If you are like me you are probably getting tired of “all-COVID-19-all-the-time” news. Every article I see online seems to be about COVID-19, there are no new sports to keep us occupied, and even though we are in an election year, politics is not particularly inspiring at the moment.
So I thought I would reflect on something that is important during any season: prayer with our families.
I consider myself incredibly blessed to have been raised in a family where my father was a permanent deacon in the Catholic Church and my mother a very devoted Catholic high school Religion and English teacher. Needless to say, I had a very strong upbringing in the Catholic faith! My parents were extraordinary witnesses to their Catholic faith. As disciples of Jesus Christ, their lives were deeply rooted in prayer. Their decisions and actions flowed from their relationship with God and that was nurtured by prayer. My dad has passed, but my mom, now a Third Order Carmelite, continues to lead a life of devotion and prayer.
My parents taught their eight children how to pray and how to live. Now, as the father of four children, my wife and I try to do our best in this highly secular and incredibly busy world to achieve something similar for our own children. My wife, Anabela, also has a great benefit of two parents who have been incredibly faithful and greatly devoted to their parish.
In my family, we prayed the Rosary every day during the months of May and October. My wife, brought up in a faithful Portuguese Catholic family, actually prayed the Rosary every day of the year (they continue to pray as a couple every day)! As parents, we have not always lived up to this example in our own family, but it gives us an important model to strive towards.
Praying the Rosary is a very special prayer for families and offers the opportunity for tremendous grace. However, for some families the Rosary may not be practical or may prove difficult at times. This shouldn’t be an obstacle to prayer with the family. The Rosary, while especially powerful, is not the only way families can pray together.
The Divine Mercy Chaplet offers a shorter form of prayer that we have found can be accessible to our children. We always pray before meals, whether at home or in public. I always remember my father leading us in prayer as a family of 10 at busy restaurants, and I now do the same today with my own family as a public witness to our faith. I also recall fondly having a children’s Bible that I often read, and we have made it a point to ensure that our children have children-focused Scripture and books focused on our Catholic tradition. We also pray on long trips, and especially before bedtime. Making pilgrimages to holy sites and beautiful churches are wonderful memories from my own childhood and something we try to continue with our own family.
Being active members of our parishes provide myriad opportunities to pray together as families. Spending time in Adoration before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, participating in days of reflection, being active participants in Sacramental preparation programs, being a part of parish prayer and study groups, are all ways we can pray together as families. Going to Confession together, and getting to Mass beyond our Sunday obligation are also simple, but essential aspects of family prayer.
I will be the first to admit that both as a person and parent I have often fallen short of the ideal when it comes to family prayer. However, rather than beat myself up for not attaining the ideal, I think my energies are better spent focusing on what I can do with my family! When parents commit to praying as a family they are witnessing to their children that they love God with their whole heart, soul, mind and strength. I don’t think there is anything more important that a parent can do for their children.
Peter Shaughnessy is president/principal of Bishop Stang High School in North Dartmouth. He resides in Fairhaven with his wife, Anabela Vasconcelos Shaughnessy (Class of ’94), and their four children: Luke (Class of ’24), Emilia (Class of ’25), Dominic (Class of ’27) and Clare (Class of ‘30).