I stayed with some friends one summer and they had a box of MREs from the army surplus store. MRE stands for “Meal, Ready-to-Eat”. It’s a pack of army rations that gives you everything you need when you are out in the battle field.
We went hiking in the hills with the children and found a good spot to stop for lunch. And we spent the next hour exploring the packs, amazed at what the finest military minds could cram into each one. Starter, main course, dessert, cheese, biscuits; a pack of chewing gum; water-resistant matches; coffee; and a water-activated chemical heater for the hot food. It was a geek’s paradise.
It’s great being a Christian, especially when it comes to prayer. You are part of a tradition that stretches back to Jesus and then into the prayer and worship of the Jewish people in the Old Testament. You inherit a spiritual ration pack that contains far more than you could ever use.
The heart of Christian worship is the celebration of the Sunday Eucharist. This unites us with the prayer of Christ, and with the prayer of the whole Church.
But for the rest of the week, it’s over to us. And there are so many spiritual riches we can draw on.
I want to give you a kind of catalogue of Catholic devotions. Not to explain everything, but to point out what’s there. And if anything interests you, you can look into it later. I’ve got four headings: your day, your home, your friendships, and your church.
First, your day: When you get dressed, you can wear a cross or a crucifix round your neck, to remind you of the love of Jesus Christ. You can make a morning offering, a simple prayer where you offer the day to God.
There is a tradition of family prayer at some time in the day, whatever form it takes. You can bless your food by saying grace before meals and thanksgiving after meals. You can say some kind of night prayer; this can include an examination of conscience, to help you say sorry for your sins, and a time of thanksgiving for the day.
There are some free floating prayers to add into the day as well. Arrow prayers are short phrases you say when you need help, like “Jesus, help me” or “Come, Holy Spirit.”
You can develop the habit of offering up to God any sufferings or disappointments you experience, so instead of growing into bitterness they become a prayer and a sacrifice. You can follow the Little Way of St Thérèse of Lisieux, who tried to do little things with great love, however unimportant they seemed.
And what about your home? You can hang a crucifix or some holy pictures on your wall, to keep you focussed on your faith. At Christmas, people often put up a crib to recreate the Christmas scene.
A Bible should take pride of place in your home. You might have a catechism, to deepen your understanding of the Christian faith. Maybe a book of prayers, and some spiritual reading from
wise Christian authors. The lives of the saints and the writings
of the saints will give you spiritual inspiration.
And your friendships? You need some Christian friends or perhaps a prayer group or Bible study group from your local church to support each other and to pray together, and to pray for each other. They are sometimes hard to find. You can ask God to give you this spiritual support, and make an effort to get to know your fellow Christians at church and elsewhere.
You need some digital friends too: some good Christian websites or apps or podcasts or music.
And you need heavenly friends, the spiritual support of the Virgin Mary, of the angels, and of all the saints. They are alive in heaven. We are united in the Body of Jesus Christ, the Church. We honour them and ask for their help and their prayers.
Of the many Catholic devotions that exist, perhaps the most common is the Rosary, when we use a string of beads to help us recite the central Christian prayers and meditate on the life of Jesus and Mary.
What about your church? Many Catholic churches are open for prayer during the day, and there is a tradition of making a visit to a church for a few moments of prayer. You can pray before the Blessed Sacrament – the Real Presence of Jesus in the tabernacle where the communion hosts are kept after Mass. You can meditate on the Stations of the Cross – a set of images round the church that commemorate the Passion of Jesus.
It’s a great blessing to come to Mass during the week, and not just on Sundays; or if it’s taking place, to worship Jesus in Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction; or on a special occasion you can go on a procession. You can visit your local cathedral, or go on pilgrimage or retreat to a shrine or monastery or retreat centre.
That’s my list! Take your pick. These prayers and devotions are there to help us in our journey of faith. They are not meant to get in the way. What matters, ultimately, is our faith in Jesus Christ and our love for God and neighbour. Anything that helps this love to grow is a gift that should be treasured.
Questions for reflection
What’s your favourite way of praying or your most common way of praying?
Did you pick up any religious practices or devotions at home when you were growing up? What are your favourite religious customs now?
What advice would you give someone who is thinking about starting to pray?
This blog is an extract from SYCAMORE: The Catholic Faith Explained. In SYCAMORE, you will find answers to the most common questions about life and faith, whether you want to deepen the faith you already have or are exploring the faith for the first time.
To find more answers to the big questions in life, get your copy of SYCAMORE: The Catholic Faith Explained.