Thursday, May 14, 2009
This column appeared in the Catholic Standard & Times on 14 May 2009.
You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today. Drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest. Bind them at your wrist as a sign and let them be as a pendant on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates. — Dt. 6:5-9
“Lois Anne,” suggested Sister in a stage whisper, “that’s enough.”
The child was firm in her response. “I don’t want it to fall off,” she told her principal as she continued to wrap the wires around the statue’s head. Even the invocation of her middle name left her undaunted in her devotion.
Long before I unearthed the black and white photo in my parents’ spare room, I’d heard the whole story. The photo is dated 1939 and shows a determined little girl in a white dress and veil standing on ladder before a sea of other veiled heads, crowning a statue of Mary. The little girl is my mother; a quarter century later I would don that same veil on a Marian feast for my own first Communion.
Fifty years later my mother still marveled that Sister would leave Mary’s corona vulnerable to the vagaries of wind and balls tossed in the school courtyard. Personally I marveled at my mother’s clearly longstanding determination to make what was in her heart — her deep and full love of God — visible. To wear it ‘bound at her wrist and written on her doorpost,’ as the Israelites were advised to do.
My theological library owes its start to my mother, who read the documents of Vatican II as avidly as she did the latest science fiction novel. Yet there was always a rosary to be found in her purse, and she never failed of saying grace at a meal, even when it was just the two of us in her hospital room. Faith was not just an academic stance for my mother; it was her whole way of being.
Jesuit Father Karl Rahner, one of the most eminent theologians of the 20th century, made Deuteronomy’s injunction manifest in his own preaching and life. He once cautioned a student, “Beware the person of no devotions and the person who does not pray.” Rahner himself often sat praying the rosary as someone read for an audience a translation of one of his complex theological papers.
In Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, the Church reminds us that our devotions “should accord with the sacred Liturgy ... [and] in some way derive from it, and lead people to it, since in fact the Liturgy by its very nature is far superior to any of them.” Our personal and community devotions are meant to grow from what is sown at the celebration of the Eucharist. Like physical exercise, they are intended to sharpen our appetite for the Eucharistic table.
In his short book, “The Need and the Blessing of Prayer” Father Rahner commends the little devotions of life: the rosary, marking a child with the Sign of the Cross each night, making the Sign of the Cross before cutting a loaf of bread.
Prayer is a grace but also requires practice on our part. These small acknowledgements of God, our pious practices, can give some structure to our daily practice of prayer. He sums up his advice, “Pray every day and pray the everyday.”
As the summer approaches, with its temptingly unstructured days, I ask myself how will I respond to God’s love: at home and abroad, whether busy or at rest? How can I pray the everyday every day, so that I might hunger all the more for God? What is written on my doorposts for my children to see?
Holy Mary, pray for us.
Holy Mother of God, pray for us.
Most honored of virgins, pray for us.
Chosen daughter of the Father, pray for us.
Mother of Christ the King, pray for us.
Glory of the Holy Spirit, pray for us.
Amen. — from the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary