A Time to Speak – Opportunities missed at meeting with governor

Father William Burks

Father William Burks

When I was told by one of my staff that the governor had invited ministers to attend a meeting to discuss violence in our city, I was glad to hear it.

We have been talking about this ever more tragic reality for some time now. I was interested to know what plan toward a solution he would offer.

Lots of people attended. The glorious, old auditorium at Western Middle School was packed by the time the governor arrived. People were standing along the walls.

I took all of this as a good sign. When Gov. Bevin began to talk, he made it very clear that he was speaking as a man of faith and directed his thoughts toward us as people of faith.

He said that the issue of violence did not have a single solution. He mentioned that there was a political as well as economic part to dealing with this problem. But for that day in that place, he was speaking of spiritual help.

I thought this was pretty brave. For a political leader to openly try to connect religious witness to gun and other forms of violence seemed to push against the growing reality of a more secular society that doesn’t think prayer can really do anything.

But very soon, the atmosphere in the room began to change. When Governor Bevin did not have a specific economic and political plan to truly assist those who are so affected by the violence, people began to call him out on this. People wanted more.

The governor had spoken of “faith in action” but the “action” that many rightly were hoping for would have to include real, tangible assistance — especially in the area of economic investment.

I believe this was a wonderful opportunity to join faith and action together. The opportunity was sorely missed.
But it wasn’t the only missed opportunity. It seemed that some thought the meeting held nothing of substance. The room was filled with religious people.

And in our present time, it is getting more and more difficult to show how the power of prayer is a living, effective force for good. Catholicism stands clearly on the truth that prayer does have a powerful effect.

Yes, we want our prayer to express itself in concrete and visible action. However, we also believe that the hermit or cloistered nun or person in a nursing home — who is not seen by many — still has an active part in having prayer change the world for the better.

I fear that this witness is fading from our public consciousness. I do not presume to speak for religious people in general, but as Catholics we hold that the Eucharist is the most powerful form of prayer we have. It gathers us together and then sends us forth to be Christ in the world; to be actively engaged in overcoming injustice where we find it.

As I continue to be concerned about the growing number of people, especially our young people, who do not see worship as central in their lives, I wonder, where do they really stand on the power of prayer?

At least the governor and lieutenant governor were affirming that prayer and witnessing as people of peace is important.
Last September, the Archdiocese of Louisville held a prayer service down at St. Martin de Porres Church. Again, the reason was the same: bring peace to the tortured violence of our city.

Both the mayor and chief of police were there. Again, I thought that was a great sign. It was an inspiring night. I wish they had been with us at Western Middle School.

We need to all stay in the room of actively praying, witnessing and putting economic and political resources toward making our city a less violent, more just, equal and peace-filled place.

Father William P. Burks is pastor of St. John Paul II Church and chaplain at Holy Cross High School.

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