Family Prayers: An Introduction

Beginning this week, we bring you every Wednesday Father Hervé Morissette’s  wonderful book, Family Prayers, a must have for all families. It’s a book of wisdom and practical advice for families with beautiful prayers for almost every conceivable occasion. Parents especially will find this to be an invaluable aide in bringing their families to a fuller life in Christ.

Introduction to my book

By Fr. Hervé Morissette, CSC

More than 70 years ago, Servant of God Father Patrick Peyton, CSC, the founder of the Family Rosary Crusade, coined a slogan that inspired millions of Catholics all over the world to pray every day with their families. It is with a renewed vision that we wish to fulfill the invitation addressed to us by Jesus when he says that we “ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Lk 18: 1).

If the family members really love each other and are prepared to remain united in the spirit of Christ, even in times of trials and difficulties, they will feel the need of praying in order to strengthen the bonds of love and affection between them and will be led to experience the comforting presence of the Lord who said: “Where two or three meet in my name, I am there among them” (Mt 18, 20). They may not always feel it, but the Lord will draw them to himself and to one another, because they are ready to put his command into practice: “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 13: 34).

Even if the family members stay together in the name of Christ, it does not mean that they will never ask themselves questions about the need of praying together. They may even wonder at times: “why should we pray?” Jesus reminds us constantly that God is a Father. So, it is normal that we speak to the Father about what is dear to us. Are we not all thirsty for happiness? Moreover, we know that God’s greatest desire is that all may be fully alive. Unfortunately, we are often unaware of what real happiness means. We think that we will find it by pursuing our selfish interests. Yet happiness can be found only in love, harmony and forgiveness. If the family members are ready to pay the price in order to maintain harmony at home, they will naturally feel the need of God’s help to sustain that love.

We can pray for our own interests, of course, as long as they are not selfish or as long as we can address our requests to God “in the name of Jesus” (Jn 15: 16). Those who pray “in spirit and in truth” (Jn 4: 24) will soon realize whether their requests are selfish or not, because prayer is a school of conversion. It teaches us how to seek God’s will. And God’s will is that the whole family be united and prepared to stay together.

The ideal family prayer is the Our Father, a prayer that we can always say “in the name of Jesus”, because he is the one who taught it to us. That is why I kept that prayer on the first page of this book. Through that prayer, we don’t hesitate to ask God to “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us” (Mt 6: 12). In other words, we dare to turn to God in prayer, because we were ready first to stay united as a family. A few years ago, a retreat preacher in Bangalore told us that, when his mother was dying of cancer, all her eight children gathered one evening around her. She seemed to have fallen into a coma. The priest celebrated Mass in that room, while the children surrounded their mother lying in bed. At the moment of the Our Father, the children held hands and began to pray, Then she opened her eyes and prayed with them. She never said a word after that. She died a few hours later.

When we pray together as a family – especially when we pray the rosary together – there is always a risk to end up just reciting ‘Hail Mary’s without putting our heart in what we say. Yet, Jesus reminds us always: “In your prayers do not babble as the pagans do” (Mt 6: 7). He does not want our family prayer to become a kind of routine in which we repeat formulas just for the sake of repeating them. For Jesus, prayer is above all an encounter with God, an encounter in which the family comes into intimate conversation with the Father. If we just “recite” the rosary, we don’t really pray. But if the family prays the rosary for the sake of creating an atmosphere of prayer in the house and fostering an encounter with the Lord through the intercession of Mary, the rosary then serves its purpose.

When we go to meet a friend, we are ready to spend time with him/her. It is as if we were saying: “You are so precious to me that I wish to spend some time with you.” The same is true of prayer. If the family members are united in the spirit of Jesus, they will feel the need of spending some time with him in prayer. And even if most of them are distracted during that time of prayer, it does not lessen the value of their encounter with the Lord. When a mother prepares a meal in the kitchen, it often happens that she is distracted by other concerns. Yet it is for the family that she is preparing the meal. Her work is a work of love, because “home is where the heart is” (Pliny)

Prayer, too, is a work of love, whatever distractions we may have. So, we need not worry about these distractions, as long as everyone prays with the heart and is keen on maintaining the bonds of unity and love in the family. I remember a retreat preacher telling us: “A lot of trouble about prayer would disappear, if only we realized that we go to pray not because we love prayer, but because we love God and one another.”

To be continued next week…