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Sunday, January 29, 2012

"Manna for the Temple": Of Prayers and Saints

Last night after Mass I showed Father J. a "Lady of All Nations" prayer card I had sent to me from an online group. The prayer is based on a series of apparitions of the Virgin Mary to a woman in Amsterdam. It reads,
"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Father, send now your Spirit over the earth. Let the Holy Spirit live in the hearts of all Nations, that they may be preserved from degeneration, disaster, and war. May the Lady of All Nations, the Blessed Virgin Mary, be our Advocate! Amen."

There was a book sale after Mass, and I purchased a Rosary for my daughter. As I was talking to Father J. about teaching it to her, and showing him the prayer card, he explained that the purpose of any devotions is to bring us closer to Christ, so they should be Christological in nature. This particular prayer, for me, ties into the theme of living a holy life and how that relates to caring for our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit, and by extension, caring for Mother Earth. The ways in which we take care of ourselves, our environment, and our children, and how we relate to God and other peoples of the world socially, politically, and economically are completely intertwined. Our inner lives manifest outwardly and vice versa.

So for this "Manna for the Temple" series, let me focus now on prayer. One big difference between the Catholic and Protestant approach to prayer is that Protestants pray, while Catholics say prayers. That isn't to say that Catholics only recite memorized prayers. But the only memorized prayer I ever learned as a Protestant was the "Our Father", which of course Catholics also use. What I am finding is that we are sometimes limited in how to pray and what to pray for, so a memorized prayer helps me to focus myself on God without distraction. This includes the Rosary and those repetitious, memorized prayers. There are also prayers to the saints, of which Mary is the highest.

Why pray to a saint? Because the saints are the "great cloud of witnesses" spoken of in the Bible who are praying for us! In The Secrets of Mary, author Janice T. Connell explains that Mary "asks us to rely upon God at all times. She reminds us that God sends His angels and saints to comfort and guide us while we dwell in our bodies on earth. If we speak fewer words and listen with our hearts, we can become aware of God's heavenly Kingdom all around us." The purpose of devotions to Mary and the saints is to lead us to a closer relationship with Jesus. Through learning of the lives of the saints and how God worked in their lives, we receive various glimpses of God's grace as delivered through those individuals, and so a particular saint's story may resonate with us and help to magnify God's love for us.

St. Monica, who was the mother of St. Augustine, is the patron saint of married women and mothers. By her  prayers, faith, and holy example, and through appearances of the Virgin Mary to her, Monica lead her wayward husband and son to God. Once a womanizing drunk who lead a life of sinful pleasure, Augustine became a holy man of God and is one of the most prolific Christian writers of all time. Here is the Prayer to Saint Monica:  "Exemplary Mother of great Saint Augustine, you perseveringly pursued your wayward son not with wild threats but with prayerful cries to heaven. Intercede for all mothers in our day so that they may learn to draw their children to God. Teach them how to remain close to their children, even prodigal sons and daughters who have sadly gone astray. Amen."

Protestant Christians for the most part have no problem with listening to Christian music in order to draw closer to God, but they usually balk at visual images, statues, candles, incense, holy water, rosaries, etc... Why should this be? One does not worship these things, any more than one worships music. If I light a candle in front of a plaque of Jesus and Mary and say the prayer on the back of a holy card, I add tangible elements of the spiritual realm to my day. If I am struggling with inspiration to do my housework, it helps to burn incense and play some devotional music. When a Catholic enters the church sanctuary, dipping one's fingers into holy water and making the sign of the cross reminds a person that he or she is entering the presence of the Lord. The Eucharist, the body and blood of Christ shared by the congregation, is the center of Catholic worship ever single week, rather than a church service centered on the sermon of the minister, with Communion taken only a few times a year. The physical and the eternal are not separate. Never have I attended a church as Christ-centered as the Catholic Church, and perhaps this connection between things you can see and touch and the invisible realm of the holy is the reason.

As a homeschooling mother, St. Monica and the Virgin Mary give me excellent examples to follow. I will leave you with the "Parents Prayer" found on the back of a holy card picturing Mary, Joseph, and the child Jesus. May you have a blessed day!

"MOST LOVING FATHER, THE EXAMPLE OF PARENTHOOD, TEACH US WHAT TO GIVE AND WHAT TO WITHHOLD. SHOW US WHEN TO REPROVE AND WHEN TO PRAISE. MAKE US GENTLE AND CONSIDERATE YET FIRM AND WATCHFUL. KEEP US FROM WEAK INDULGENCE, OR FROM GREAT SEVERITY. GIVE US THE COURAGE TO BE DISLIKED SOMETIMES BY OUR CHILDREN, WHEN WE MUST DO NECESSARY THINGS WHICH ARE DISPLEASING IN THEIR EYES. GIVE US THE IMAGINATION TO ENTER INTO THEIR WORLD IN ORDER TO UNDERSTAND AND GUIDE THEM. GIVE US ALL THE VIRTUES WE NEED TO LEAD THEM BY WORD AND EXAMPLE IN THE PATH OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. AMEN!"

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