Catholic Prayers And Good Soldiery.
I pray, like many of you, my five decades of the Rosary every day. My prayers are, obviously, learned by rote, and repeated in the same way. Like many of you, I tend to be distracted and carried away whilst I pray the rosary, but I soldier on. The modern apps with a different gospel passage for every Hail Mary are a great help, but they are no magic wand, either. We get distracted. It's the human nature. If we were to start the rosary or the decade anew every time we get distracted we could never pray the Rosary in church, and we would likely stop saying the Rosary everyday.
Try to be as focused as you can, but say your rosary every day like a military man.
Besides the main dish of my prayer day (the rosary) I have, like many of you, the sides. I never think of my deceased loved ones without one or three “eternal rest”; I never think of people I love without a short prayer for them; I say an Hail Mary for every cripple or every old man in a wheelchair I see; I immancably say the Prayer to St. Michael The Archangel every time I see a faggot on the street.
Yes, all these prayers only take a very short time; yes, life will absorb me after them as fully as it did before; yes, most of the times I do not experience any kind of spiritual “turbo kick” after praying them.
I pray, because I am a Catholic; I pray prayers learned by rote, because I am a Catholic; I pray even when I am distracted, because I am a Catholic; when I wake up, I immediately say an Hail Mary, because I am a Catholic; I pray before going to sleep, and actually often fall asleep whilst mechanically repeating “Hail Mary”, because I am a Catholic. I have a reminder on my phone that tells me it's 3pm, so I can say an “Our Father” at the hour Christ died. Small things like that. Catholicism is largely made of small things.
I am fully aware that all this has a mechanical element in it. My morning Hail Mary could often be prayed better, and many people pray much more. My intra-day prayers are said by rote, as a kind of short-circuit in my daily life. My evening prayers have, at times, a sleepy quality in them. I could certainly do better, but then again I am doing better now than I did some years ago. My rosary is good on certain days, and less good on others, but I must not fight the laziness of not saying the Rosary anymore. It goes under the skin, you see, and you end up praying much more than you used to do even outside of the Rosary. Still: I have, most certainly, room for improvement. I think I will carry it to my grave.
The prayer life of a Catholic – I mean, of most of them – has always been like this: a soldiering in Christ, where the short glorious battle events are lost in the banal routine of military life: the drills, the making of the bed, the meals, all the unromantic, unexciting, uninspiring routine. A good soldier does not say: “who cares whether my bed is properly made: all I want or care for is battle!”. A good soldier knows that soldiering is made of many little things, and that the care with which he cleans his rifle is very important even if he might never have to use it in action.
Soldiery is, in the end, made largely of routine work. It is made, if you will, by rote. Catholic soldiery has, through all ages, been no different than this.
When my mother taught me the Hail Mary, she paid attention I had learned the words. Not the feeling. Not the “dialogue with Mary”. The words. Ave Maria, piena di grazia…
Why? Because this is what Catholics do. Catholics pray in set words. Of course, they can pray differently, and it is certainly not forbidden to a Catholic to throw himself at the feet of the Blessed Virgin and pour out to her the sorrows that plague him. But being a Catholic he will know – like countless generations before him – that this is, strictly speaking, not even necessary. He knows that when he prays in the set words transmitted to us by tradition, he has prayed well. For many centuries now, all Catholics from the illiterate peasant to the refined Prince have known this. This is, by the by, one of the reason why there are so many Catholic prayers.
But there is another reason, that I do not want to leave unmentioned. Catholic prayers are set in fixed words so that they: a) teach properly, and b) give a guarantee of orthodoxy.
Our set of rote prayers tell us a lot about Catholicism. The Litanies are doctrinal expositions; the “Hail, Holy Queen” reminds us that we live in a vale of tears, that we will only see Jesus if we are saved, & Co. At the same time, by praying set prayers we know that we are led through the straight railway of Catholic orthodoxy. Prayers are guaranteed right, and are sure to teach us properly. Spontaneous prayer achieves neither.
This system served countless generations of faithful before us. Yes, we are imperfect. Yes, we get distracted. Yes, we may even fall asleep whilst praying.
Welcome to Catholicism.
All this seems, as I write this, to be rather out of favour. Whilst Francis will not tell you you must not pray the “Hail Mary” or the “Our Father”, it is not clear when he draws the lines and says “enough of rote praying”.
What is clear is that God himself has given us the “Our Father”, but the current Pontiff doesn't see the serial repetition of this prayer with a favourable eye. It is also clear that the Blessed Virgin has – with several apparitions to, among others, Saint Dominic, Blessed Alain de la Roche, and the children of Fatima – recommended the recitation of the Rosary, but the Bishop of Rome sees all this – if you can read beyond the Francispeak; which you can – as now past its shelf life, a habit of past ages that is outdated and below the standard of the smart generation of post V II Catholics.
Once again: Francis doesn't do frontal attacks. His judgments (Heavens, he does a lot of it!) are always directed towards not exactly identified “bad Catholics”, who always end up looking like your grand-grandmother.
Again, he will use Francispeak. The “bad Catholics” are always described in a way that in the end allows you to say “he is not talking of me”, whilst also saying an awful lot that actually screams he is talking about me, big time.
The prototypical Catholic of once – and the traddie of today – are his obvious target, and the message is being understood more and more clearly as the repeated affirmations make it more and more difficult to attribute the quality Francis criticises to people who do not exist at all. If these people exist, then it's us.
You pray the rosary in a – somewhat – mechanical way? Check, and actually you probably do not even believe in God.
You count your rosaries? You are a Pelagian!
You are extremely sure of your Catholic faith? You have “excessive doctrinal security”.
You pray by rote? You are following a custom of the past.
Is it a surprise this Pontiff is so ignorant of even the basis of Catholicism? Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi. If his prayer life is made of inordinate waffling his very way of seeing Catholicism will, one day, follow. It is obvious this man has not the faintest idea of not only basics like the works of mercy, but even the very essence of Christianity, as he manages to be very vague, but vaguely disturbing, even when he says to Eugenio Scalfari in which strangely and I would say uniquely defined God he believes. If Athanasius would read his description of God given to Scalfari he would, I think, not call him an heretic, but would probably decide the man needs a lot of work, because his way of talking of God does sound strange indeed.
This is one who has been making his own “bespoke” religion for many decades now; the unavoidable result of making his own, “bespoke” prayers for the same length of time.
Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi.
Hippie prayers, Francis.