“You are in big trouble little boy! Now go sit on the step while I get Katie dressed and then we’ll talk about it.” There went Nicholas, age three, head hung, to sit on the bottom step and ponder his transgressions.
A Little Heart Filled with Song
I stormed upstairs to dress the baby. A few minutes later, the sound of the piano came to me. I asked a passing child who was “playing” the piano. “It’s Nicholas, Mom,” came Mary Beth’s reply.
I gathered the baby and stormed downstairs, composing a lecture on obedience as I went. I was stopped by the sound of an angelic child’s voice: “Be with me Lord when I am in trouble! Be with me Lord, I pray!” He sung the refrain over and over again, lustily imitating the music minister who had sung that psalm at Mass throughout Lent. So far, it was working nicely for Nicholas; my heart softened considerably and he was not in nearly as much trouble.
The episode impressed upon me the need to fill our children with holy songs and prayers upon which they can draw throughout their lives. We use “Hide ‘Em in Your Heart” musical tapes for scripture memory and play good Christian music around the house all the time. Nicholas is a big Rich Mullins fan and when he’s not in trouble he is fond of reminding us all loudly that “Our God is an Awesome God!”
Tuck the Faith into Your Child’s Heart
Not all the memory work is musical though. We memorize traditional prayers as well, tucking them away carefully in the depths of their hearts, where they will be safe forever. I know some people who scorn Catholic rote prayers and rituals. They believe that both petition and worship should be extemporaneous to be truly heartfelt. I cannot disagree more. Like Nicholas, I have found myself singing psalms in times of trouble and offering the same prayers every day for as long as I can remember. I pray extemporaneously too, but those rote prayers have served me well.
Rituals have their place. They are comforting and beautiful and full of tangible meaning. With every baby, I appreciate more the familiar words and gestures of the baptism ritual. I even go back to the same priest every time! It is a joyful, sacred, wholly Catholic and truly sacramental blessing to know that the timeless ritual will be faithfully observed.
Rote prayers are not mindless repetition, either. They are contemplative and have the power to transport us to a more peaceful place where we are better able to meet our Lord.
A Beautiful, Timeless Gift of the Church
A few days ago, I received a frantic phone call from a friend who was by her infant’s side in the pediatric intensive care unit. Barely composed enough to relay the story, she told me that the baby was unresponsive and the medical team had whisked her out of the room. They left my friend, all alone, to… to what? To pray. My friend had called to ask me to pray with her. As she was talking, I tried to compose a prayer. I am a writer, a wordsmith. I love to turn a phrase, to find just the right expression, especially concerning matters spiritual. But here was someone with a great need and I was so shaken by the implication of what she was suffering that I could barely begin to stutter, “Hail Mary…”
We prayed together, finding a common place of comfort in the familiar words of our childhood. Together we were Catholic universal and holy. The words transcended the situation, spanned the several states between us and united us with every suffering mother who has ever prayed those words, beseeching the Blessed Mother on behalf of a child. This was not mindless rote repetition; this was earnest prayer a beautiful, timeless gift of the Church.
I am grateful to the people who taught me those prayers. I am grateful to the musicians who set contemporary prayer to music and I am grateful to the people who hide God’s Word in the hearts of my children by singing it there. It is in our hearts that the Lord intended the Word to be. And it is from our hearts that those prayers and songs give glory to God.
Elizabeth Foss is a freelance writer from northern Virginia. Real Learning: Education in the Heart of the Home by Elizabeth Foss can be purchased at www.4reallearning.com.
(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)