SOME people have been saying that the Church (or Churches?), amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, should give financial assistance instead of prayers. I agree to the first proposal. I strongly disagree, however, to the second. It is true that Churches in particular and religions in general should be sensitized and sensitive to people’s needs. Still, prayer cannot be underestimated in terms of immediate and ultimate value.
Prayer is important so long as humans exist. You need not belong to any religion in order to understand that prayer has its uses. In fact, it should be the usual recourse and not just the last recourse. Prayer should always be a daily thing and not the last option. The antagonism of some people towards prayer, both implicit and explicit, comes from a misconception of the nature and function of prayer.
We need to get rid of the notion that prayer is like magic. Basically, we are not talking about spells and incantations or formulas of wizardry. We are talking about and understanding prayer as a reality that is constitutive of man’s subjective experience. Human life, no matter what, cannot be pure objectivity. It always involves faith and hope despite uncertainty, and charity even in the face of turmoil. I know of people who claim to be agnostics or atheists but who, in the most difficult times of their life, end up as fanatics.
What is undeniable is the fact that humans are emotional beings, and emotions need outlets. In the most difficult situations in life there is a need for an exit. Sometimes if not most of the time, the real or practical exit is not available. Because of this man needs some kind of an assurance. It is in and through prayer that humanity finds an access that connects their deep longings to transcendence.
Realistically speaking many prayers are not answered. Is it really the case that someone will answer it? Philosophically: who knows? But sometimes it does not matter whether it is answered or not. Sometimes it is the process of “praying” that is more important. The process allows man to go on and continue until he finds the light at the end of the tunnel.
Prayer also is essential to human order. A world without prayer is a world in chaos. The Italian political thinker Niccolo Machiavelli, no less, acknowledged the uses of religion (and thus of prayer). Reflection and discernment give people clarity. Through it they get to make sound and balanced judgments. The more pacified people are, the easier it is for the system to move forward without unnecessary disturbance.
Many have criticized the Oratio Imperata for example. Ironically, most critics are people, themselves, who do not go to church. Part of the prayer expresses the hope that those studying the “nature and cause of the disease or the virus” be guided. Is there anything wrong with this? This may not move any mountain outright but at least it unites people in hope to look for ways, cooperate, and find solutions.
Precisely why in 2018 Clay Routledge citing the findings of the PEW Research Center said: “Clearly, many people find prayer to be a worthwhile spiritual activity. Those who want to dismiss this should at least consider the tested psychological and social benefits of prayer as well as the reality of how most believers turn to faith-based practices in addition to, not instead of, other courses of action.”
In difficult times we need to exhaust all means to solve our problems. The arrogance of some people blinds them from acknowledging the fact that survival is achievable by combing science and art, strategy and creativity, justice and charity, works and faith.