It’s a tagline that writes itself, and which most Catholics can finish without much thought. The family that prays together, stays together.
This simple statement holds an abundance of truth. When was the last time you saw a family who spent time in prayer together each day, and yet was a “house divided”? Perhaps I am writing in generalized platitudes. But, at least on my part, I am yet to encounter a family in such a situation.
Much can be said about the role and place of faith in American culture today, especially within the family. While we as a society may question God’s existence, or even deny it altogether, the honest individual cannot deny that they have a primal longing for purpose and meaning, one not simply solved by an algorithm or theorem. We boldly question faith, even falsely claiming it to be in conflict with reason, but do we just as boldly seek the answers to our questions? We ask God to make Himself known — to send a sign — but do we pray so as to know Him?
To this end, I understand that I am the pot calling the kettle black. My prayer life has its ups and downs; from times of fervent devotion, to times of dry desolation, to times of willful negligence. In many ways, this piece of writing is a reminder to myself to practice what I preach. There’s no better way to put one’s own feet to the fire than to proclaim it in the public sphere.
Part of prayer’s importance is that through it, God reminds us what truly matters in life. I can spend countless hours at work, trying to solve what I believe to be priorities and important matters. And indeed, they may be. But it is not until I return home, to the family whom I actually vowed myself to, and ask my son whom he wishes to bless as we pray at night, that I recognize what truly matters.
Or it is not until I kneel at Mass, and witness the Eucharist elevated at the Consecration, that I am reminded that everything else keeping me from focusing at Mass — from what is going on before or afterwards that day, to what awaits me Monday morning — are not as important as what I see before me at that given moment.
In prayer, I am reminded poignantly and simply of what matters in life:
Not the email. Not the meeting. Not the ongoing project. Not the criticism. Not the praise.
For while the skeptic may question me, the doubter mock me, or the critic point out my flaws (even if well-deserved) I can’t imagine any of them laying down their lives for me as Christ did.
And while you may fail at a project, miss communication, or fail in a relationship, it is still possible to gain Heaven because of what Christ won for us and how we respond to Him.
All that we do as a Church and society, if not rooted in prayer and in the Divine, will ultimately prove to be not much more than straw. After all, as the saying goes, we can’t take it with us when we die.
Perhaps there is no greater champion of such a message — of the need for prayer — than a formidable figure, who’s buried in our own backyard: Venerable Father Patrick Peyton.
Nestled in a nondescript section of Stonehill College in Easton lies a simple burial ground, surrounded by a brick wall. Within it lies the remains of priests and Brothers from the Congregation of the Holy Cross, among them being Father Peyton.
Known for making famous such lines as “The family that prays together, stays together” and “A world at prayer is a world at peace,” Father Peyton’s own life was dramatically transformed by prayer. Diagnosed with an advanced case of tuberculosis in 1938, while in seminary, the best solution Peyton received from his doctor was: “try prayer.”
A quip meant to depict his terminal situation, Peyton took hold of it. Reminded by his Spiritual director that God and Mary had always been in his life, he was challenged to pray as an act of trust in his relationship with them, even if he had not always given it attention.
The Rosary became his source of consolation and, unexpectedly one night, he experienced a complete healing, which the doctors could not explain.
That’s all it took.
Father Peyton would go on to spend the next several decades proclaiming the power of prayer across the country, vowing to reach one million people with this message. Having begun Family Rosary in Albany, N.Y. so as to share the importance of praying the Rosary, he then moved to California to solicit the aid of Hollywood’s elite to proclaim the power of prayer. Teaming up with everyone from Bing Crosby, to Harry Truman, to Bobby Driscoll, to Lucile Ball, Father Peyton pioneered Catholic evangelism through radio and television. His “Family Theatre Productions” helped bring the message of a family at prayer across the nation.
As a result, hundreds of thousands joined him at any one of his many Rosary Crusades, where they would gather to hear this compelling Irish priest speak and lead them in praying the Rosary. Soon dubbed “the Rosary Priest,” Father Peyton’s crusades became international sensations, leading him to travel the globe in a worldwide invitation to pray. Truly, not only did Father Peyton reach one million people, his efforts through Family Rosary and Family Theatre Productions surpassed his goal.
And if you asked for the source of his success, he would be quick to remind you that it was all the work of God and the Blessed Mother.
Having the opportunity to visit his grave this past spring, I stood before his simple tombstone, laden with Rosary beads, and could not fathom the fact that I was standing next to the remains of a simple man, once written off, but who accomplished more than I could ever imagine doing in my lifetime and whom held no doubts in regards to the answers he sought.
All because he prioritized the right thing: prayer.
While Father Peyton eventually passed in 1992, his work of Family Rosary and Family Theatre Productions still continue to this day, a part of Holy Cross Family Ministries located in Easton. The Father Peyton Center, home to the Family Museum of Prayer, is a testament to his life and legacy, and continues to be a source of Sacrament and prayer for all those who seek it. Declared venerable by Pope Francis in 2017, Father Peyton could become the first blessed, and saint, buried within the Diocese of Fall River.
And if he were here today, he would most likely downplay these titles and offer us a simple reminder to turn to the Lord, to trust Mary, and to be a people of prayer.
Why? Because all that we may long for — healing, answers, truth, hope, peace, stability, certainty, reassurance, meaning and purpose — can all be found in the same place: pray with God.
As much as we may look for it elsewhere, these things will ultimately not exist for long separate from God.
Trust me, I’ve looked.
And if you don’t trust me, then spend time in prayer with your spouse and children and put Father Peyton’s axiom to the test.
For more information on Venerable Father Patrick Peyton, visit Holy Cross Family Ministries and watch the film on his life entitled “PRAY the Film.”
Anchor columnist David Carvalho is the senior director for Faith Formation, Youth, Young Adult and Family Life Ministries for the Diocese of Fall River. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.