How to Raise Good Catholic Children, by Mary Reed Newland
Praying is pretty personal. After all, it’s conversation with God, and conversation with someone you love ought to be entirely personal — warm and intimate, full of secrets and praises and declarations of love.
Praying ought to be fun, too, most of the time, because it’s our one chance to talk as much as we like and know that we don’t bore, that we will be heard, and that everything we say draws us closer to God — which is what He wants and the reason for praying in the first place.
The trouble is that many people think of prayer more as a recitation than as a conversation, and all their lives they speak to God with words that other people have put together for them. They’re beautiful words, beautifully put together, and they give great praise.
But it’s a big mistake to think that only formal prayers are proper when we speak to the Father who made us, who knows us better than we know ourselves and would like us to come simply, like children, and say what we want to say in our own words.
Once there was a girl who told her confessor, “Father, I try to say the Rosary every night when I’m in bed, but get so involved talking to God that, before I know it, I’ve fallen asleep. Do you think I’m deliberately allowing myself to be distracted?”
Her confessor laughed. “If you were God,” he said, “would you rather have someone talk to you in his own words, or in someone else’s? By all means, say your Rosary some other time, but continue your conversations with God, and do stop confusing distraction with mental prayer.”
This is the understanding of prayer we can give our children in their earliest years, long before they learn recited prayers, and in this way we give them a pattern of approach to God in prayer that will suit not only their childhood, but all the years of their lives.
Even when they begin to learn formal prayers, in the beginning they have no real understanding of them, and it’s a rather bleak start to one’s life of prayer to think it must consist of a lot of phrases learned by heart but not understood, which one repeats at certain times because Mother says you must.
The Our Father is the perfect pattern for prayer because when the Apostles asked our Lord how they should pray, He gave this prayer to them.
The Mass contains the same pattern, and both make clear the four aspects of our relation to God: penitent, seeker, beloved, and gratefully blessed.
If our children learn to pray each of these roles, they will have learned the rudiments of all prayer, without which the saints say no progress is possible in the spiritual life.
It would be presumptuous for me to tell someone else how he should pray or what words he should use, because the words one person would choose are rarely the words another would choose, and each person’s way is shaped and colored by his tastes, personality, and all the many small differences that make him who he is and not someone else.