Apologia: The Fullness of Christian Truth


``Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude of believers be;
even as where Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church'' Ignatius of Antioch, 1st c. A.D


The Christian Home: A Guide to Happiness in the Home

Chapter II
Prayer in the Home

Irreligious Atmosphere

In our day, irreligion may be said to pervade the very air we breathe. Just as our lungs inhale the germs of disease, and our bodies are coated with minute particles of dust, whenever we go abroad in a crowded city, so our souls, our memory and imagination, are exposed to an atmosphere tainted with irreligion whenever we go abroad into the world. To counteract the evil effects of a day's exposure to the smoke and dust of the city, we wash the stains from our bodies when we return home, we restore our lost vitality by partaking of wholesome food; and we fill our lungs with air free from the impurities that vitiate the atmosphere in factories and the busy marts of trade. We must pursue a like course if we wish to render our souls immune from the contagion of irreligion. We must cleanse our souls from the dust of earthy and irreligious impressions that we acquire from contact with the wicked world. We must move about in a pure atmosphere from which all taint of irreligion is excluded. We must strengthen the Faith within us by nourishing our souls with wholesome mental food. To drop the metaphor, we must offset the irreligion that we daily encounter abroad, by prayer, by a Catholic atmosphere, and by good reading in the home.


I.
Daily Prayer

The simplest, the easiest, the most ordinary, and still, for the individual, the most important exercise of the virtue of religion is prayer. Hence, if religion is to occupy that place in the home which we have seen it deserves, the members of the family must be faithful to the time-honored custom of daily prayer. No matter how old-fashioned and childish it may seem to some to insist on morning and evening prayer, grace before and after meals, and family prayers at certain seasons, it is these very things that establish religion firmly in the home, bring down Heaven's blessing, and give the home its true consecration. Show me a family where all the members are regular in saying their daily prayers, and. I will show you a home where religion flourishes and peace and contentment reign. Show me a home where prayer is habitually neglected, and I will show you a family whose religion, if any still exist, is merely a matter of form.


Natural Place for Prayer

How, indeed, could it be otherwise? We have the duty of saving our immortal souls not only at the moment of death but all through life; and that duty necessarily implies keeping ourselves in the state of sanctifying grace. No one will remain long in the state of grace, if he is careless about his daily prayers; and few will pray daily, if they do not pray at home, because the home is the most convenient as it is the most natural place for one's regular daily prayer. What could be more natural for a man who believes that God is his Creator and Sovereign Lord his greatest benefactor and best friend; who believes that we are in this world solely to do God's holy will and thus merit an eternal reward; what could be more natural, I ask, than for such a one to remember and to acknowledge this fact the first thing on awaking in the morning; to turn his first thoughts to God by blessing himself and making the good intention, and then to kneel down to pay his homage to his Creator, to thank Him for His endless favors, to renew his fealty to Him, and to implore His blessing? And what more natural as well as more wise and fitting than for him to do the like in the evening before he commits himself to the night's sleep from which he never knows whether he will awaken?

It is not necessary to devote a great deal of time to one's morning and evening prayer. For the ordinary layman five minutes will usually suffice; and, if necessary, one can say a really devout morning or evening prayer, embracing all the essentials, in two or three minutes. The important thing is to be regular about it; to have a regular formula or number of prayers to say; to say them at a regular time, and in a certain regular manner. If you like to use a book, you will do well to do so. The use of a book helps to fix the habit of praying. But such is in nowise necessary. Only have some definite prayers to say as the minimum and say that minimum well.


How Much Must One Pray?

But what should be the minimum for a good morning or evening prayer? That depends on various circumstances--one's age, one's leisure, one's needs, and also on the extent to which one makes use of the other means of grace--the Mass and Holy Communion. It is plain that not all have the time for the same amount of prayer in the morning. Some find it more convenient to say only a short prayer in the morning but a long prayer at night. Others are accustomed to say the greater part of their prayers in church during the day. A certain doctor of my acquaintance has the very praiseworthy habit of praying for about a quarter of an hour in church on his way home every evening. Nor do all need the same amount of prayer. Persons exposed to greater temptations, or subject to evil habits, as well as persons bound to a more perfect life must pray more than persons not thus circumstanced. But all must pray enough to enable them to live habitually in the state of sanctifying grace. So much is certain: if one falls into mortal sin, the reason is to be sought in the insufficiency of one's prayers or in the infrequency of one's reception of the sacraments. While it is impossible, therefore, to determine just what prayers each one should say in the morning or in the evening or even each day, it seems to me that our daily prayers should always include the acts of Faith, Hope, Charity, contrition and thanksgiving, the Apostles' Creed, and several Our Fathers and Hail Marys.


Pray on Your Knees!

In regard to the manner of praying, it is best to say your morning prayer after you are dressed; your evening prayer before undressing, and both on your knees. This last point is of great importance. In the first place, the act of kneeling is itself equivalent to a prayer, being an act of adoration, and it is unquestionably the most becoming posture in which to address ourselves to our Creator. Then the practice of kneeling to say our prayers has the good effect of reminding us of that duty. If we want to say our prayers only while dressing or undressing or when in bed, the chances are that in many cases they will be said poorly or be altogether forgotten. And lastly, the habit of kneeling at our morning and evening prayers will have a most edifying effect on others in the household. Even though each one prays in the privacy of his room, it will be generally known in the family that one is accustomed to pray on bended knees, and that knowledge will be of inestimable value in mutually encouraging one another never to abandon the practice. When brothers occupy the same room, or sisters share the same apartment, the practice is of still greater importance for their mutual edification. Yet most important of all is that parents who are still able to kneel, do so and thus give a good example to their children.


The Parents' Example

Setting a good example in this matter of prayer is a part of the religious education which parents owe to their children. And what a beneficial influence it will have upon the children all through life, if the parents not only teach them from their tenderest years to pray but also pray with them; and even when they are grown up, let them always be aware of the fact that their parents, too, prostrate themselves morning and evening on their knees in order to pay homage to their God. Nothing will impress more deeply on the child that prayer is not merely a child's duty but a duty for life; that religion is something not only for the church but for the home as well; that there is nothing about praying or kneeling for anyone to be ashamed of; but rather that it would be a cause of shame for any Christian, be he old or young, to be obliged to admit that he did not daily lift his hands and his heart to God in prayer.

How well do I remember the splendid example that my own father gave in this respect. Every evening without fail he would kneel, entirely free of any support, before a Crucifix in the living room, and with devoutly folded hands, and body as upright as a mountain pine perform his evening devotions.


II.
Grace at Meals

But it is not enough that each and every member of the family have the habit of saying his morning and evening prayers. Where religion flourishes in the home as it should, if the family is truly to deserve the name Christian, there must be found also the age-old Christian custom of saying grace before and after meals. This venerable custom is the inevitable consequence of a Christian outlook on life. If we believe that God is the author and sustainer of life, that "every best gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights" (Jas. 1, 17) then surely we should be mindful of our indebtedness to our Heavenly Father at least as often as we partake of the food by which our mortal life is sustained. Our blessed Savior expressly teaches us to pray: "Give us this day our daily bread"; and what time could be more fitting for the fulfillment of that duty than the hour of our daily meals?


A Profession of Faith

There is, however, yet another important aspect to the practice of saying grace in the home. To pray in the presence of others is a profession of one's Faith; and for that reason alone, if for no other, the practice should be fostered. You simply cannot make your religion a strictly interior affair, just as little as you can make it exclusively a church affair. If you sow good seed in a fertile soil and take care that it receives the necessary warmth and moisture, the seed will not long remain hidden but will sprout forth and give unmistakable evidence of the living principle within. It is exactly the same with religion. The man that really has deep religious convictions will also show them exteriorly at the opportune time and place. Only those Christians whose Faith is not deeply rooted or who have been misled by the unchristian fashion of the day will say: "I believe in praying without attracting notice. There is no use making a show every time a person wants to pray." Indeed not; and it is to be presumed that thousands of Catholics pray frequently, even in company, without others being aware of it. I am willing, too, to pardon them if they offer that excuse for not praying openly in public eating houses, but not when there is a question of meal prayers in the privacy of one's own home. But someone might say: "I don't see the value of such a profession of Faith in the home. Everyone at home knows my religious convictions; so why need I manifest them by blessing myself or saying grace at table?" One might argue with just as much logic: "I don't see the need of showing the members of my family that I love them. They know that I love them, and that love is an affair of the heart. So why should I give token of my love by my looks, manner, words, or actions?" Just as the person who shows little love for the members of his household really has little love for them; so he, too, who cares not to manifest his religion to them very likely has precious little religion left in his heart. Interior virtues must needs be exercised by exterior acts; otherwise, they will wither away and finally perish altogether.


Prayer Necessary for Salvation

It is quite true that there is no positive law commanding us to pray before and after meals. Neither is there such a law requiring us to say our morning and evening prayers. But nothing is more certain than that we are obliged to pray, and that, for adults, prayer is an indispensable means of salvation. And since a more fitting time for prayer can scarcely be found than the hour of rising, the hour of retiring, and the meal hours, it is much to be feared that those who do not pray at these times do not pray at all, or at least not enough to satisfy the obligation of prayer. It will doubtless be found that usually those that are most conscientious about saying these customary prayers are also the ones that pray most at other times and make the most frequent use of the Mass and the sacraments. Let me beg the reader, therefore, not to dismiss the question of saying grace as a trifling matter. A drop of rain is also a small matter; yet every rain, the heaviest as well as the lightest, is made up of drops. In particular as a means of making religion flourish in the home, the value of prayer at meals can hardly be overestimated. To say grace before and after every meal means to worship God, to profess your Faith, and to edify your neighbor six times a day, 180 times a month, and more than two thousand times a year. Small as the single prayers may be, and insignificant as may seem their effect, the total sum will amount to a great deal and is sure to bring down a shower of blessings.


III.
Family Prayer

"Where there are two or three gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Mt. 18, 20). By these words our blessed Savior clearly ascribes a special power and a special blessing to prayers said jointly with others; and we may be sure that if this is true of any group of persons gathered together in His name, it is doubly true of the Christian family, which is knit together not only by the strongest ties of mutual love but also by the consecration of a sacrament. All the good effects that flow from prayers said by the individual, will accrue in still greater abundance from family prayer. In their pastoral letter to all American Catholics some years ago (1920) our Bishops expressed themselves on this point as follows: "We heartily commend the beautiful practice of family prayer.... The presence of Jesus will surely be a source of blessing to the home where parents and children unite to offer up prayer in common. The spirit of piety which this custom develops will sanctify the bonds of family love and ward off the dangers which often bring sorrow and shame. We appeal in this matter with special earnestness to young fathers and mothers, who have it in their power to mould the hearts of their children and train them betimes in the habit of prayer."


Example of Tobias

It is to young parents, too, nay, to newly married couples, that I would appeal not to await the appearance of children, but to begin to pray in common from the very outset of their wedded life. While everything is new and family traditions are only in the making, it will be an easy matter for them to establish the custom of family prayer; whereas early neglect may allow a contrary custom to get so firmly rooted that it will be hard to break. Would that all newly married couples would follow the beautiful example of the younger Tobias and his wife Sara. "We are the children of saints," he said, "and must not be joined together like heathens that know not God" (Tob. 8, 5). Accordingly they did not wait until the wedding festivities and their honeymoon were over before thinking of praying in common but the very first night after their marriage "prayed earnestly, both together, that health might be given them" and that God would bless their union.


Family Worship a Duty

To anyone that gives the matter serious thought the neglect of family prayer in a Christian family must seem well-nigh impossible. It is to be sup posed, namely, that the head of a Christian family esteems the Faith as his greatest treasure, as worth more to himself and to every member of his household than any amount of earthly goods. It is further to be presumed that, valuing his faith as he does, he will be most solicitous about preserving it so as to insure its blessings for himself and his family. On such a supposition, is it possible that he will relegate all prayer to the privacy of each one's room and never have the family pray aloud in common? Just as little as he would have each member of the family take his meals alone and never do any work or have any recreation in common. As long as the family circle, family meals, family picnics remain in the families of civilized communities, so long will also family prayer be fostered in every truly Christian home. For, even apart from the value of family prayer as a means of securing the blessings of religion, it will ever be incumbent on the family as a specific duty. The family is a perfect natural society, a distinct entity in itself; and as such it owes God an act of common worship. It is not enough that the single members of the family practice their religion; the family itself as a society must pay its homage to the Creator and Lord of the family; and this is done by family prayer.


Saying Grace Aloud

How often this duty will be performed, will depend on each family's devotion, and more particularly on the religious zeal of the parents. In families where different members rise at different hours, it is usually unpractical, if not impossible, to recite the morning prayer in common; but the evening prayer could easily be a family prayer, especially in young families; and this practice is most heartily to be recommended. There is no valid excuse anywhere, however, for not saying grace at meals aloud together; and I hope that no father or mother who reads this will fail to introduce the practice, if it does not yet exist in their families. The prayer most suited for this purpose is without doubt the "Our Father," to which may be appropriately added the "Hail Mary" and, before meals, "Bless us, O Lord, etc." and after meals, "We thank Thee, O Lord, etc." To recite these three prayers aloud, slowly and distinctly, and to make the sign of the cross before and after, requires no more than one minute of time. Surely no Christian can be so niggardly with God as to say that that is too much; or to contend that to devote a minute to prayer before and after each meal would be to convert the home into a monastery. Yet I pronounce no anathema against the family that is content with less. Where appetites are especially keen, the chances are that the saying of a short prayer is more likely to become regular than the saying of a long one. And hence, as a compromise, I would suggest that the afore-mentioned prayers be said in common at least before and after the principal meal, and that a part of them be said at the other meals.


Seasonal Devotions

In addition to daily family prayers, there should be also seasonal prayers in common in all Christian families, especially during the months of May and October and during the holy seasons of Advent and Lent. There are, it is true, special devotions in church at these seasons, two or three times a week; but a good Catholic should not be content with these. If the family is to share the blessings of religion to the full, the changes of the ecclesiastical year, which are so striking a feature of the services in church, should be reflected also in the home. Very suitable for these seasonal devotions in the home are the approved litanies of the Sacred Heart, the Holy Name, the Blessed Virgin, and St. Joseph, and above all the rosary. The rosary, with its joyful, sorrowful, and glorious mysteries, is appropriate for every season; is made up of the best of all prayers; can be lengthened or shortened according to pleasure; is easily recited by even a small child, and is enriched with numerous indulgences. Consisting, too, as it does of a number of different prayers linked together by the consideration of a certain mystery for the purpose of praising God, the rosary is a fitting symbol of the Christian family, whose members are united by the bonds of blood and religion; who share joys, sorrows, and glories in common; and who work together for a common end--their temporal and eternal welfare and happiness.


Overcoming Bashfulness

I realize that in families where the custom does not exist, a certain bashfulness in regard to spiritual matters will have to be overcome in order to make a start; but once the ice is broken and a beginning made, it will be easy to develop the practice. Women and girls are usually less backward than men and boys in these matters; and as in so many other worthy causes, so here, too, let them take the initiative. They know how to coax the men folk in order to attain their own personal aims. Let them employ the same knowledge for the benefit of the entire family. God will most certainly reward them richly if they establish in the family this pious practice of saying the rosary; for to them will go the credit of enriching their home with those spiritual roses that fill it with the fragrance of Heaven's blessing.


The Golden Mean

It is hardly necessary to remind parents that even in fostering so praiseworthy a practice as family prayer, they should not attempt too much. As in all things, so here, too, one must observe the golden mean. Children cannot be expected to devote as much time to prayer as their elders do, or should do. They naturally take more to play than to prayer; and if they are indiscreetly obliged to take part in interminable prayers, there is danger of creating in them a distaste for prayer. Such a method defeats its own end. The object in accustoming children to say their prayers regularly from the time they begin to talk, is to develop in them a love of prayer and a realization of the need of it. This can be done while their hearts are still pliable by teaching them very short prayers as early as possible, and by gradually making them understand that when they pray they are speaking to the good God, from whom all blessings flow; to their loving Jesus, who came upon earth that they might come to Heaven; and to the Mother of Jesus or to their Guardian Angel and the Saints.


Making Prayer Spontaneous

This background of religious truth and Gospel story is of the greatest importance in teaching the young to love prayer and to feel the need of it; and it should not be hard for any mother who has a little piety herself to instill into her children such an appreciation of God's greatness, goodness and power that prayer will come natural to them as the spontaneous utterance of their grateful and confiding hearts. Or would it really be so hard, even before the infants are able to speak, to make the sign of the cross over them and to say a brief morning and evening prayer aloud in their stead, thus accustoming them to the sound of the words, so that "the good God" or "Jesus" or "Mary" might be the first word their innocent lips would utter? Would it not be easy to show them pictures of Jesus and tell them stories of Jesus, as their understanding develops--stories of His childhood, of Bethlehem, the stable, Mary and Joseph, the singing angels and the adoring shepherds--stories of His public life--how He loved children, how the crowds followed Him, how He went about doing good? Remember, mothers, that your little ones' sanctified souls are hungry for knowledge of God and holy things. So tell them how much God loves them; that it is God who made all the good and beautiful things they see--the fruits and flowers, the trees and bushes and grass, the birds and the fishes, the soft- furred kitten and the friendly dog. Tell them, too, how poor Jesus was; that He became poor for love of us. Speak to them of Jesus in the Tabernacle, and awaken in them a desire to visit Him. In this way, not by threatening or scolding but by gently leading and by instilling knowledge which will of itself yield motives for prayer, you will surely implant deep in them for life, if not a love, at least a strong feeling of the appropriateness of daily prayer.


Mothers of Future Saints

But to pursue such a course, some may say, would be to try to make a saint out of every child. Well, is that such an awful possibility to contemplate? Somewhere in the world to-day are the mothers of the saints of to-morrow; and not of the saints only but of the criminals also; of the great as well as the lowly, the heroes and the outcasts, the successes and the failures. You know not what latent possibilities are in your child. Of one thing only are you sure, that one day he will be numbered either among the elect or the reprobate. What his eternal lot will be, will depend largely upon his practice or his neglect of prayer. Have a care, mother dear, lest his neglect of it be laid to your charge.


Jacob's Ladder

When Jacob, the son of Isaac, fled from the anger of his brother, Esau, into the land of Haran, he pursued his journey until after sunset; and then, weary and footsore, he laid himself down to sleep, resting his head on a stone. While he slept God appeared to him in a wondrous vision. He saw a ladder that reached from earth to Heaven, and on it angels of God ascending and descending. And the Lord himself, leaning on the top of the ladder, spoke to him saying: "I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac.... In thee and thy seed, all the tribes of the earth shall be blessed. And I will be thy keeper whithersoever thou goest, and will bring thee back into this land: neither will I leave thee, till I shall have accomplished all that I have said." Upon awaking, Jacob trembled and exclaimed full of awe: "Indeed, the Lord is in this place.... This is no other than the house of God and the gate of Heaven" (Gen. 29). The ladder which Jacob beheld in his dream, with angels ascending and descending, is an appropriate symbol of the prayers that ascend to Heaven from the Christian home and bring down God's blessing on its inmates. Would to God that such a ladder would rise to Heaven from the home of every family in the land! If you would have God's angels bear His special blessing to your homes, Christian parents; if you wish the Lord to be your keeper and to abide in your home; if you would be led back to your true home, the land of your Heavenly Father;--then let your prayers ascend to Heaven like a cloud of precious incense morning, noon, and night, and God will look down upon your home with special favor. In very truth may it then be said of your home what Jacob said of the place of his vision: "Indeed, the Lord is in this place." During life it will be a house of God, and at the end of life the gate to Heaven.

Continue:
Introduction
Chapter I: Necessity of Religion in the Home
Chapter II: Prayer in the Home
Chapter III: Catholic Atmosphere in the Home
Chapter IV: Good Reading in the Home
Chapter V: Harmony in the Home
Chapter VI: Necessity of Home Life
Conclusion

Back to Domestic Church: The Catholic Home
Back to Being Catholic
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