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I had convinced my mother to watch all six kids for the weekend and my husband, John, finagled a day off of work. I fixed my dyed red hair and purchased a new outfit, a darling blue and white striped skirt with a white cotton blouse to match. We both felt the same level of excitement and anticipation. Together we yearned for the moment where we would live every couple’s dream date: a two-day national Catholic Family Homeschooling Convention.
Talk about romance! Talk about passion! Talk about two nerds with notebooks!
One of the best lectures we attended tackled Lectio Divina, the Catholic Church’s traditional method to read, meditate, pray, and contemplate the Holy Scriptures. The point of the priest’s presentation was “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well” (Matt 6: 33). When he concluded, I resolved immediately to abandon my evil ways and approach prayer with renewed vigor. I glanced around the room and sensed the other faithful attendees felt the same way, but then someone from the audience raised her hand and shattered my hopeful attitude.
“What’s the best way to bring this important type of prayer into our children’s lives?” she said.
Did she hear anything Father said as it applied to her life? I wondered.
“You want to teach your kids to pray?” I wanted to say. “Get a prayer life! They’ll learn to talk to God by watching you talk to Him.”
In her defense, it’s entirely possible this particular woman is a veritable mystic, a master at prayer. Perhaps she is so far advanced in the spiritual life her only remaining concern is passing on an effective method of prayer to her children. In all honesty, I was annoyed by the woman’s question because I spotted within her a tendency I also possess: a desire to “improve” the loved ones around me while neglecting to work on myself. The woman attended a 60-minute lecture on prayer and her only question was how to improve the prayer life of her family?
Here’s something I’ve noticed (and something I’ve been guilty of as well) amongst Catholics. At our Bible studies and playgroups, we don’t attack our spouses as outright cheapskates or slobs, but there are other subtle, more dangerous ways we nitpick: we comment on his or her “lack” of Catholicity and his or her failures in the spiritual life. Over coffee, we share about our spouse’s scattered spiritual focus, the fact he or she doesn’t take the family to Confession, and his or her poor example of Catholic parenthood. We bemoan the need to “force” our middle-schooler to attend Confirmation classes, the irreverence and impiety wee see in our children, and their disinterest in the Catholic faith and prayer. Rarely, however, do we talk about the struggles we face in sitting down and cracking open the word of God ourselves! For all our complaining (or even just our silent criticisms) about the poor example of our spouses and our frustration over our efforts to spiritually improve our children, what do our own spiritual lives look like?
Do we dedicate ourselves to daily prayer—with fervor and dedication—or are we focused only on improving those around us?
Our efforts to form Catholic families should not act as a replacement for our own prayer lives. Jesus provides a beautiful example of what a serious prayer life looks like. The Gospels recount Jesus rising “long before dawn” to seek prayerful silence with the Father (Mk 1:35). Before he named the 12 Apostles, He spent the whole night in prayer (Lk 6:12). And Jesus’s moments of recollection weren’t chance encounters; they were habitual practice (Lk 5:16; see also Mk 6:46; Lk 9:18, 28; 21:37) If Jesus got up early to pray, to spend time with His heavenly Father, why do we think can’t find a moment—any moment—to do the same?
Instead of obsessing about the last time our spouse went to Confession, let’s make a resolution to attend the Sacrament on a regular basis ourselves. Our words, our nitpicking, and our reminders to our family members often go unheeded, but our example? Our example might inspire the action and change for which we’re looking and if it doesn’t, all that time spent on our knees will change us. Besides when it’s our turn at the pearly gates, Jesus isn’t going to ask us for an account of the prayer lives of our children and husband.
He’s going to ask us where we’ve been.