Tag Archive | "prayer"

Pray for Us Sinners

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Kneeling in church before an altar, placing a yarmulke on our heads in humility to the Lord, or making a small offering in a temple, most of us — with the exception of confirmed atheists — respect the power of prayer.  Supplicating to our Gods, we pray to attain or sustain the things most central to our lives: our jobs, our health, our safety, and that of our loved ones.  With so much on the line, we pray in a mindful and structured manner that lends weight to our requests.

But what of those small, almost guilty prayers that seep our consciousness and float out psychically to The Creator?  Do they carry as much weight?

I was taught not to pray for frivolous or selfish things (i.e., a winning lottery ticket) when I was a child in Catholic school.   The inference was that God would be angered, and an angry God does not answer prayers.  Therefore, as an adult, I had to wonder why one devout man of my acquaintance always — and I do mean always — managed to snag a parking spot on the crowded streets of New York City, each and every time he prayed for one.  Does God grant small, selfish prayers because He/She is beneficent, or does He/She grant them to silence our petty, pesky requests?  Or … does God do it because we amuse Him/Her?

I don’t know the answer, but I tried this same trick myself one desperate Christmas Eve in the city, with a car full of relatives and dinner reservations burning away.  As the family wheedled me to put the car into a lot and pay the fee (an impossibility, as all the lots in the area were full), I snapped loudly, “Jesus, can you hear me?  Show these non-believers that you still work miracles by giving me a parking spot on the street right now!”  Lo and behold — and not to make a pun, but as God is my witness — the moment those words had cleared my lips, a car just ahead eased out of its spot and I eased right in!

Explain, then, when I prayed one night to wake up twenty pounds thinner, the p.j.’s did not fall off my newly emaciated frame in the morning.

Or why, when I had a hankering for a piece of jewelry well out of my means, I woke up one Saturday with a prayer in my heart, determined to buy it.  Like the desperate guy in the old Springsteen song “going down to where the sands turn into gold,” I headed straight for Atlantic City, and I am no gambler.  At roulette, in just a few hours, I’d won enough to not only buy the necklace but a matching pair of earrings!

Explain, then, when I prayed for some scaffolding or at the very least, a large brick, to fall upon the head of someone I know who lives to torture others, nothing toppled from the sky in a city known for its cascading scaffolds, bricks, and oh yes, pigeon “blessings from above.”

The loss of those twenty pounds would have made me a happier person.  I would have spread my joy to others, and this would have been a blessing; hardly selfish.  Right?  The loss of the beast disguised as a human would have been an undisputed blessing, spreading joy to three generations of an entire clan.

Did I not pray hard enough?   To paraphrase Mick Jagger, “Was I rough enough?  Was I tough enough?”  Does God take vacations at the Jersey shore along with the rest of us, or are my heartfelt pleas just snooze fests to Him/Her?   Or … does God answer prayers the way that lottery tickets are drawn: at random? 

It can’t be random; it just can’t, and I can cite chapter and verse as to why it can’t.  One chapter involves one of my two beloved kitties.  Every night, I’d pray that God watch over them: God, St. Francis of Assisi, and every relative who has passed on.  Very early one morning, with a loud crash, my playful youngest kitty knocked a large framed print off the wall of the second level of my home.  Frantically, I searched for the glass and found it in a most illogical spot … placed in an eerily deliberate manner, as if by human hands, against the wall of my tiled foyer.  Assuming that miniscule chips had scattered on the floor to harm my little cat, I ran my hands carefully over the four edges of the glass.  I had to repeat that act twice more, for the glass was completely and inexplicably intact.

A mathematician could calculate the odds of the glass sailing down one full flight to land unbroken against a wall and a very hard floor.  And as astronomical as the odds must be, I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that this little miracle had nothing to do with math and everything to do with Divine or perhaps angelic intervention.  

So the granting of prayers can’t be random.

I’d still love to lose those twenty pounds.  I’d hold a party if that brick ever conks that monster on the head and sends him to his Maker.  These are just two of a plethora of small prayers I’d like to see answered.  There must be a formula here that escapes me.  I pray that I learn it in my next life!

The Rosary: A Time-Honored Panacea or a Solution to Modern Woes?

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Well before I was old enough to vote, I had made the conscious decision to leave the Roman Catholic Church: the faith into which I had been born.  In tossing away the dogma and iconography of an organized religion, I clung tightly to my spirituality and enhanced it as I matured, through spiritual meditation.  Decades after I’d left the Church and its trappings behind, I was rather startled to be moved to purchase Rosary beads for someone who will remain unnamed in this article — a person not of the Catholic faith.  I went so far as to have the beads blessed in his name; at the same time, I bought Rosaries for myself.  This was all a gut decision rather than a considered one; I was simply moved to do this.

I carry my beads with me, take them out now and then, kiss the Crucifix and think of Jesus and His Mother, but have never prayed with or through the Rosary.  I began to wonder why I do this if I have no intention of saying the associated prayers. Was it because the beautiful opalescent beads remind me of a set I’d been given at my Confirmation by my beloved grandmother?  Was it simply a wish to return in my heart to a simpler time, before I questioned how a large, elite group of men determined the way that I must worship and indeed, come to know, my God?

Whatever it was, I’ve been toting my Rosary around now for nearly four years.  And after all this time, some niggling instinct prodded me to begin to pray the Rosary: a specific string of prayers, oft repeated, at the behest of Mary, the Mother of Jesus.

Wishing to make a Novena for a friend in need of prayers, I was surprised to learn that a Novena and the Rosary are actually two separate things.  While a Novena is a prayer said to a specific entity, for a specific cause, usually over the course of nine days (or repeated nine times in a single day), the Rosary has its own intention.  That intention is to contemplate upon the Mysteries of the Catholic faith: those core events that caused the establishment of that religion.  I thought this odd, as one cannot — in my own experience — recite specific prayers when one is meditating.  In meditation, you are silent so that God may speak to you.  In prayer, it is the opposite: you speak to God.  (If you are speaking, you cannot hear what the other person is saying.)

The more confused I became, the more sources I sought.  I called a good friend as well as my mother: two staunch Catholics who say the Rosary every day.  They only further confused me.  Then I hit the Internet and the most enlightening thing I found was written, ironically, not by a Catholic but a Protestant.  In essence, this person advises that God does not require us to pray; humans require humans to pray.  However, the writer continues, as flawed creatures, human beings need continual reminders that God exists and works in our lives.  For example, he states, “If you say, “Lord, I love you” once, will it really mean anything to you?  But if you kneel and say ten times in succession, “Lord, I love you?” will you begin to actually give thought to your words?”

This, then, is my understanding of the intent behind saying the Rosary.  If one recites the Rosary daily, directed to reflect upon the Mysteries of the Catholic faith, one’s faith will be strengthened (but for who’s benefit, I wondered).  Those who say the Rosary are also promised very specific graces.

Having long contemplated the decision concerning my schism with the Church, I doubted the power of the Rosary.  Here’s why.  Enticing people to say the Rosary daily would, in effect, solidify their faith; there is nothing metaphysical about it.  Any shrink worth the paper on which his or her license is printed will tell you that if an individual repeats a phrase or a act often, it becomes a form of self-indoctrination through which that individual then molds future behaviors.  In other words, you are what you are, if you think you are.  Married to the incentives of specific graces, the Rosary, then, may be a universal, no-fuss, no-muss method whose design is to stem the Exodus of people like me from the Catholic Church.

With this very logical equation in mind, I remained pushed by some external or internal force to pray the Rosary.

Last night, I finally did so, to ask for grace for a friend in need.  What happened was rather astounding.

My youngest kitty is extremely affectionate and playful; she eyed the dangling Crucifix with ill intent, as something to be hunted and batted.  Yet, I did not even have to chastise her once.  She remained beside me, uncharacteristically quiet, for the half hour that it took me to say the Rosary in full — as if she understood that she needed not to distract me.  I referred only to memory in reciting the formal prayers I had not said in many, many years.

As I began the Rosary, I realized that there were phrases that I was leaving out of these long-ago prayers.  But I continued on, assuming that God and Mother Mary would accept my intentions (I was asking grace for that friend I’d mentioned earlier).  Long before the half hour was over, I had not only remembered every word of each prayer, I remembered them in Latin!  Understand that it has been approximately four decades since the Mass was said in Latin, and the Hail Mary — the primary prayer of the Rosary — was never recited during Mass!

I thought that perhaps I was recalling a memory buried deep in my psyche, that of my grandmother praying the Rosary in her native tongue, Italian, and moreover, in the dialect of Naples.  But it was my grandmother who’d originally taught me to pray the Rosary, and she did so in my native tongue, English, so that I would remember everything.  Coincidentally (?), her dialect was so close to what the ancient Romans called “street Latin”, that when I had seen Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion of the Christ, several years ago, I had not needed to consult the English text scrolling across the bottom of the screen.  But as the words scrolled across my brain and heart last night, I remembered the scourging and Crucifixion scenes of that film, that which represents the Church’s Sorrowful Mysteries!   So much, then, for not being able to meditate and pray at the same time.

Was this all a coincidence? Was it truly nothing more than childhood memories resurfacing?  Or was it something else?  Was it, perhaps, some small, very personal miracle performed just for me, so that I would understand it as such and relay it to others?

In the cold light of day, I feel that it was a miracle, for as I recited the rosary, a sense of peace washed over me that I had only, previously, associated with non-denominational, spiritual meditation.  And if truth be told, I have not been feeling peaceful for a while now.  Is the Rosary, then, simply a vehicle by which the Church continues to hook its practitioners?  Or is what Mary, the Mother of Jesus, promised: a step toward spiritual salvation in the next world and the attainment of graces in this one?

Here’s my final analysis.

We are most of us, in this life, adrift at sea without a compass.  We forget where we come from, and in fact, where we all come from (God).  If we didn’t forget, we’d never do the horrific things that we do to each other and ourselves.  If the Rosary serves as the North Star as we navigate through this world, and if it provides a life preserver as we sink into a sea of despair, then the Rosary has done what dear Mary has promised it would.   

I have no intentions of returning, ever, to the Catholic Church.  But I do intend to say the Rosary daily, for I think the time has come.  If you, too, seek inner peace, the Rosary may be a very good place for you to start.  And if, like me, you’ve doubted the power of the Rosary and its benefits, you may wish to conduct your own research, or visit the following sites:




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