As a child, French author Anatole France heard about St. Simeon Stylites who lived on a pillar for 37 years in Syria so he could pray in solitude. In imitation of St. Simeon, little Anatole placed a chair on kitchen table and sat on it. But then at dinnertime his mother had him take it down. Anatole commented, “I perceive that it is a very difficult thing to be a saint while living with your family.” Yet, this is the goal of families: to raise saints. A saint is someone who has a wonderful relationship with God, a relationship that is fostered by prayer.
Father Patrick Peyton is known for his saying, “The family that prays together stays together.” When family members unite in prayer, they are more likely to have a stronger love for and commitment to one another. Praying families have a strength that nonbelievers do not, in particular in the face of sickness or a tragedy. Families who are mindful of God and who call on God together grow not only personally, but they become powerhouses of good for society. We aren’t just Christians for an hour during Mass. Every hour of our day and night is to be Christianized…our whole life.
One man spent the night on a snowplow. At 6:00 A.M. he felt like he had just drunk a cup of coffee. He was filled with new energy. Why? He knew his wife and kids were praying for him at breakfast.
How can families manage to pray together when there’s barely time to eat together? Did you ever notice that there’s always time to do the things we really want to do, such as watch a football game or Downton Abbey? Families who are convinced that prayer together is important will make time to do it.
Some families set aside a specific time and place for prayer together every week…even just ten minutes. Each member signs a contract agreeing to be present and to schedule other things around this family prayer time. If someone must be absent, his or her picture is placed there as a reminder of spiritual union in the family prayer. The family members take turns leading the prayer times, including the youngest ones.
It is easier to pray together when children are little. However, better late than never. Usually parents are the ones who feel uncomfortable praying together at first. To children, praying is natural. They love repetition, symbols, and rituals. Customs can be introduced gradually, one at a time.
Some ideas for family prayer:
Pray grace together before meals. Pray the traditional one, a spontaneous one, or ask everyone to state something they are thankful for. Some families hold hands or put their arms around one another’s shoulders.
When watching news about a tragedy, pray aloud for the people involved.
On hearing sirens, pray for the people in trouble and their rescuers.
As you drive pass a cemetery pray “Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. . . . ”
Pray together on special occasions: when giving out an allowance, on obtaining a driver’s license, after learning a new skill, on getting a job, and so forth.
Pray the family rosary, even a decade. Often when Mary appeared, like at Lourdes and Fatima, she told us to pray the rosary for peace. After September 11, 2002, Pope John Paul II, encouraged us to pray the rosary for peace.
The National Conference of Catholic bishops published a book called Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers. It contains blessings before and after birth, for times of sickness, times of trouble, new beginnings, before moving from a home, blessings of tools for work, objects for use or entertainment, of fields and garden. If you don’t have this book, make up your own prayers and blessings.
Does (or did) your family have special prayer rituals?