Starting from zero

A while ago, when I was particularly unfit, I decided I had to pull myself together and do something about it. Being part of Generation Technology, I downloaded a ‘Couch to 5k’ app onto my phone, along with an entire album of running music. It worked fantastically – every couple of days it would remind me to go out for a run, building up from running for a total of 8 minutes in 1-minute bursts, with walking time in between, all the way up to half an hour of uninterrupted running. To my amazement I actually reached this goal – albeit about 5 months later than predicted… For someone who had never jogged in her life to be able to run for half an hour was a revelation.

If only someone would invent something like that for prayer.

Since I became a Catholic I’ve tried, sporadically, to have a prayer life. RCIA, to be honest, didn’t prepare me that well, although it did mention some common prayers. I got to a stage where my husband and I were managing to remember to pray every night as we went to bed – a quick private prayer & confession, the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be. As I went to work in the morning on the bus I prayed the Rosary (on weekdays – this didn’t work at weekends). I thought I was doing ok, although I was sad that there was no link in my prayers to the rhythms of the Catholic year, and I knew that there were lots of people to whom this amount of prayer would hardly be a sign of spiritual flourishing.

Anyway, inadequate or not, I had a baby, and both running and praying fell by the wayside.

Nobody quite prepares you for the exhaustion of having a baby. The joy, sure, but also the exhaustion. The Rosary was the first casualty. I no longer had a bus journey to give my day rhythm, so I simply forgot. Night prayers soon followed – when you’re creeping to bed, sleep-deprived and trying to be as quiet as possible in order not to wake the baby, it’s easy to fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow.

I know, excuses excuses.

Anyway, I’ve felt bad about this for a while but it’s becoming urgent. Our son is now one year old, and I know that if I want him to grow up Catholic it’s important that our faith is not simply a Sunday thing, but pervades our lives. We struggle as it is with the lack of any kind of Catholic network – the Mass we go to isn’t conducive to meeting or socialising with anyone, and our families are either not Catholic or not-really-practising Catholics. It’s a bit tough. (Don’t even get me started on the hellish business of finding Catholic Godparents when you barely know any Catholics who actually believe anything).

So I went looking for advice on how to pray. The excellent Countercultural Father had a series of blog posts on ‘Keeping Kids Catholic’ which I have found fascinating, and will no doubt be useful guidance as we bring up our son and any other future offspring. You can find them here.

The problem is that his description of family prayer, whilst awesome and something I’d love to aspire to, is way beyond where we are now. A bit like trying the running app but setting it first of all to the full half hour run without any of the build-up.

…a Catholic family needs a routine for its spiritual life: a morning offering, grace before and after meals, the Angelus at noon, a family rosary at some time during the day, and bedtime prayers. These should be part of the fabric of our kids’ lives, just in the same way that brushing our teeth is.

This is the sort of thing I want to achieve eventually. But how on earth to begin? My plan is to try the morning offering, grace at mealtimes, and then bedtime prayers. The rest may follow.

That’s a fine plan, but the logistics of it are confusing me at the moment. What prayers? Where do I find them? Do we try and pray different prayers every day in line with the Church’s year? Or is that going to be too complicated, meaning we end up giving up? Do we all kneel somewhere? Do we sit together? Stand? I know these things sound stupid but in building up a routine it’s the details which make it.

So here it is: I’d love some advice. If you pray with your family (especially with a young family), what do you do? What works? What doesn’t? Specifically:

  • What Grace do you say? Before/after meals? Every single meal? Do you stand for Grace or sit?
  • What morning & evening prayers do you say? Do they vary with the Church’s year? Do they incorporate readings/psalms and if so how do you find them? Do you use a book or an app at all?
  • When you pray as a family morning/evening-time, where and how do you do it? Do you have prayers in your children’s bedrooms or as a family in the living room? Do you kneel, stand, sit? Do different people take turns to lead different parts of the prayers?
  • I know the acronym ACTS and think it’s a good guide for private prayers. Do you encourage your children to say their own prayers as well as more generic Catholic prayers? Do they confess each night? Ask God for what they want?

This probably sounds all very basic and stupid, but as I know from my fitness app, what you need in order to build a routine is a structured plan which helps you to build up good habits. Trying to do everything at once without really knowing how leads to discouragement and failure. I’d love to hear from fellow Catholics so I can see what seems to work, and hopefully use it to put together a Grand Plan, starting from zero, to build up a family prayer life that will get us – and our children – closer to God.

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