Fr. Patrick Peyton (1909-92), known for leading hundreds of large rosary rallies over the course of his life, famously declared that “the family that prays together, stays together.” Statistics demonstrate that both the strength of the family and practice of the Catholic faith have been in decline since his time, making it even more important today that Catholic families put Fr. Peyton’s advice into practice in a way that is enduring and effective.
‘Oxygen of the soul’
Evangelist and author Kathleen Beckman described prayer as “the oxygen of the soul,” and recommends family prayer because “it brings together spouses and children in a spirit of love to raise hearts to God.” Praying vocal prayers together “solidifies communion with one another and with God. When family members pray from the heart for specific intentions, they establish a bond of trust, faith deepens, hope ignites, and love grows.”
As she notes in her new book, A Family Guide to Spiritual Warfare, in some families only one member may be practicing the faith and praying, but nonetheless, “The sole intercessor for the family has great spiritual power to pray for the conversion of their loved ones.”
She suggested families develop a daily routine in which they begin and end the day in family prayer, and create a family oratory, a prayer area that is considered holy ground within the house. This may contain such blessed objects as holy water, holy cards, religious statues, and a crucifix which all encourage “spontaneous visits there where loved ones may pray to God for special intentions.”
Sustenance for daily journey
Fr. Tim Donovan, a Catholic high school chaplain who is founder and president of Faith and Family Life Catholic Ministries, believes that prayer keeps family members united to God and one another, and in turn, “strengthens us to be good disciples as we go out into the world.” He advises that families identify something related to prayer they can do daily, and suggests using visual cues as reminders. He explained, “A parent taking a child to school, for example, may pass a particular donut shop which can be a visual reminder to offer their day to God. Such reminders can be helpful, as people’s schedules can be so crazy.”
Such practices, he continued, “can evolve into regular family gatherings for sharing highs and lows, having conversations related to faith, reading the Scriptures, and speaking to God about their needs.”
Regular appointment with God
Fr. Raymond Skonezny is a former Trappist monk who offered spiritual direction for two groups which promote lay family spirituality, Cursillo and Magnificat. He, too, believes in setting fixed times for daily prayer. He recalled the example of California Bishop John Steinbock (1937-2010) who penciled in a one-hour “appointment” every day with Jesus.
If done consistently, such prayer time enables families to develop a rich interior life. But when people neglect prayer, “the person just dies; like a candle, he burns out.” If a husband and wife stop communicating, for example, their relationship slowly dies. The same occurs in one’s relationship with God when prayer ceases.
Fr. Skonezny experienced a re-awakening of his own priesthood after a pilgrimage led him to revitalize his prayer life. He explained, “I had slipped into a patterned mediocrity. It is easy for us priests to fall into a rote attitude and take the supernatural for granted.”
Not every family member may desire prayer, Beckman conceded, but added, “If one member of the family has a heart on fire for God, then he or she can light a fire for the rest.”
Family catechesis – ‘forever gift’ to children
Fr. Donovan recalled an experience of one family whose parents had a 7-year-old and two others ages 18 and 19. The older children were raised without the Catholic faith, but the parents had a “reversion,” began practicing their faith, and then began praying in the home with the younger child. The young adult children were home one evening during prayers, took an interest in what was happening, then asked their parents, “Why were we not raised in the Faith?” Father said, “It sparked in interest in their becoming involved.”
Fr. Donovan also noted that family prayer must also incorporate catechesis. He asked, “If prayer is primarily a relationship with God, it is hard to have a conversation with someone we know little about. That’s were catechesis comes in. It is not a starting place, but a place where we can grow.”
Beckman added, “Parents have the beautiful privilege and duty to teach their children about the faith, about the spiritual life that is communion with God.”
They can catechize not only with books, she continued, but with their example, such as by praying before meals or blessing their children each day. They also catechize “by prioritizing and living a sacramental life, taking their children to Mass and Confession, and celebrating the liturgical seasons.”
Such a rich family prayer life, she believes, offers many blessings to each family member and is “a great spiritual hedge of protection for each member of the family, protecting from the spirit of the world, the flesh, and the devil.”
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in Legatus Magazine and is reprinted here with kind permission.