Here’s a brief summary of my faith journey thus far: By the age of four, I could recite the Our Father. At six years old, I could rattle off the Litany by heart. Attending Novena devotions on Saturdays were a weekly routine. If there’s one thing I remember about my childhood, it’s the regular stream of Fatima statues in and out of my home every other month. If religion were an examinable subject in school, I would have done my parents proud.
Yet like most kids, I dreaded Rosary recitations and family prayer time. Like most kids, I’d rather be watching my favourite cartoons or playing with my dolls. I never saw the need for such regular and frequent prayer, nor anticipated the effects it would have on my life.
Every family prayer time is special and eventful because God is present in our midst. Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matt18:20) By spending time together before the altar, sharing God’s word, reflecting upon the day’s events, and examining our conscience, we inevitably form a spiritual support structure that solidifies by itself over time.
What the Church says
The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls the home “the first school of Christian life” and “a school for human enrichment” where “one learns endurance and the joy of work, fraternal love, generous—even repeated—forgiveness, and above all divine worship in prayer and the offering of one’s life” (CCC, 1657).
Despite the growing web of secularism and modernisation, prayer remains relevant; God remains relevant. In Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical, Spe salvi, he emphasized that the message of hope is not something to be tucked away in our subconscious. To actively live our faith is to be renewed and conformed to Christ continually. The transformation that parents choose to nurture in their children is especially important as they try to 1) foster opportunities for conversion in the family and work to bring the encounter with God to maturity, 2) encourage their children to grow in deeper knowledge and love of God, and 3) help them establish a firm commitment to living the faith.
He added, “...Prayer itself, born in Catholic families, nurtured by programs of Christian formation, strengthened by the grace of the sacraments, is the first means by which we come to know the Lord’s will for our lives. To the extent that we teach young people to pray, and to pray well, we will be cooperating with God’s call.”
The greatest gift of all
In the book of Deuteronomy, we are reminded of our mission as parents and first teachers of the faith: “...The Lord our God is the one Lord. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength. Let these words I urge on you today be written on your heart. You shall repeat them to your children and say them over to them whether at rest in your house or walking abroad, at your lying down or at your rising.”(Deuteronomy 6:4-7)
Today, at 28, I’m starting to see the wisdom and foresight behind my parents’ firm persistence for family prayer time. In retrospect, it was their faith and the many years of ‘prayer boot camp’ that has strengthened my spiritual muscles and helped me through many of life’s challenges and setbacks.
My parents lead a simple life. Back then, there were no fancy toys, expensive enrichment classes or extravagant Disneyland holidays. But what they’ve given me is far more valuable, timeless and character building – the gift of prayer. And this gift will remain with me and be my signpost during life’s dark moments, long after they are gone.
What is your greatest gift to your children?
How to pray as a family
• Introduce grace before family meals and bedtime prayers
• Celebrate liturgical seasons like Advent and Lent by decorating the altar and preparing paraliturgical sessions for prayer and reflection
• Read, pray and reflect on Scriptures every night as a small community of believers
• Start a petition book where family members can pen down and pray together for the day’s intentions
• Pick up the guitar and sing songs of praise and thanksgiving together
• Initiate a novena (9-night devotion) for special or urgent needs of the family
• Take time and reflect upon an examination of conscience regularly
"As a mother who teaches her children to speak and so to understand and communicate, the Church our Mother teaches us the language of faith in order to introduce us to the understanding and life of faith" (CCC , 171).
By Joann Chia