I’ve run across a story in the last couple of days about a group of Salesian nuns in San Antonio who are praying for the Spurs in the NBA finals. It makes for a fun story but there’s a part of me that bristles.
My personal reaction is, “so what?”
Stories like this pop up every so often. In Chicago, they pop up whenever the Cubs or Bears are in the playoffs…which isn’t often!) The problem is, these stories suggest that nuns have a special connection to God that others do not have. I’m sure there are plumbers, contractors, teachers, bankers, engineers, and firefighters praying for the Spurs as well but there’s no story about them.
These stories also suggest that, through our prayers, we can influence God’s will. Are there not nuns in Cleveland praying for the Cavs? Is it a matter of which group of nuns prays harder? Will God listen to these prayers and decide? Do the nuns in Chicago not pray properly since the Cubs and Bears rarely win? What did I do wrong in 1969, 1984, and 2003 when I prayed for the Cubs to win only to watch them choke in the end?
I know, I’m making far too much of this, but sports stories often provide opportunities for talking about theological issues. Most kids pray for important events in their lives: exams, dates, volleyball games, basketball tournaments, etc. These make for good occasions to talk to kids (and adults, apparently) about what we really do believe about prayer.
Prayer is lifting our minds and hearts to God. When we pray, we do not do so in order to change God’s mind. Prayer changes us. When we ask God for things, it is our way of sharing with him our desires and then listening to God as he helps us order those desires according to his will.
If it is extremely important to us that a certain team win a certain game, then we should pray to God about it, not because that prayer will influence God to decide the outcome of the game in our favor, but to share with God a strong desire we have in hopes that, whatever happens, we may discover his will.
At the same time, I have no doubt that the power of prayer affects how people respond to situations. A sick person can heal faster because the power of prayer is strengthening them. A team can play at their highest level because the power of prayer is energizing them. But thinking that God chooses who wins and who loses based on those prayers is to trivialize both prayer and God.
Finally, back to the nuns. I hope my intro didn’t make it sound like I have something against nuns. I love nuns. “Some of my best friends are nuns!” It bothers me, however, when we put anyone – priests, nuns, brothers, deacons, lay ecclesial ministers – on a pedestal thinking that they have a special connection to God that others do not have. Through baptism, we ALL are members of the Body of Christ. We have different gifts but we are all united to Christ. Ultimately, nuns and priests are trying to teach us this very thing through their radical lifestyle. They are signs to us of what we ALL are called to. Unfortunately, too many people have concluded that nuns and priests are the ones who work at the “God stuff” for us while we are busy living life.
My bottom line? Let’s think about why we pray and what we really believe about the power of prayer. All prayer ultimately comes down to 4 words: “thy will be done.” And let’s honor priests and nuns for the sign value of their vocation but recognize that, in baptism, we are ALL called to the same intimacy with God that their lifestyle boldly proclaims. God is no less present in our living rooms, automobiles, offices, and factories than he is in that convent in San Antonio.
For more thoughts about nuns, visit the blog of my friend and colleague, Sr. Julie Vieira, who writes at A Nun’s Life.