"Dear newlyweds," he said, "I offer the heartfelt wish that you learn to pray together, so that your love be ever truer and lasting."
Praying together as a couple - ah...yes. My wife and I just celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary, yes, fourteen years and seven children later we are the models of Christian parenthood and marital bliss - right? As it is with most "ideals" we are no where near attaining anything slightly resembling sanctity and bliss, but we do try, at least occasionally!
As newlyweds, fresh out of the fire of Steubenville we had high ideals inspired in us by the likes of Steve Wood and Scott Hahn. We were going to take the world by storm through our little family. We were going to be hardcore saints dedicated to life, love, and the pursuit of holy poverty. We went to confession before our wedding, danced to Christian music at our reception, and prayed upon our marital bed on our honeymoon. We were young and strong and full of foolish notions as to what life would dish out. Within a year we couldn't even talk about the faith, let alone pray together.
After our courtship being so full of prayer and centered around the faith, we found ourselves a year into marriage completely lost when it came to sharing our faith. When my wife would speak of her prayer time or of some aspect of the faith it was like I was hearing a Sherpa from Mongolia speak about the trails heading to his favorite hunting spot...I just couldn't understand or process what she was saying. I am guessing it was much the same for Katie, but more like the Sherpa was a deaf-mute.
Over the past 14 years we have had grande moments of prayerful exaltation, but the daily grind is something completely different. We have through caution to the wind and packed all our belongings and moved across the country based upon what we thought God wanted us to do... and yet we still struggle with hearing His Voice everyday. Prayer is such a personal thing. It is such a powerful thing. It is such a misunderstood thing. Prayer is like going for a walk with a friend to a nearby lake - some like to take notes along the way, some like to quietly listen as their friend speaks, some like to speak more than listen, some like to just hold hands and walk along quietly, some like to run to the lake, while others like to leave the beaten path and ramble along slowly. Marriage is ultimately learning to do all of these things with the beloved, together.
In Our Lord's wisdom He has given us the Holy Mass. Of course, for the prayerful couple, this is the Source and Summit of all their other prayer. How do we pray together at Mass as a couple? Mostly we just juggle children, try to keep as many of them as we can from either leaving the pew, cracking their head on the pew in front of us, and generally keeping the peace as we attempt to witness the greatest Act of Worship. This in itself is a powerful lesson for us. At Mass we are not trying to control the Act of Worship, but rather are embracing the Act of Christ's worship of the Father. We "assist" at Mass through our joining of our hearts and minds to Christ's. Praying together as a couple starts here, and ends here.
Here are a couple lessons we can learn from the Holy Mass:
1. Prayer is both internal and external - it requires mind and body. Prayer starts with the rote and regular, which gives the space and opportunity for rich internal prayer.
2. While we are all different and have different ways of praying, communal prayer is required to join our acts of praise together. The fact that the Holy Mass includes nothing spontaneous gives us comfort by allowing us a framework to come to know Christ. We could never come to really love our spouse if his/her personality changed on a daily basis. Regular, standard ways of praying as a family bring comfort in routine.
3. Spiritual fruit from Holy Mass requires constant tending. The saints say that one should start to prepare for their next Holy Mass as soon as one leaves the church. In other words, all of our spiritual life culminates at Mass, but it is also the start of our spiritual life. It is the same with our spousal relationship. The "garden" must be tended daily, lest weeds and lack of water destroy it.
4. There must be an "Alter Christus" to offer the act of worship. At Holy Mass, the priest acts in the place of Christ and makes Him present. In the home, the father must take the leadership role as catechist and familial priest. He must model the faith first, for his wife and children to follow. He should lead all prayers, at least as much as possible. This is a challenge, no doubt, but the fruit is worth it.
The framework given to us by the Church can free us from the constraints of having to "make up" prayers and para-liturgies in the home, but it does not allow us to be lazy. Prayer oftentimes has to start as an act of work before it can become an act of worship. Praying together as a couple and family can be a challenge to overcome, but I believe this is why our gentle Pope Benedict is asking us to do it: it is a sacrificial act that ultimately bears fruit through faithfulness. We are not all the same, nor are we supposed to be...it is bearing with one another and praying throughout life that "love be ever truer and lasting!"