Most, by ‘most’ I mean enough that I really should say ‘all’, of the Catholic kids of my generation (80’s kids) will agree that these are the circumstances of their Catholic upbringing. They grew up in a family whose faith formation consisted of going to Mass most Sundays, and attending between 45 minutes and 2 hours of C.C.D. (which at one point changed to the title P.S.R.) once a week. We grew up saying grace at dinner, and maybe our parents prayed with us before bed, but it was when we were very little, and it was not normal. As we got older we would hear our parents say, “We’ll pray for you,” on the phone to a sick great-aunt, but we never heard them actually pray. Our prayer life was seriously lacking the instruction of our parents. Catholic education was too busy teaching us how to draw happy pictures of what we thought God looked like and giving us weird magazines with children from 12 different ethnicities outside of our own, all smiling and having a good time. Nobody showed us how to talk with God. When it comes to prayer, early on we had to memorize the Sign of the Cross, Our Father, Hail Mary, Act of Contrition, and Apostle’s Creed, but once we were tested we were never asked again. Most Catholics of my generation probably remember only two of those five prayers today, since they have not prayed them since they were a preteen.
In place of the traditional prayer times (Morning Prayer, Angelus, Vespers, Compline) was the TV. We watched cartoons every Saturday morning from 7 to 11 a.m. when the programming got disinteresting and full of advertisements. We played outside, but most of the time we came home to an empty house after school and watched cartoons and then cheap comedies (zit-coms) until our parents did or did not come home and make us dinner. We watched TV late into the night right up until bedtime, and then like zombies shuffled to bed, parents not tucking us in. My parents did not pray at home with us; I honestly will say I don’t think they have a visible home prayer life today. Yes, surely, they prayed a couple of times. But I can remember more spankings than times I had spent praying the Our Father with a parent one on one or as a family. I suspect my parents are not to blame for this; I suspect at some point in generations before family prayer fell to the wayside.
I was lucky enough to have a father who I at least knew had a minimal visible private prayer life, and he took the time to pray out loud at our regular weekly Catholic Bible studies we attended and sometimes hosted in our house. My wife’s parents realized early on the necessity of a family prayer life, and at some point in her early childhood began to pray every night with their children. I see this as possibly the greatest example that the two of us have been given.
Fast forward to today. Television and its 200+ channels of poor programming has consumed the lives of almost all of my peers. All my conversations with coworkers consist of small talk about the latest TV show from the night before. But television has found a new companion to the affections of my generation; the screen! PC’s, Mac’s and hand held(s) take up almost every waking moment of the average person’s down time. People who say they are too busy to do something, really are too busy looking at the screen and the false relationships of Facebook, blogs, etc. [Yes reader I may be really chastising you for reading my blog right now instead of praying with your loved ones, I guess I am one to talk as I am writing this instead of doing the same]. Most people are bored because they are actually doing nothing, and they constantly distract themselves into forgetting that disturbing truth. TV shows and video games are entertaining. We face all the seats in our home at the almighty screen as the center. Crucifixes on walls have been replaced by a screen in every room; in some homes even the bathroom.
I talk to my parents often, and I worry that they don’t have a daily devotion to prayer, instead spending way too much time sitting watching their favorite reality show or the History Channel. I look at my Catholic peers, and they have stopped praying even at meals. It is like prayer has disappeared. I look at myself and wonder how many hours I spend with a screen vs. how many hours I spend praying with my family and teaching/showing my children to talk regularly with the Lord. I firmly believe everyone needs to increase devotion time with our families as well as silent time for ourselves. We need to set time aside to talk with God. This topic has bothered me for several months now, and it will be talked about more here. In the last year my wife and I have really worked on family prayer. Today I feel a lot better about it than this time one year ago. I want to share with you simple strategies to get the whole family to turn off the screens and pray, even how to get young children excited about 5 minutes of prayer time and praying out loud.
For now, let me leave you with these questions: Do you watch TV or read Facebook to avoid being bored? If you are bored, what would be the best thing with which to fill your life?