Shut Up and Pray

What is our job, as Catholics, when our nation tumbles into chaos, violence, and political mayhem? This is a fair question to ask, especially for anyone living in the United States these days. Unfortunately I do not hear a lot of people asking it. Everyone seems to think they know exactly what their job is. They need to criticize law enforcement, diagnose the country with institutionalized racism, join a protest, or post an enlightening black square with a few inclusive hashtags on their social media page. Alternatively, others think their job is to counter-protest, argue that institutionalized racism does not actually exist, or angrily post long assessments of what is really happening and who the real villains are.

There are three problems with this.

First, to the extent that these groups are opposed to one another (and they certainly are opposed on a number of issues), one of them is right and the other one is wrong. This means you had better be doubly sure that you are on the right side. There is probably some truth and some falsehood on both “sides,” but that only makes your job harder. Now you have to make sure you are informed, unbiased, not blinded by emotion, not motivated by partisanship, and intelligent enough to actually understand the enormous complexity of each individual facet of the thing you are talking about. The first problem with expressing your opinion right now is that you are probably wrong. Even if you are not wrong, you are probably bad at articulating your ideas.

But let us assume that you are a genius and you really have figured it all out. We can even imagine that you have thought up the perfect words to express your ideas. There is still another problem, which is that you are not going to change anyone’s mind. There is a decent chance that nobody will read what you write or listen to what you say. There is an even better chance that, if they do read or listen, they will never take serious time to think about it. Do you really believe that this problem can be helped, let alone solved, with Instagram posts and tweets? Chances are, the only thing that your efforts on social media will do is make everyone more angry. Those who disagree with you will become angry that you would dare to say such a thing. Those who agree will become inflamed at the stellar points you are making, and they will wonder how anyone could possibly disagree. This anger can not be good for anyone.

That leads to the third problem with voicing your opinion. Even if, in some very small way, you managed to post something that is good for the world, I still wonder whether or not it would be good for you. How are you feeling these days? What does obsessively checking the news, reading opinionated articles, and watching violent videos from the worst places in our country do to your mind and your soul? Are you more or less able to love people after reading the things they post online? It is good to be informed, but at what point are we too informed? Do you feel depressed, anxious, frustrated, angry, or resentful? One of the problems with trying to fix the world during times like this is that you will inevitably fail, and you probably won’t feel comfortable and at peace once you do.

All of this suggests that actively throwing ourselves into the fight is not a good idea right now. It is bad for the country. It is bad for our neighbors. It is bad for us. You probably already knew this, but you may not have taken it to heart. A lot of the noise being generated in our country right now comes from a decent place. Many people are honestly thirsting for justice and for an end to violence. I would not tell those people to do nothing, but I do not think social media posts and picket signs are the solution. If you want to know what you should do, try to look through a Catholic lens. If the world is too loud, try being quiet.

As partisan modern Americans, we do not like to admit when we do not know something. Ignorance is political weakness. But as Catholics, we need to believe in humility. We have to admit when the problem is too big for us. Not only do we believe in our own smallness, but the Church has always been clear about the largeness of the problem. Earth is fallen place. Christ’s kingdom is not of this world. It is natural to lash out against the injustice we see surrounding us, but if we did not expect it, or if we think it will go away, then we missed the Original Sin memo. Until Christ returns, evil is here to stay. We are not called to fight against the cross; we are called to carry it.

The last thing to remember is that the Church affirms the power of prayer. As partisan modern Americans, we like policy solutions and laws and elections. We usually turn to these things to solve our problems. The flaw with this is that Christ did not talk about politics very much at all, and whenever he did, it was with a dismissive “render unto Caesar.” Christianity is not a political party. We are not living for this world, and even if we were, your tweets would not change a thing. On the bright side, your prayers might. If you honestly turn to God with an open heart and offer him your petitions, that could make a real difference, whether you see the effect or not. Have we forgotten that the Church proclaims the “power” of prayer, or are we just not comfortable applying Church standards to our own lives all that often? If you got off the internet and out of the streets, and you spent all that time praying instead, I promise you, with 100% certainty, that you would have a much greater positive impact by doing so.

Stop trying to save the world. Christ already did that. We do not need your thoughts. We need his thoughts. So shut up and pray.