This past year has been one marked by an increase in senseless violence worldwide. It seems like every day we learn of a new city that is experiencing a tragedy. What can be frustrating is that we keep on praying for peace, but nothing seems to happen.
This has led many people to start a movement on Twitter with the hashtag #dontpray. After every tragedy they see the same pattern of people tweeting #PrayforNice or #PrayforMunich and they are distressed because nothing happens. Instead of continuing to pray they take the opposite approach of telling people to #dontpray. In their eyes, prayer doesn't work, it does nothing and detracts from working for peace (aka, actually doing something for peace).
So in the face of such tragedy what should we do? Does God hear our prayers? Should we keep praying for peace?
It is during such times that God is testing our filial trust. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains:
2734 Filial trust is tested - it proves itself - in tribulation. The principal difficulty concerns the prayer of petition, for oneself or for others in intercession. Some even stop praying because they think their petition is not heard. Here two questions should be asked: Why do we think our petition has not been heard? How is our prayer heard, how is it "efficacious"?
Above all things God wants us to trust him and his merciful plan. However, we still complain that God does not hear our prayers. Why do we still complain? Here is how the Catechism puts it:
Why do we complain of not being heard? 2735 In the first place, we ought to be astonished by this fact: when we praise God or give him thanks for his benefits in general, we are not particularly concerned whether or not our prayer is acceptable to him. On the other hand, we demand to see the results of our petitions. What is the image of God that motivates our prayer: an instrument to be used? or the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ?
Do not be troubled if you do not immediately receive from God what you ask him; for he desires to do something even greater for you, while you cling to him in prayer.
We must remember that when we pray for peace, God is not a magician who waves a wand over the world to establish peace. He is a merciful Father who loves us and wants us to be co-workers with him. God desires that there is peace on earth, but he wants us to trust him, pray to him and ultimately imitate his example.
In fact, God greatly desires the good of all as he says through the prophet Jeremiah:
“For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile” (Jeremiah 29:11-14, empahsis added).
But why is there evil in the world if God desires to give us a "future and a hope?"
That is one of the hardest questions to answer. However, the Catechism gives us a good explanation:
309 If God the Father almighty, the Creator of the ordered and good world, cares for all his creatures, why does evil exist? To this question, as pressing as it is unavoidable and as painful as it is mysterious, no quick answer will suffice. Only Christian faith as a whole constitutes the answer to this question...There is not a single aspect of the Christian message that is not in part an answer to the question of evil.
310 But why did God not create a world so perfect that no evil could exist in it? With infinite power God could always create something better. But with infinite wisdom and goodness God freely willed to create a world "in a state of journeying" towards its ultimate perfection.
311 Angels and men, as intelligent and free creatures, have to journey toward their ultimate destinies by their free choice and preferential love. They can therefore go astray. Indeed, they have sinned. Thus has moral evil, incommensurably more harmful than physical evil, entered the world. God is in no way, directly or indirectly, the cause of moral evil. He permits it, however, because he respects the freedom of his creatures and, mysteriously, knows how to derive good from it:
312 In time we can discover that God in his almighty providence can bring a good from the consequences of an evil, even a moral evil, caused by his creatures: "It was not you", said Joseph to his brothers, "who sent me here, but God. . . You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive." From the greatest moral evil ever committed - the rejection and murder of God's only Son, caused by the sins of all men - God, by his grace that "abounded all the more", brought the greatest of goods: the glorification of Christ and our redemption. But for all that, evil never becomes a good.
314 We firmly believe that God is master of the world and of its history. But the ways of his providence are often unknown to us. Only at the end, when our partial knowledge ceases, when we see God "face to face", will we fully know the ways by which - even through the dramas of evil and sin - God has guided his creation to that definitive sabbath rest for which he created heaven and earth.
In the end, it comes down to our free-will. Evil exists because we wouldn't be able to love if we weren't free. We are the ones who choose to commit these evil acts, which means we are also the ones who can correct our mistakes through prayer and good works.
We must also remember that the world in which we live also has a spiritual dimension to it and our prayers greatly aid us in the spiritual battle against evil. God does answer our prayers and we should keep praying for peace, for we believe that this battle against evil is not only a physical battle, but above all a spiritual battle against the evil one. He is the one who tempts us to kill our brother or sister and is pleased when we commit such horrific acts.
It may look like our prayers do nothing, but at the end of time we will witness how our prayers held up the world and truly had an effect.
Let us continue to pray as well as work for peace in this world. We cannot do one and neglect the other. God wants us to use our free-will for the good of all, recognizing the spiritual and physical realities of this world.