Monday, December 24, 2007

Maybe you are like me? I get up in the morning and without even being fully awake, stumble into the bathroom to use the toilet, shower, get dressed, makeup, brush my hair and brush my teeth, all with my mind still in a sleep fog or perhaps racing ahead with all of the other things that need to be done that day. And perhaps the routine that has become so rote is a good thing because perhaps if I had to consciously remember to do these things maybe I'd forget that deodorant or get in my car halfway down the drive way before I realized I really need to go to the bathroom! The routine, the discipline, the almost-programmed way of getting through the morning actually protects me in many ways from making a mistake or forgetting something important. The routine in a way is a great comfort to me because of its familiarity.

The same in a way with my prayer life. With six youngsters in the house from toddler to teen it can get pretty hectic around here. Starting our school day off with prayer is a way of quieting us down and focusing our minds on what is important. Yes, I teach my children prayers by rote so that they have the words deep in their minds to recall at will.

Do they really know what they are saying? Probably not. At least not all of the time. Not yet. Izzy still fumbles over the act of contrition. And I'm sure that sometimes Gabe wishes that most Gracious Virgin Mary would remember that he would like a second bowl of cereal or at least a quick snack before he tackles that next math lesson! But Sam gets it and thinks about it. At least as much as an almost 15-year-old boy full of health and good cheer can think about the fires of hell and daily bread. But I have confidence that by 25, 35 and 45 his life experiences will give him more depth and understanding to say these prayers of his youth with meaning.

Catholics take a lot of grief in some circles for what they call "vain repetition." Some go so far as to say that it is not only wrong, but in fact forbidden and sinful.

I wonder how anything that focuses on God or has the power to help us pray can be sinful?

Amy Welborn writes in The Words We Pray: Discovering the Richness of Traditional Catholic Prayers about a particularly painful time in her life where the words to express her feelings were eluding her, until the words to the Memorare came back to her mind and said exactly what she was trying to express.

Today I received a beautiful story in my comments and e-mail from Faithful Catholic

How's this for "rote ritual?" My mother, 83 years old, bedridden and with dementia and aphasia (which means she cannot speak so anyone can understand her)was lying in bed this afternoon watching Mother Angelica and the nuns praying the Rosary. I heard my mother clamboring. Her voice gets louder and her tone gets a bit frantic sounding. So I went in to check on her and she was flailing her arms and hands. I went into her top dresser drawer and took out and handed her her rosary. She immediately calmed down, blessed herself and kissed the crucifix on her rosary. She held that rosary just exactly the same way she used to and started counting off beads as she said each prayer in her own new language. Now, she has not prayed the rosary, at least not that I know of, since her stroke over seven years ago. Am I glad she "memorized" it all those years ago? Am I glad it has become "rote" for her? You bet I am. Just because it comes as second nature, doesn't mean she's not aware of every word or doesn't mean every word or feel every word.

I don't care what anyone says about "rote ritual" or what our prayers might look like to them. It's what is in our hearts that matters when we pray. Nobody else can know what's in our hearts.

God knows our human nature and how we are all delightful creatures of habit. This year I hope to help my children grow in their prayer lives even more deeply but I also hope to help Mr. Pete and myself to further make prayer a part of our "rote" schedule, because far from being "forbidden" I think God is pleased and desirous of anything that helps to keep Him in the forefront of our daily lives.


Nancy Parode said...

Thank you for sharing the story of Faithful Catholic's mom. I have a similar story to tell. My grandmother suffered from Alzheimer's Disease for over ten years. Toward the end, she lost most of her ability to speak clearly. The last words I remember hearing from her were the "Hail, Mary" prayer. I thought it was so beautiful that the last thing she could really remember how to say was this beautiful prayer, with its words taken from Scripture.

Since then, I have prayed the "Hail, Mary" more often, hoping I can keep the memory of this beautiful prayer forever.

Faithful Catholic said...


Thanks for noticing that I posted that comment. I find myself worrying about my parents and their prayer life. I think I recounted an incident about my father on my own blog. He has Alzheimer's. He was being tested recently to determine the state of his memory. When at the end of the testing, the nurse asked him what was the worst part of losing his memory, he responded without any hesitation that he feels bad that he can't always remember all of his prayers. That broke my heart. Since he said that, I made him a binder with each prayer of the rosary on an individual page typed very large. Now, all he has to do is read each page. I worried at first about the "reading" it part but, it helps him feel like he's saying them "right." It's a great comfort to him. I realize that the tone of my post about my mom might have sounded a little snotty but, honestly, I would never presume to know what is in the heart of anyone I see or hear praying. What is in one's heart is what's important, and God, being God, absolutely knows whatever that is, whether when we are praying or when we are criticizing the way others' pray. The more I read the negative stuff about us, the more thankful I am that my parents have handed on our wonderful, beautiful faith. There was a time in my life when I had ceased praying in the way I had learned from such an early age. Then, when I hit that wall that so many of us need to hit to get our attention, in the depths of darkness and without words of my own to beg God's mercy, they all came flooding back to me. All my old prayers were right there in my head and finally in my heart and leading me back to the Lord. Thank God!

Faithful Catholic said...

Well, I almost forgot this.

To all of you who write on and read this blog,

May you all be blessed with comfort and joy as we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. May the Light of the World shine in your hearts now and always. Merry Christmas and God bless you all.

Faithful Catholic

Tracy said...

Merry Christmas Everyone!!