May 3 marks the annual National Day of Prayer in the United States. This year, the theme is unity, with a call to pray for America. The theme is based upon Ephesians 4:3, which, according to the organizers, “challenges us to mobilize unified public prayer for America, ‘Making every effort to keep the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace.’ "
Saint Leo’s Dr. Michael Anthony Novak, assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy, Theology, and Religious Studies, shared his thoughts on the history of the National Day of Prayer with the History News Network. Saint Leo University offers bachelor's degrees in religion as well as master's degrees in theology.
“The modern National Day of Prayer has its roots in the Cold War Era, around the same time the National Prayer Breakfast was established, and the words ‘under God’ were added to the Pledge of Allegiance,” Novak writes at Do We Really Need a National Day of Prayer? “Although some might question its continuing value in an ostensibly secularizing nation, a look at its history shows that it might still be important.
“There is a deeper history for days of prayer that go back to the American Revolution and even the tension leading up to the revolution. It seems, then, that the call for a day of prayer is steeped in unrest and conflict. It was the late Reverend Billy Graham who called for a modern National Day of Prayer in 1952, when the Cold War was flaring hot in the Korean War.”
The History News Network column notes,” National Day of Prayer is intentionally held on a day that holds no religious significance for any one religion.”
Novak states that this year’s theme calls for Americans to look at religion as something to unite rather than divide. Just as Saint Leo, a Catholic institution, welcomes those of all faiths or those with no religious beliefs, this day marks a need for understanding and compassion for others.