There is a fable about a man who is stranded on the roof of his house after a massive flood. He prays to God to rescue him. Before long a neighbor comes by in a canoe and yells "Jump off and swim over to me!" The man on the roof yells back "No, God is going to rescue me!" The neighbor paddles off. A while later a helicopter appears overhead, a rope ladder is lowered and a voice through a megaphone shouts "Grab hold and climb up!" But the man on the roof shouts back "No, God is going to rescue me!" The helicopter flies off.
After a little while, the mostly submerged house begins to creak and sway and then collapses into the water. Entangled in the sinking rubble, the man drowns. The next thing he knows he is standing before God. The man is angry, however, and complains to God, "I had faith in you! I prayed and waited for you to rescue me and you didn't!" God replies, "I sent you a canoe and a helicopter but you refused to do your part."
I'm reminded of this silly story every time a mass shooting occurs in the U.S. and social media subsequently fills up with heartfelt calls to pray for the victims and their families and the devastated communities. But like the man on the roof, until we actually do something practical about our situation--in this case the epidemic of gun violence in our nation--our prayers are of little value. Maybe we're just placating ourselves--giving ourselves an illusory sense that we have done something.
I recently read a statement by Pope Francis about dealing with the problem of world hunger. He said, "You pray for the hungry. Then you feed them. That's how prayer works." Likewise, by all means pray for the victims and families and communities of gun violence if it makes you feel better. Then do something to stop it from happening again. That's how it works.