Charita Goshay: Absence of prayer didn’t cause Sandy Hook tragedy

Charita Goshay, GHNS

As we continue to examine the issue of gun violence, I’m tired, tired, tired of the premise that if only prayer were practiced in public schools, tragedies like Sandy Hook wouldn’t happen.

Prayer is not a talisman. It doesn’t work like a rabbit’s foot or a get-out-jail-free card.

People spout this contention in spite of the fact that many, if not most, of the victims killed that day were people of faith.

Six-year-old Olivia Rose Engel was just learning the rosary and led grace at dinner. Josephine Gay, 7, faithfully attended Mother of God Catholic Church, where her great-uncle is the priest. A smiling Ana Marquez-Greene, 6, can be seen on a family video singing “Come, Thou Almighty King,” accompanied on the piano by her big brother, Jorge, 9.

How dare anyone suggest to their parents that they lost their children because a communal prayer wasn’t offered in school that day.

Prsesence of God

Emilie Parker, 6, liked to draw pictures and make cards and give them to anyone she thought was in need of a smile — even strangers. When the body of teacher Ann Marie Murphy was found, she was cradling a special-needs student in her arms.

If these acts don’t exemplify the presence of God, what does?

We have become a much more diverse nation since my classmates and I read Scriptures aloud every morning at J.J. Burns School in the 1960s and thought nothing of it. Little did we know that children were faithfully doing the same thing in public schools in the South where kids like me weren’t welcome.

No one, by the way, is prohibited from praying in school, but for the sake of argument, let’s say we decide to permit communal prayer. Fine — which kind?

Should it require a class to stop whatever it’s doing and pray five times a day?

Would the rosary suffice?

Can girls lead prayer or only boys?

Should everyone have to genuflect?

Where’s the logic?

Why would people who doubt public school teachers’ competency regarding everything else, even want them to oversee a religious exercise?

If the troubles are due to a “God vacuum” in schools, how then do you explain shootings that occur in churches almost regularly now, or last April’s mass shooting on Oikos University’s Christian campus in Oakland, Calif.?

If, as Christians profess, Jesus resides in the hearts of those who believe, he was at Sandy Hook that day.

If you’re a Christian, do you believe that or not?

We don’t like it when the answers aren’t simple. Sandy Hook was born of a culture besotted with violence, one in which religion and values have been taken hostage and politicized, a society that doesn’t want to expend the necessary funds for effective mental health treatment and views any discussion of guns as an assault on them.

We’re a good and decent people, but we’ve been in denial about our growing incivility and dysfunction. We’ve been pretending there isn’t a profile of the people who commit these crimes and therefore nothing can be done.

We’re a country that boasts of Judeo-Christian roots, but where churchgoers are outnumbered by those who can’t be bothered because the church has failed to be the salt and light the world desperately needs.

We need clergy who can resist the easy temptation of blaming and shaming when tragedy happens, rather than offer counsel and God’s compassion to the wounded.

We need an elected official or two who will exhibit the kind of courage that often puts an end to political careers. And we need voters who will support them when they do.

We cannot yet pinpoint all of the factors that trigger a Sandy Hook. But this much we know: It wasn’t that God was absent that day.

Contact Charita Goshay at