When Prayer Becomes Propaganda

At first glance, the prayer that Father James Martin, S.J. recently published in America, the magazine he edits, seems a heartfelt petition. On closer reading, however, it is more a political statement framed as a prayer.

To be sure, it contains elements that qualify as prayer, notably a plea for God to care for the souls of the dead, the injuries of the wounded, the pain of families, and the exhaustion of caregivers, as well as for the soul of the offender.

Yet the prayer’s overall structure and focus is more political than spiritual.

Its theme is clearly not the sinfulness of man, the historic or contemporary paths to evil, or ways of overcoming our inhumanity to one another. It focuses, instead, on the evil of a single weapon—the gun. “Shooting” appears in the first line, and the only time Fr. Martin uses the word “violence” in the prayer is in the repeated phrase “gun violence.”

He makes no mention of bombs or knives or clubs or fists. Only guns. His sole expressions of his spiritual “tiredness” are against powerful people who “work to prevent any real change” in gun laws and those who say that “gun violence can’t be reduced.” And his only expression of anger is with “selfish financial interests who block change” in gun laws.

It seems clear that Fr. Martin considers those who oppose or block changes to gun laws to be beyond redemption because, although he prays for the shooter, he makes no mention of praying for them, not even for their conversion to his way of thinking.

Considerably worse than making his liberal view on guns central to his prayer is Father Martin’s evident belief that God shares his view!

Speaking to God, he says, “I know that the tiredness I feel [toward conservative thinkers] is your tiredness. It’s the same tiredness that Jesus felt after his own struggles against injustice.“ And again, after expressing his anger at people’s powerlessness and the “selfish financial interests who block change,” he declares to God, “I know that this anger is your anger. It is the same anger Jesus felt when he overturned the tables in the Temple.”

It is not clear how disagreeing with the liberal position on gun control is in any way similar to making God’s house “a den of thieves.” But much more offensive than this flawed analogy is the underlying notion that God Himself must share Father Martin’s contempt for, and demonization of, people who disagree with Father Martin.

I find such lapses lamentable for several reasons.

First, because I can remember when the Jesuit order was universally admired for the intellectual rigor that permeated its education system at every level and that characterized the contributions of its members in a vast array of academic and professional disciplines. (For what happened to diminish that rigor, see The Re-Formed Jesuits by the distinguished Jesuit Scholar Joseph M. Becker, S.J.)

Secondly, because Jesuit works used to be among the most intellectually admired in all of publishing. (I was privileged, a half-century ago, to have my work appear in Fr. Martin’s own magazine, as well as in the Jesuit journal The Catholic Mind.)

Thirdly, because I am sure that older generations of Jesuits would have understood to a man, as Fr. Martin appears not to understand, that statements of opinion belong in essays where they can be subjected to rigorous analysis and debate, rather than attributed to God and hidden in prayers that can easily mislead unsuspecting readers.

Copyright © 2017 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved