Safe Ground in Anxious Times: The Power of Family Prayer

The most basic unit of society and of the Church is the family.

(photo: Shutterstock)

Years ago, I made a retreat at a Trappist monastery and met a few times with an eccentric, but holy, old monk, tall with wild hair and beard. As I was leaving, he asked if I had paper and a pen on me. I gave them to him, and he scribbled, saying, “I want you to remember this.” He handed me the note, and I read it: “No matter what happens to you in life, the most important thing by far, by far, more important, is how you respond.”

I have kept that note in my breviary to remind myself to ask, during this time of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, “What would a faithful response to this situation be?”

The COVID-19 virus has drawn virtually every person in the world into a collective crisis. To slow the spread of the illness, we are asked to remain confined in our homes and to socially isolate ourselves from others, preserving the canonical 6 feet between us when we go out. The amount of time people have been under the same roof, on the same property, is unprecedented. There must be some way in which God will use this time for our benefit. But to be prepared to receive such blessings, we need to ask: What are our responses, and how might this be borne as gift?


Domestic Unity

The most basic unit of society and of the Church is the family. Vatican II called each family a “domestic church” (Lumen Gentium, 11), recognizing the role of parents to care for, educate and form people for life in the world. The parents may be leaders of the domestic church, but all members of the household are called to be its ministers.

The domestic church must have faith as its foundation and a confidence in the providence of God, the creator. Trust in the redemptive love of Jesus Christ who bids us, “Take up your cross daily and follow me.” To embrace our crosses is to journey toward the inevitable resurrections. The domestic church opens itself to the Holy Spirit’s guidance, solace and fruits. All of this happens through the grace that God offers through personal, liturgical and family prayer.

Today we are keenly aware of our need for God and each other. It has never been more essential for families to pray together. For some, this practice flows from unbroken traditions appropriated from families of origin. Other parents have intentionally adopted practices of family prayer. Still other families may have a longing and willingness to pray together but do not know how, or find it awkward to get started. For both veterans and rookies of family prayer, I cannot recommend the the family Rosary enough — it is a beautiful tradition, a powerful prayer that opens a home to countless blessings.


Familiar Apostle

I recently helped produce a film that will be released this fall called, Pray: The Story of Patrick Peyton. This Holy Cross priest (a candidate for sainthood, declared venerable by the Vatican in 2017) is regarded as “the Apostle of the Family Rosary.” In 1941, as a newly ordained priest, recently healed of tuberculosis through the intercession of the Blessed Mother, Father Peyton wanted to repay Mary’s kindness and prayed that she would guide him how to do that. At the same moment, young Father Peyton saw the growing crisis of World War II: men going off to serve, families separated, economic hardships, fear and anxiety. What would bring hope and peace to people, and help them remain united in spirit?

Father Peyton recalled his own youth amid his poor family in Ireland. His father and siblings struggled to find work, yet they had a sense of unity and peace in their home. Father Peyton knew that such peace, and his own healing, had the same origin in prayer — and especially in growing closer to Jesus Christ through the Rosary, which his family prayed together every night.

This energetic priest heard in this reflection on his own family traditions a call to initiate a national campaign for the Family Rosary, hoping to attract more than 10 million households to pledge to pray the Rosary together every night. Father Peyton spread the word through radio, television and films, and he organized large “Rosary rallies” to draw people to prayer. The phrase originating from his work — “The family that prays together, stays together”— has since been enshrined as a simple yet profound aphorism for believers everywhere. Over his lifetime, more than 28 million people attended his Rosary rallies around the world.


Crisis Response Team

It is now a time of crisis — a time to use whatever means we can to draw closer together with the people we love. For families who have never tried it, now is the time to learn to pray the Rosary together. On Sunday evenings at 4 p.m. Pacific/7 p.m. Eastern, Family Theater Productions recently started hosting a live Rosary.

After seeing one of these livestreamed Sunday Rosaries, a woman told us that she had cajoled her husband and adult children into the living room to join in the online Sunday Rosary. Among them was the fiancée of one of her daughters, a young man who was Christian and had never prayed the Rosary. At about the Third Mystery, she looked over and saw tears in the eyes of the young man. Later she asked why. He said, “It was powerful to hear everyone praying the same words. I felt comfort — a sense of being in this together.”

This was one family, gathered together in their home; but thanks to modern technology, even those separated by the restrictions imposed in response to COVID-19 can draw strength and a sense of peace by joining others in this effort. Indeed, praying with an app or digital resource is a great way to learn the Rosary and unite spiritually in a time of social isolation.

We need God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — who loves us so much. We need to be together as domestic churches, and with the universal Church. The world needs us and we need each other. There will be preaching to do, most of which will happen without words. We will accompany each other through grief, fear, sickness and healing. We will bring comfort, rest, joy and beauty to each other.

Perhaps most importantly, through our prayer efforts, we can offer training exercises in the development of virtue and character, calling each to live the challenges of 1 Corinthians 13: “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous. Love is not pompous; it is not inflated; it is not rude; it does not seek its own interests; it is not quick-tempered; it does not brood over injury; it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

In this crisis each household, each little domestic church, must discern how it will respond, showing love for one another and creatively uniting with all people in the Church to serve the needs of others.

Please pray with those you love and let that sustain and guide you through all that will happen. As Venerable Patrick Peyton always concluded his talks, so we end here saying, “The family that prays together, stays together.”