The Family That Prays Together Stays Together
by Fr. Peter deSousa
Families had many traditions with regard to prayers and religious observances. Many homes had an altar with holy pictures and a votive light. But is God present when a home is devoid of love? The family rosary was recited. But how do we strive to live the mysteries of the rosary? A picture of the Sacred Heart was enthroned. But is Jesus, really the Lord of our home and of our lives? Have we discarded these practices because we lost the meaning behind them? Have we substituted some other practices that enshrine these values? There are conflicting values in today's society which sometimes coexist in our hearts without a second thought.
Tradition comes from the latin word tradere, which means to hand over. We hand over something that is alive and is of value. What values would we as a Christian family deliberately choose from among alternatives offered us by the media, to which we are all over-exposed? If I spend many hours watching television, on the Internet, reading magazines and newspapers, without critically examining what I see and hear, I am subtly brainwashed by worldly values. By contrast how much time goes in reflecting on God's Word?
Families can pray together without praying. They can recite a lot of pious formulae on their knees while their minds and hearts are far from God. If there is hatred, enmity, jealousy, pride and unforgiveness amongst them, is it prayer? If it is hypocrisy to pray in such a state, the answer is not to discard prayer, but to be reconciled as members of the family.
Are the family gathered together in His name, in His presence, for His glory, to praise, thank, adore and ask Him to unite them in love? The picture on the wall should help us to see Jesus present in each one of us.
This calls for self-emptying and dying daily to ourselves (reflect on Phil 2: 1-11). Prayer is not mechanical. The minds and hearts of family members are united by the Word and the Spirit, when we come together in faith and love.
"When you pray, do not use a lot of meaningless words, as the pagan do, who think their gods will hear them because their prayers are long" (Matthew 6:7). Many people pray in formulae. They cannot pray in their own words and speak to God as Abba.
Prayer is also listening to God and listening to one another. When we share what the Spirit is saying to each one after reflecting on the Gospel, God speaks to us through each other. But we should not sermonize. Rather share how we ourselves need to change or improve.
"If you forgive others the wrongs they have done to you, your Father in heaven will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive the wrongs you have done" Mt 6:14-15 Unforgiveness and keeping grudges and hurts alive in our hearts are a real obstacle to family or couple prayer. No healing or reconciliation can take place as long as we stubbornly cling to being right and acting self righteous.
Recall the story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. Whom do I resemble in my attitudes? "Not everyone who calls me Lord. Lord, will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only those who do what my Father in heaven wants them to do. When the judgment day comes, many will say to me, "Lord, Lord! In your name we spoke God's message; by your name, we drove out many demons and performed many miracles! Then I will say to them: 'I never knew you. Get away from me, you wicked people!' (Matthew 6:21-23)
What is my Father's will for me as a husband, wife, parent, child, brother, sister, employer or domestic worker, today in this home? The Holy Spirit will reveal this to me, if I ask Him to do so and listen to him speaking to me, through the Scriptures, Church teachings and through each other. He will give me the strength to obey him. We share these inspirations of the Holy Spirit in an interactive way, in our family prayer.
Prayer is closely connected with Mission entrusted to couples, parents and families. What is the mission statement of your domestic or home Church? God's kingdom has already entered into our homes and lives and world. It is not a future event after we die. All of us are called and empowered to build this kingdom of justice, mercy, love and unity, everyday. God gives each member of the family certain gifts and opportunities to use those gifts for the up-building of the Community.
Many of us today may have more formal education, money and facilities than our ancestors. We are exposed to many sources of information that can make us more available and of service to others. They can also make us more vulnerable to temptation and self-seeking. How do we use the gifts and opportunities that God invests in us, to usher in the Kingdom of God into our world right now?
Mother Teresa was a woman of prayer. So was Mahatma Gandhi. What do they have to teach us? Without prayer: personal, couple and family prayer, we are left to our own resources, which are meager. But when we plug in to God who is the powerhouse of prayer, we are enlightened, strengthened and equipped by the Holy Spirit to do works that would be impossible to people like us with limited intelligence, insight and creative ability.
We are living in uncertain times. We worry whether our pensions and insurance policies will suffice. Everything is changing so fast around us, we are confused and unable to keep up with the pace of change.
Ravi Shankar with his Art of Living is drawing thousands of people to seek inner peace or how to deal with stress. Yoga, Vipassana and various strategies to handle one's emotions are popular today among those with resources of time and money.
We Catholics believe that Trust in God's providence is all the more necessary. Prayer helps us to turn to God with child-like trust. It helps us to walk humbly with our God. It helps us to overcome temptations and strengthens us when we are put to the test. Our God is there to deliver us from evil.
We ask Mary to help us pray as a family in the way she did so that we may live united in faith and love. Amen
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