When a crisis occurs, we can do the most important thing: Pray

Published: April 6, 2002

By Abbot Jerome Kodell, OSB

Four days after the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, I left the abbey to give a retreat at a monastery of Benedictine women. Unlike the experience of thousands of others, my immediate plans were not disrupted by the tragic events of that day.

Commentators said immediately that as a result of the attack our country would never be the same, and they were right. We will never feel as secure within our borders as we once did.

I knew it was a providential time to be on retreat. In some places it must have seemed that the ground underneath our feet had shifted, and the rules had changed. It was a soulsearching time. Many were bewildered and shaken; others had a profound spiritual awakening.

But in those days of retreat, though the same news and commentary were in free circulation at the monastery as everywhere else, I experienced a deep sense of calm. Things had changed, but not the important things, not the realities on the basis of which this group of women had committed their lives. This was a monumental tragedy which called forth a response of love and concern, compassion and prayer. The events were not unexpected in a world our faith had told us “groans and is in agony” (Romans 8:22) until the victory of Christ is complete.

Faith can be blind and uninformed, and misguided (we need look no further than the terrorists themselves). It helped at this time to be supported by a solid faith tradition forged out of the experience of centuries. There was no danger of facile solutions or dictates about the meaning of the crisis or responses to it, nor of the scapegoating of nationalities or religions which might come from a faith responding in a historical or moral vacuum.

Our faith also gave us a way to respond, to do something about the crisis personally. We were not able to join the heroic rescue workers or those providing hands-on help around the clock to people impacted by the tragedy. But there was something we could do, something we were already dedicated to by our baptism, and which would link us intimately with people of faith all around the world: we could pray. When we don’t know what else to say, we say, “I’ll pray for you.” Jesus invites us to ask, seek and knock, and by God’s own design God works through us. We don’t even have to know what is best or what to ask for; what God needs is suppliant hearts.

All those who have committed their lives to God received a call to the frontline of prayer on Sept. 11. Not so much to prayers for certain intentions or specific persons, but to the daily gift of ourselves to God on the altar of our heart. Often it is in simple silence. We prostrate ourselves interiorly before God for the sake of the world and ask God to use our heart as a channel for good. Our faith tells us that is enough. In the words of “The Cloud of Unknowing,” a spiritual classic from 14th century England: “One loving blind desire for God alone is more valuable in itself, more pleasing to God and to the saints, more beneficial to your own growth, and more helpful to you friends, both living and dead, than anything else you could do” (9).

We cannot do everything to respond to a crisis, but we can pray, and perhaps that is the most important thing.

Abbot Jerome Kodell, OSB, is abbot of Subiaco Abbey.