A Plea to the Clergy from the Pews
DON'T JUST PREACH TO US ABOUT SAFE SUBJECTS!
Several months ago my pastor began his homily by asking members of the congregation to stand up and mention bad things they had heard in the news recently. People mentioned a hurricane, the shooting of a policeman, a young girl found murdered, and the war in Bosnia. The pastor then read again a portion of the passage from Habakkuk that had been part of that Sunday’s readings: “How long, O Lord? I cry out for help but you do not listen? I cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not intervene. Why do you let me see ruin: Why must I look at misery?” (Hab. 1:1-3). The pastor went on to ask, “What can God do except what He can do through us? We are the hands of God.” He asked us to search our own hearts in terms of the suffering going on right around us. What were we doing about the homeless in our community? What were we doing about the suffering people in our neighborhood?
I admire this priest’s wholehearted dedication to social justice and his efforts to get his parishioners to take personal responsibility for building it. And yet, the homily left me feeling disquieted and perplexed. Some reflection has helped me clarify what disturbed me about this homily — and so many others I hear.
For starters, I have problems with the theology that underlies it: that God can work only through us. I know that many modern theologians say that it is immature and naive to expect that our prayers of petition will cause God to bring about change. Fr. Richard McBrien, in his Catholicism, states:
In prayers of petition, we explicitly come to terms with our needs and those of other people. We make ourselves ever more sensitive to our obligations to do whatever is possible to fulfill those needs…. Prayer, in other words, does not effect a change in God but in ourselves.
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