by Page McKean Zyromski
Teaching Catholics to pray should be a snap because we use so many prayer postures week after week. We genuflect, cross ourselves, kneel, bow, and strike our breasts. But somehow the phrase “teaching prayer” makes us feel uptight, and we think “memorization.” The “enthusiasm and joy” that the Pope asks of us during this Year of Faith disappears. “Faith grows when it is lived as an experience of love received and when it is communicated as an experience of grace and joy,” he says (Porta Fidei, n. 7).
“Love received…grace and joy.” What a hallmark for the Year of Faith! If we can’t communicate to our students that God loves us more than we can ask or imagine, and that nothing is too big or too small to “bother him with,” we’re not doing our job. If sometimes we laugh because God can be humorous, we’ll know we’re on track. Like any loving Father, God has three answers to prayer: “Yes,” ‘No,” and “Not yet.”
Keep the Traditional
Memorized prayers are good. No one is suggesting we throw them out. In fact, St. Augustine once suggested that the Our Father was a sacrament. He also wanted us to pray the Creed so deeply we would “recall it in the public squares and not forget it during meals.”
But we need to be sensitive about going through the motions of devotions. After all, we’re conversing with a Person. Sometimes it helps to slow down or add movement.
Try praying while walking in a circle around the room. Try extracting one line from a prayer and repeating it. As you teach the Rosary, try, “Let’s think about Mary visiting Elizabeth. Imagine how happy they were to see each other. We’ll pray only the first line of the Hail Mary.”
Enliven the Familiar
Our 2,000-year tradition is filled with prayer styles and devotions: novenas, litanies, chants, and pilgrimages. Some have come full circle and others deserve a new look. Take novenas. Nine days of intense prayer sprang from nine days in the upper room between Ascension and Pentecost.
Why not explain what a novena is, choose a saint whose intercession you’d like, and write a prayer for your class. I’d choose one of our newest saints—for examples, St. Marianne Cope, the Franciscan sister from New York who nursed lepers in Hawaii—and I’d ask for the virtue of courage.
Or write your own class litany to St. Francis or St. Joseph or your parish’s patron. Or what about a pilgrimage? Is there a special shrine nearby, or could someone guide you around the nearest cathedral?
Expand the Definition of Prayer
Don’t be knee-bound. Teach:
* Balloon Prayer: Have students draw balloons with names of people they want to lift up to God. Decorate the balloons.
* Thumb Prayer: Let the children use their thumbs to trace a cross on the palm of the opposite hand. As they make the strokes, have them whisper “Jesus” and then the name of the person prayed for.
* Picture Prayer: Assemble photographs of people who have meaning to the class. Have each child press a photo to his or her heart, and imagine that person being held close to the heart of God.
* Javelin Prayer: Choose short one-liners—like Doubting Thomas’s “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28) or St. Francis’s “My God and My All”—and tell students to “hurl” them frequently to heaven throughout the day.
We may not reach St. Paul’s “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-17), but it’ll be a start!
Page McKean Zyromski, a catechist for 45 years, has been a contributor to CATECHIST since 1983. She lives in Painesville, OH.
Copyright 2012, Bayard, Inc. All rights reserved. This article is protected by United States copyright and other intellectual property laws and may not be reproduced, rewritten, distributed, redisseminated, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast, directly or indirectly, in any medium without the prior written permission of Bayard, Inc.
This article was written by the Catechist Staff and appeared in Catechist magazine, September 2012.
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