Friday, April 8, 2011

A book that became a spiritual journey

Here's my latest Life Lines column from the April 7 issue of Catholic New York:

Growing up in a traditional Catholic household — one where my mother strictly adhered to Church teaching and even added a few rules of her own (Thanksgiving was a holy day of obligation at our house) — I entered adulthood with a fairly substantial repertoire of Catholic devotions under my belt.

Grace Before Meals. Check. Monday night novena. Check. Stations of the Cross. Check. Rosary, litanies, Triduum services. Check, check, check. Ours was a life marked by the rhythm of the Church year, and I grew to love the passing spiritual seasons in much the same way I looked forward to autumn and spring.

So when I decided to write my latest book, “The Essential Guide to Catholic Prayer and the Mass,” I had the basics down. But as I explored and researched, I realized how much more there was to learn and love in the beautiful treasury of Catholic prayers and devotions. Chapter by chapter, as I plumbed the depths of prayer methods that were often hauntingly familiar and sometimes refreshingly new, I found myself awed by the many and varied ways Catholics try to connect with God. Whether we like to pray out loud or in silence, with music or in motion, alone or in a crowd, there truly is something for everyone.

It’s a blessing to do a job that rotates around worship. Spiritual exercise is built into my day. Even when I am not actually praying, I am often writing a prayer or writing about prayer. This latest book, however, allowed me to enter into that world full time for several months, sitting before my computer with the words of the saints and the poetry of prayer filling my ears and my heart almost around the clock. From the desert-style prayer of silence and fasting to the fullness of the Rosary and popular novenas, I basked in the glow of Divine conversation.

Perhaps the best part of this particular writing job, which ultimately became a spiritual journey, was the time I spent writing about the Mass, including the new translation of the Roman Missal that will become the norm for Catholics in just a few months. I went from my initial aversion to changes that seemed foreign to my ears to a real appreciation for some of the changes that will take us back to our scriptural roots. Although the official translation will not be in place until Advent, I already hear the words of the new translation echoing silently in my head as I pray at Mass each Sunday.

In some ways, writing this book on prayer was like going on a pilgrimage. I traveled from one sacred place to another—the Novena to the Sacred Heart one day, the Jesus Prayer the day after, contemplation the next. And just like any pilgrim, there were days when the journey wore me out, when I wondered if I wanted to go on. Then I would reach my destination and feel renewed by a prayer practice that calmed my frazzled nerves and made my weary spirit soar.

My pilgrim heart struggled with some prayer methods while others felt as natural as breathing, but every prayer took me one step further down my spiritual path and left me hungry for more. My hope is that my book will do the same for every reader, from the most devoted Catholic to those who may have only a passing familiarity with our prayers and devotions.

Our faith is rich in ancient traditions that can be adapted to modern lives, giving deeper meaning and spiritual rhythm to even the most mundane moments of our days. When we lace our lives with prayer, whether it’s private or communal, recited from memory, spoken spontaneously, or perhaps not spoken at all, we experience transformation—in our hearts, in our homes, in our world.


Julie Robison said...

This is a great piece, Mary! I was raised in a very Catholic home, but lacking more in the regular prayer aspects. As I've grown older, I've helped bring more of it into the house with the little kids, thanks to the model my college roommate and advisor's family set for me. I look forward to teaching my own (very future) kids by setting the example and premise! And I definitely look forward to reading your new book. I am so glad you wrote it!

Mary DeTurris Poust said...

Thanks, Julie! Family is so important. I have no doubt I would not be where I am in terms of my faith and my professional life working for the Church if not for the foundation built by my family, particularly my mother. Faith formation classes are important, but faith lived out at home is more powerful than any of it. The domestic church is key!