Action Alert!

a prayer is more than a 'few nice words'

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jun 16, 2010

In Springfield, Massachusetts, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP) is dissatisfied with Bishop Timothy McDonnell.

Bill Nash, a member of SNAP, said, “There's so much more that he needs to do and for him to just pray for us, that's not good enough."

We don’t know that, do we? We’re not in a position to judge the efficacy of the bishop’s prayers. If he has faith the size of a mustard seed he can move mountains—and heaven knows there are mountains that need moving. It’s quite possible that prayer is the best thing he can do for people who have suffered from sexual abuse.

Which would you rather have: a prayer or a policy? In the economy of salvation, a heartfelt prayer is bound to have a positive effect, even if that effect is not obvious here and now. Policies sometime fail. Prayers never fail. Let me go a step further. Policies are more likely to fail when they are designed by Church leaders who are not praying hard enough.

From a secular perspective, a promise of prayers is the ecclesiastical equivalent of what political campaigners refer to as “a few nice words”—a polite brush-off. It’s revealing to notice how often the internal critics of the Catholic hierarchy use language that suggests they too have adopted the secular perspective.

Yes, by all means hold bishops accountable for their actions and their policies. But don’t slip into the error of thinking that their prayers are nugatory.

As for me and my house, give us a bishop who prays. Then the policies will take care of themselves.

  • Not because sound policies aren’t important. They are.
  • Not because a saintly bishop wouldn’t need to enact good policies. He would.
  • Not because grace replaces nature. It doesn’t.

But because a bishop who prays is more likely to have the prudence that will lead him to inaugurate good policies, and the fortitude to carry them out.  

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: lauriem5377 - Jun. 19, 2010 1:14 PM ET USA

    Amen. Prayer IS the best first step to finding the right things to do in regard to the abuse crisis.