Spirituality

Confessions of a novena failure

The internet has turned out to be helpful in this case

For as long as I can remember, I associated the praying of novenas with a more disciplined, devout prayer life – the kind I wanted. But then I’d start one and forget by day three or even two. I even set calendar alerts on my phone, but still managed to mess up. Declaring myself a “novena failure” I began to wonder whether my inability to manage a relatively simple prayer said something about my love of God and my commitment to him. And what did it say about my will?

Then, a few years ago, a friend introduced me to the website Pray More Novenas, started by a young husband and wife couple. The site sends reminders over email during the course of a novena. This, too, of course, I would manage to miss now and again amid inbox clutter.

But about a year ago, another friend suggested praying a novena together, for a particular intention. It was the second or third novena I had successfully faithfully prayed in my life. One of us would forward it to the other during the course of a day by way of reminder. Now, another friend of mine makes a commitment every few weeks to one, same drill. It’s a great exercise in fellowship and prayerful communion. It also guarantees you hear from a loved one who is not always in front of you consistently for nine days.

John-Paul and Annie Deddens, founders of the Pray More Novenas website and movement, talk a bit about their mission.

Kathryn Jean Lopez: Why should anyone pray more novenas? Aren’t they pious throwbacks?

Annie Deddens: There are a lot of great reasons people should pray more novenas. For one, there’s something very beautiful about preparing yourself to celebrate a particular feast day. … Committing to nine days of prayer before a feast day is a great way to do that. Praying novenas can also help people to grow in their resolve to keep coming to the Lord with their prayers, day after day, as we’re called to do. It keeps the communication lines open with Him, and that’s always a good thing! Additionally, praying novenas can help people grow in self-discipline, and I believe that many graces can come from practicing self-discipline. Lastly, we hope that praying novenas helps people to grow closer to the Lord and to transform their prayer life — helping them become more committed to it so that it becomes a better daily habit.

John-Paul Deddens: All that being said, if you try to pray more novenas and it’s not helping your spiritual life, it is really just one of many devotions. Our faith is so rich that we have a lot to choose from!

Lopez: When did you each and together first come to find novenas important?

Annie: I first heard about novenas a little more than six years ago. At the time, I was a student at the University of Illinois in Champaign, living at the Newman Catholic Center, and I had heard about other women in the dorm praying a novena to St. Anne to “find a man.” Literally! They were praying to find their future spouses. I even heard about one woman who met her husband after praying the novena, so I thought I’d give it a try. I ended up finding a Novena to St. Anne online, I printed it out, and then I brought it with me every morning to my holy hour in the chapel, and I prayed it. This was the first novena I prayed, and now it’s become one we pray every year. I met John-Paul very shortly afterwards. A few months later, after we began dating, I asked John-Paul to pray a novena with me. I thought that if a novena prayer led me to John-Paul that perhaps a novena would be a good prayer to incorporate into our relationship. Now we’ve been praying them for six years, and I can’t really imagine them not being a part of our marriage or our prayer lives. John-Paul started Pray More Novenas later that year. I originally didn’t think many people would sign up to pray with us, but surprisingly, many people did very quickly. We’ve seen many blessings from all of the prayers we’ve said together — answered prayers that we’ve experienced as well as answered prayers from other people in our community.

Lopez: What if I am too busy to pray more novenas? Or any, ever?

Annie: You probably aren’t too busy to pray more novenas! Our novenas are typically pretty short and sweet. We know that people are busier now than they’ve ever been before, and we don’t want to make them ever feel burdened or overwhelmed with needing to check one more thing off their to-do list. Instead, we offer these short novena prayers that literally don’t take more than two minutes a day to pray — if that. Additionally, this year, we just began offering a video and audio version of each of our prayers, so even if you don’t have two minutes to sit in front of your computer and read the prayers (or to read them off your phone), then you can just listen along to our prayers when you’re getting ready in the morning, or making your coffee, or nursing your baby overnight, or doing the dishes, etc. We try to make it really easy to pray with us because it’s so important to give our time — however short — to the Lord.

John-Paul: Part of the purpose of Pray More Novenas is to help people pray more in these busy times. If you have time to check your email, you have time to pray novenas with us!

Lopez: Do novenas help daily life? Family life?

Annie: Oh, absolutely! We heard recently from a friend that she prays our novenas with her daughter as they’re getting ready for bed. Another couple we know also prays them together late at night. Prayer always draws us closer to the Lord, and what I find to be very beautiful is that it can also draw us closer to our friends and families. We hear from many people who are praying with us that they forward our novena prayers to their friends at their parish or to their co-workers or other people they know, and it’s a great opportunity for them all to join together in praying for their specific intentions. After each novena we pray, we ask if anyone has had any of their prayers answered during the novena, and we always hear from many people about how God is working in their lives and with their intentions. After the St. Anne Novena, we heard from a wife that she and her husband were arguing a lot less and that there was more peace in their household. After the St. Joseph Novena, we heard from many people about how they were able to find jobs, and that others were experiencing a greater desire to attend Mass. We’ve also heard from people that they’ve been able to forgive easier after praying novenas, to love better, and to really live better with prayer and a relationship with God set as a priority. Prayer is powerful and it certainly has the power to change our lives.

Lopez: Do you each have a favorite novena? Why?

John-Paul: I really like our Novena for the Persecuted Church. It’s a reminder that we need to be willing to die for the faith and of the great sacrifice of so many martyrs that have gone before us. Also, St. Anne, because it brought Annie and me together!

Annie: I have many favorites! The St. Anne one, of course, because it brought the two of us together, but also because she has been an intercessor throughout our entire relationship and marriage. I also have come to really like the Christ the King Novena which focuses on allowing the Lord to reign within our hearts, our minds, our bodies, our families, our communities, etc. The story behind how that feast day came about is very interesting to me, and I believe it’s a novena that’s especially needed in our world today when many people — and societies and countries — are being more and more controlled by others, or by worldly goods, etc. I also really like the Novena for Marriage & Family which is the novena we pray leading up to the Nativity of Mary on September 8th. That’s also our wedding anniversary, and the first time we prayed that novena was leading up to our wedding day. It’s a beautiful novena, and again, it’s one that I believe is very needed because it focuses on praying for peace among families and within marriages, and protecting and strengthening them.

[Editor’s Note: Pray More Novenas is beginning a new novena, today, seeking the intercession of St. Therese of Lisieux. Click here to participate.]

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Kathryn Jean Lopez

Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute and editor-at-large of National Review Online. She is co-author, with Austen Ivereigh, of the new revised and updated edition of How to Defend the Faith Without Raising Your Voice.