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.