply entwined history in America. From civil rights to women’s suffrage, nearly every social-justice movement has had strong supporters from religious communities—U.S. history is littered with images like the one of pastors and rabbis marching on Selma, side by side with political activists.

Prayer and actions shouldn’t be competing activities nor seen as mutually exclusive things.  Like if you’re a person of faith that you can’t be in favor of gun legislation; or that a member of the military who is out in battle isn’t prayerful.  But for some reason that seems to be a mentality that some have loudly accepted.

This debate about doing something and praying isn’t a new one… as we heard in today’s Gospel.  This classic episode of Jesus coming to the home of Martha and Mary.  The encounter is often described as a metaphor of one who is active (Martha) and the other contemplative, prayerful (Mary) On the surface, Martha’s working her tail off, trying to be a good host, Mary’s simply enjoying being with Jesus; and when Martha’s overwhelmed by the tasks and complains to Jesus, he seems to side with Mary, the “slacker” in the story.

But it goes a lot deeper than that. Jesus isn’t judging the tasks or the work that either sister is doing. He’s not unappreciative or dismissive of Martha’s contributions or even saying that Mary’s doing something more important when he says she has “chosen the better part.”   Jesus is speaking of what is going on in each of these women’s hearts. Martha has made a judgement about Mary’s responsiveness to the Lord as less important than what she’s doing. She’s determined that Mary shouldn’t be doing what she’s doing and she’s become bitter about it to the point of complaining openly about it.   In doing so, whatever generosity of spirit Martha may have had is pushed aside as she goes about her tasks, more and more frustrated that Mary hasn’t offered simply to help her (I wonder if Martha even thought to ask for help or had she simply expected Mary to read her mind and offer to help her?) Perhaps as all of this was going on Martha might have forgotten who it was she was busy preparing the meal for in the first place – that Jesus was right there in their midst.  

That lapse causes Martha to become judgmental and critical kind of ruins the atmosphere.  Rather than Jesus being welcomed into their home and experiencing true hospitality, being acknowledged, attended to and responded to in appropriate ways, he ends up mediating a squabble between the two.  That’s what evil does.  Turns people against one another.  Sure in this Gospel encounter, it’s a momentary lapse that Jesus gently corrects and the sisters are reconciled (as they will both be looking to Jesus later in the Gospels when their brother passes away).  But I can’t help but think that as we are facing so many incidents of diabolic evil inflicting such brutality and chaos on the world – that one of the devil’s biggest successes is turning us against one another.

For us to confront the great difficulties of our day, the evil that is unleashed in violence, terrorism, extremism – we as Christians need both – we do need to act, we do need to protect, we do need to examine laws and policies on a whole host of fronts that seem to be playing out in dramatic, violent ways all at the same time.

But the foundation for that as Christians has to be sincere, deep, genuine prayer.  That means it’s not enough to simply tweet “PRAYERS FOR (insert latest tragedy).”  We have to actually do that.  Connect with the Lord in our prayer.  Prayer which opens us to hearing and responding to the Holy Spirit’s promptings and directions; Prayer which keeps me open to the Word of God; Prayer that is attentive to that which is good, which is beautiful, which is just.  Prayer that is loving, that is focused on those who are suffering and in need.

Pope Francis, once said:

Fear paralyzes us, it always paralyzes us; it makes us close in on ourselves, closed to God’s surprises…

Prayer enables grace to open a way out

          from closure to openness,

          from fear to courage,

          from sadness to joy.

          And we can add: from division to unity.

Our being here is an important first step. To hear God’s word, to receive Jesus’ Body and Blood in the Eucharist – as Catholics, this is the foundation of our faith lives, our prayer lives. But if you’re like me, it’s easy to run out from Mass and get consumed by the day to day challenges, obstacles and try ourselves to fix, to mend, to heal, to attend to each and every need we encounter.. . without first pausing for a moment, and connecting with the Lord, asking Him to direct our words, our actions.   Truly believing God wants to do just that. Use us to bring about His will into the world around us.

A priest one time said to me when I had lost sight of how much emphasis I was putting on fixing a problem saying to me “We already have a Savior and you ain’t Him”. And he was right. I laughed and said “yeah the best I can say is I’m one of Jesus’ customer service reps… and it’s my responsibility to tell him he’s got a problem call on Line 1, 2, 3, 4… – and what if anything he’d like me to do about it.”   Probably not the most eloquent or pious of images – but it’s an image that works well for me. And when I keep that image in mind, when I look at the boss – Jesus that is – and recognize he always prayed, especially before doing something big, then it’s probably important for us, His followers to do as well.

God moves through prayers… He loves us and desires to give the best gifts to us. In a world that seems spinning out of control, where evil is on the move in dramatic and frightening ways, may you and I continue to reach out to Him, who has promised He will never leave us as orphans with no one to run to. He is here for us… always.