Loving God, your world is a mess. For all its beauty, your creation is now showing its fierce, destructive power. Everywhere on our small globe (and nowhere more than in these United States), people are threatened with death—and dying—from an unforeseen, implacable virus. Young and old, suddenly or slowly after many weeks in a hospital, your beautiful sons and daughters are leaving us.
Countless brave people—medical caregivers like doctors and nurses, essential workers who provide food and keep our cities functioning—are threatened, too. Our efforts to keep this plague from spreading have devastated our economies, driving some toward desperation and despair. Many are stricken daily with searing anxiety. Even the bravest among us wake in the middle of the night in fear. Our political life struggles to be both compassionate and practical. Alas, we the people are fearfully divided.
Yes, Lord, we remember what Jesus of Nazareth taught us: “Do not be anxious about your life, what shall you eat or what shall you drink, nor about your body, what you shall wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?… Which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to your span of life?… Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things…. Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things shall be yours as well.”
Jesus told us not to be anxious, “for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.” And then, in the Our Father, as he taught us how to pray, he concluded by telling us to beg you to deliver us from evil.
But, merciful God, it is not only anxiety about tomorrow, or the longing to be free from sin, that troubles, even terrifies our hearts these days. It is the precarious weakness and murderous power of your own natural creation. How can we not tremble before the threat it poses to our shared human life? Don’t you know that all the faithful—even your most devoted servants—are being shaken?
For what, then, shall we pray? And how? Send us, please, your Spirit to teach us.
Surely, we pray for courage. But not just any courage. Grant us discerning courage, the courage of our scientists labouring into the night to understand the scourge laying waste to us. The courage of civic leaders teaching us patience, often at great cost. The courage of fellow citizens who refuse to surrender to self-regard. The discerning, humble courage that knows your grace is everywhere—and acknowledges our responsibility for the world you have entrusted to us. The courage to live our faith in Jesus of Nazareth, through whom we are one with you in caring for our troubled world. Help us to live this courage in hope.
Gracious God, we pray for hope. But what kind? Not just hope for a world in your hands at the end. But a hope that rises every morning for a day that is yours and ours together. Hope that knows you want light and life for us all—and for all of us to do whatever we can so that your human family finds light and life.
You give us a world to shape in your image, loving God. But it has turned on us. What shall we say and pray? I turn to your Son, who taught us your love unto a mortal end that was an eternal beginning. I turn to the women and men who became his own and lived not for themselves but in service to others. I turn—to trust. Trust that there is scarcely any limit to what our human family can do for each other if we are selfless enough.
And trust that when we have given all we can, we will again and still and forever be given you, your very Self—in your hands not only at the end but always.
Leo J. O’Donovan, SJ, a frequent contributor to Commonweal, is president emeritus of Georgetown University.
With thanks to Commonweal Magazine and Leo J. O’Donovan SJ, where this article originally appeared.