(Fr. Guillermo García-Tuñón, S.J. delivered these remarks at the Rosary for Surfside at the Roca Theater held on April 28, 2021.)
Sometime, in the very near future, structural engineers, architects, and experts of every kind will report what went dreadfully wrong with the Champlain South Towers on early Thursday morning. There is no doubt the extensive report will give accurate explanations explaining why this building collapsed.
It goes without saying the information is incredibly important. Family members demand it, Miami demands it, the world demands it. And yet, for as necessary as that information is in order to avoid similar catastrophes in the future and hold the right people accountable, at the end of the day, all the physical inquiry will not provide the kind of healing and peace so many people desperately need and deserve.
Physical science and engineering are crucial, but they can only take us so far as we try to move forward. This is why prayer is so important. I think our idea of prayer is wrong. Oftentimes, what motivates us to pray, is to ask for things we need or for things we want.
Don’t get me wrong, that is one of the purposes of prayer. If someone is sick, we pray for their health. If someone is out of a job, we pray they get one. At a place like Belen, there is nothing that motivates prayer as much as the day of an exam. But, while this purpose of prayer is good and important, it’s not the full story.
Prayer is mostly about strength. Strength to accept what happens in our lives, especially when those things are not in our immediate plans. Prayer is about the strength to stay faithful to God even when we feel that He is not there or has abandoned us. Prayer, as St. Ignatius of Loyola so appropriately explained, is a spiritual exercise that makes us strong to deal with the evil that befalls us. It is a spiritual exercise that makes us strong enough to help others when evil befalls them and cannot stand on their own.
And that’s another point. We live in a world that insists prayer and the spiritual life is not for public use, but very private. Having a relationship with God is something very personal, to be kept to yourself. Nothing can be farther from the truth.
There’s a reason why Jesus was born into a family, a reason why he was an active member of his synagogue community, a reason why he surrounded himself with twelve apostles and hundreds of disciples. At the end of the day, even the very nature of God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is community. And so are we. Prayer is meant to be shared. Sure, there are moments of private prayer, but there are many, many moments when it needs to be done in community.
That is why we are here tonight. Our community is in pain. Some of our members have suffered great loss, and are in the dark about their loved ones. So, we gather in prayer for strength and to strengthen others. We listen and take to heart the words of St. Paul to the Romans, “Let love be sincere; hate what is evil, hold on to what is good, love one another with mutual affection; Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (12:9-10a, 12,15).
Tonight, as a community, we join hundreds of thousands of people of all different faiths who pray for those who have died, for those who are missing, for those who are tirelessly working to search, rescue, and recover. We pray for the repose of the souls of our 11 brothers and sisters who lost their lives and for the 150 who are still missing. We pray for their families and their friends. For Ana, Juan, and Juan Jr., for Mary and Ray, Richard and María Teresa, for Francis, Elena Blasser and Elena Chávez, and for Rosi.
We offer the rosary tonight because as Catholics, we place so much of our hope and fears, our sadness and anger in the hands of the mother of Jesus. It was Mary who was with Jesus from beginning to end. She experienced his joy and his sadness. She experienced his fear, anger, and sorrow. She experienced his death. It is only natural that in times of such sorrow and pain that we run to our mother for help. Let us continue to pray as a community for strength.
Our Lady of Belen… pray for us.