Prayer and Family
April 24, 1994
Brother John Raymond
Pope John Paul II has called this year the "Year of the Family."
A good beginning for this family year would be to read the Holy
Father's Apostolic Exhortation "Familiaris Consortio," The Role of
the Christian Family in the Modern World. I would highly recommend
that every family obtain a copy of this great work of the Holy
Father. (It can be ordered from the Daughters of St. Paul, 50 St.
Pauls Ave., Boston, MA. 02130 [1-800-876-4463] for $3.25 + $2.00
S&H) Part of this document focuses on the serious obligation parents
have to ensure the Christian formation of their children. Under this
section is mentioned the parent's role of teaching prayer to the
children, assisting them to grow in holiness and enabling them to
receive the Sacraments at the proper times. I would like to focus on
the prayer aspect.
There is no doubt that the parent's example is a far more
important method of instruction for children than the words they say
to them. I heard one young mother tell a story that clearly brings
out this point. One day she was in the living room with her five
year old son. Her son was busy playing like most children his age.
The mother decided to kneel down and say some prayers. She closed
her eyes and was praying. After a short time had elapsed she felt
somebody next to her. She opened her eyes to find her little son
kneeling next to her in imitation. This story is one small example
of the influence parents can play on the prayer formation of their
A more powerful example comes from a 21-year-old I recently
talked to. He and his father went to a retreat. At the retreat the
priest challenged everybody to pray 15 Mysteries of the Rosary every
day and fast on bread and water on Wednesdays and Fridays. The
father and son returned home and put this into practice. At first
they were the only two doing it. Within a short time the mother and
other children all joined in. It became the family practice without
any coercion of the father and son. Both these stories bring out the
important obligation parents have of setting an example of prayer.
Parents cannot rely totally on the sisters (if there are any) at
the Catholic school or CCD classes to teach their children how to
pray. Religious instruction at the school or catechism classes can
be totally futile without the reinforcement of the parent's example
It is very important to instruct one's children in the habit of
daily prayer while they are still young. Adapt the amount and type
of prayer to the children. Emphasize both memorized prayers and just
plain talking to God. Little children have an amazing ability to
open up to God - they just need some encouragement. Do not
underestimate your children's prayer potential or the power of their
prayers. Children by their innocence captivate the Heart of God. I
have talked to very young children who have already had mystical
experiences of God and the spiritual world. A mother told me the
story of her little boy (I met him and he was little!) one day
telling her to stop for gas, otherwise the car would soon run out.
Sure enough when the mother looked at the gas gauge it was almost on
empty. What is so amazing about that? Well, the boy mentioned to her
that he had been told this by Uncle Henry. Uncle Henry had been dead
for over two years and the boy had never met him!
With teenagers getting them to pray requires a little more tact.
Some teenagers need motivation for why they need to pray. Share your
experiences with them. Challenge them to try it and find out for
themselves. At times teenagers really do like to pray but are afraid
to express it. They may be embarrassed to let their parents or
friends know they like it. Don't go by appearances. Be encouraging
to teenagers and not too forceful - at times reasoning with them is
much better. Force can alienate them further from prayer and God.
Sometimes Catholic teenage religious groups or activities such as
"Teen Encounter Weekends" can help them to get interested in God and
prayer. I know that a week for boys spent at a seminary during the
summer when I was in 7th and 8th grade had a profound effect on me.
Bring prayer into your families. Remember, Jesus said that where
two or three are gathered in His Name He is present. Bring Jesus
into your home by praying and teaching your children to pray!