Prayer powerful following murder near church

Posted February 19, 2016 at 12:00 am

The Catholic Commentator

Following any tragedy, many people find comfort in prayer.

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Father Thomas Clark


For Father Thomas Clark, pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in Baton Rouge, turning to God was the right thing to do following a deadly shooting near his church, but he adds, prayer is just the start.

“We begin by praying, but prayer always leads to action,” Father Clark said.

“It isn’t like I just say a prayer and then go on with my business and forget about it, saying, ‘I did what I could do.’ Prayer changes us,” he added.

After learning about the murder of 23-year-old Ryan Armwood, a neighbor in the community who was found shot behind the church shortly after the Vigil Mass on Jan. 30, Father Clark noted the news was difficult, and he had to mentally distance himself from the reality.

“It was too much,” he said.

But later that evening, those feelings changed when he went across the street to offer condolences to the family.

“At that point it really struck me that this young man was a son, a brother, a neighbor, a friend. To me, that puts it into reality, into context that this was a life that was lost,” he said.

Experiencing or hearing about acts of violence pushes prayer to the forefront for many, which can be the first step toward change and the possibility of making things better.

“If we are truly in dialogue with God in prayer, then our hearts are being touched, and we are being more and more open to the Gospel values. We are becoming more merciful, more compassionate people. We then have to look at things differently,” Father Clark added.

In addition to changing us, prayer also exposes something else: the centerpiece of a Christian’s life.

“Hope is at the heart of everything we do as Christians. It is not just looking on the bright side of things; it is a profound belief, a profound surety that God will lead us in the way we need to go,” Father Clark said.

But how do we know if we are heading “the way we need to go”?

Father Clark noted one way is in listening to how God responds to our prayers.

While adding that all prayer from liturgical prayer at Mass to devotional prayers to just a conversation with God is wonderful, many times God will respond subtly.

“It’s in the feelings of our heart, in the hunches we have. Sometimes it’s in what a friend says to us; it sparks something in us and makes a connection, and we understand,” he explained adding that the prayer that changes someone is often the prayer that opens a person’s heart to God.

Father Clark emphasized that making this change and taking action can be positive, but when combined with others, it is often greater, something he is well aware of as the parish council at Immaculate Conception comes together. The group is hoping to improve the community by building relationships with neighbors, working together and supporting each other.

“Every good idea becomes a better idea with discussion and collaboration,” he said.

Working with others is also familiar to Father Rick Andrus SVD, pastor at St. Paul the Apostle Church.

As a leader with Together Baton Rouge, a non-denominational non-partisan team committed to addressing community problems, Father Andrus routinely uses his work with this group and other organizations to help ease or erase injustices and make Baton Rouge a better place to live.

It’s a side job that when combined with his pastoral duties, takes a lot of personal time, but Father Andrus seems to never stop and has a high energy level, fueled, in part, by prayer.

“My prayer and fasting brings me to a fuller life with Jesus and allows me to reach out and to do God’s will now,” he said, adding that in his 30-plus years of ministry, prayer is what leads him to action.

“Prayer makes me say, ‘Hey, we can’t do this!’ or ‘We have to watch that.’ (With prayer), I can’t just sit back and watch injustice happen around me.”