Devotions and Emotions

As we approach the end of Lent, if we are worth our salt as catechists, we have the basics of the Catholic Faith, the 10 Commandments, the 7 Sacraments, the 3 theological and 4 cardinal virtues, the 7 capital sins, and the 8 Beatitudes all well taught. Our candidates and elect are accustomed to attending the Sunday liturgies. We need to take time now to make sure that hearts are touched, that habits of personal prayer are developing and strengthening, and that the walk with Jesus Christ becomes more internalized.

One candidate remarked to me that the Stations of the Cross (recited in our parish every Friday evening during Lent) are very emotional. I responded that, yes, they were designed to tug at our heartstrings. Our favorite Catholic devotions fit in the category of traditions (with a small t) and they are not a part of our liturgical prayer. Yet our most ancient and beloved devotions trace their history back through the life of the Church for centuries, and they play a strong role in developing our spirituality --- our unique, affective relationship with God. We listen attentively to the passion narratives on Palm Sunday and Good Friday, but when we travel around the church using one of the many excellent pamphlets on the Stations, we become one with the people who followed Jesus as he carried his cross up the hill of Calvary, and we make his suffering our own. Here again we are using all our senses, including our kinesthetic experience, as channels of grace.

I was in downtown San Antonio on Good Friday one year in the 1980s. That morning a live Stations of the Cross Procession had made its way through the downtown streets. Even shop owners took part. At precisely 12 noon, everything stopped, including traffic; everyone knelt down on the sidewalk, and the Archbishop led an outdoor prayer. Then the procession led the people into the Cathedral for the solemn Good Friday liturgy. It was an emotionally charged scene that touched both Catholics and non-Catholics. What a witness to the secular culture from Holy Mother the Church!

The holy Rosary which has been recited essentially in its present from the time of the high Middle Ages, (excepting the luminous mysteries and the Fatima prayer), actually has roots reaching deep into early Christianity. People used to say the Our Father repetitively, using stones they kept in their pockets to count their prayers. After the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. which affirmed that Mary is the Mother of God, the Hail Mary prayer gained popularity. Encourage frequent and possibly daily recitation of the Rosary: this prayer can be said at any time and in any place, with or without beads, and it strengthens a personal love for our Blessed Mother and Jesus, the Son she gave to the world. In Mary's apparitions at Fatima she pleaded with the world to say the rosary for the salvation of sinners.

Other devotions also attune our affective life to the life of grace. Approved Novenas add validity to our repeated prayers for help and to our prayers of intercession for others. Novenas to the Sacred Heart, to St. Joseph, to St. Jude, and many others are popular devotions. Our pictures, medals, statues, and other sacred objects are all intended to draw our minds and hearts to God throughout the day. The Jesus prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner" and many other variations of it, said briefly and frequently, increase our love for Jesus. Slow ponderous reading of Sacred Scripture also help us come to know Jesus both in his humanity and in his divinity. Please don't forget to encourage prayers of discernment in which we slowly and repeatedly pray to God about an upcoming decision or a situation, assess our strengths and abilities, read Scripture, and preferably journal about the thoughts that come to our mind. Many of our candidates and elect are actively engaged in making important life decisions. This practice will facilitate their making more conscientious, God centered choices.

Our liturgical life is vital to our Catholicism: attending Sunday Mass is both a privilege and a duty. Yet for a vibrant spiritual life, habits and practices of personal prayer are essential. Be sure to encourage and develop these habits as a vital aspect of your RCIA process.