Last week, one of my clients asked me if I would say some prayers for her and her family. For the purpose of this article, I’m going to call her “Julie.” After asking for prayers, Julie said that she’s been having problems at home with her teenage daughters.
I’ve known Julie for more than 20 years. She’s a committed Catholic who is devoted to her husband and children. When Julie asked for prayers, I replied that I would be happy to include her family in my prayers. I then asked her a question that I have periodically asked her over the years: “Are you praying your rosary every day?” When I asked the question, she hesitated. I knew from the expression on her face what she was going to say. She was going to make an excuse — the same thing 95% of all other Catholics do when I ask that question.
I’m not going to tell you what excuse Julie used, because it doesn’t matter. One excuse is the same as any other. We all have our own excuses for our failure to remain faithful to an active and vibrant daily prayer life.
I did not criticize or ridicule Julie for her failure to do what she knows she should be doing. I did, however, talk to her about the importance of developing daily rituals concerning prayer.
One of the definitions that the dictionary provides for “ritual” is “an act or series of acts done in a particular situation and in the same way each time.” The word “ritual” is ordinarily used in the context of religion, but there are other social customs and protocols that can be described as rituals. Most of our daily behavioral habits eventually become rituals. Examples of daily rituals include shaving every morning and drinking coffee at the same time every day.
I told Julie that if she developed the habit of praying her rosary every morning while she was in her car on the way to work, over time she would see some improvement in her relationship with her daughters. She admitted that she was in the habit of listening to the radio when she was in her car and declared that she could easily develop the habit of praying her rosary instead. In addition to a daily rosary, I also suggested that Julie start setting aside one-on-one time each week with each of her daughters to do something that is fun and/or relaxing.
While I was getting ready for work the morning after I talked to Julie, it occurred to me that I would benefit from my own advice by developing a new spiritual ritual. While I was in the shower, I decided that a good Lenten resolution would be to reach out in prayer every morning to several of my deceased relatives. So that morning while taking my shower, I said a Hail Mary along with a request to each of the following deceased relatives:
1. My grandfather, Tom Williams, whose greatest strengths were his honesty with himself and everyone he came into contact with, his fearlessness, and his willingness to say what needed to be said regardless of the consequences. I asked him to help me develop those strengths.
2. My grandmother, Effie Williams, who was extremely focused, organized, productive, and industrious. She was able to get a huge amount of work done in a short period of time. I asked her to help me to develop those traits and that particular skill.
3. My grandfather, Harry LaHood, who died from heart disease three days before I was born. While I was growing up, my mom and uncles told me that his greatest strength was his ability to develop peaceful solutions to situations where there was conflict between individuals. He was extremely charming, had a great sense of humor, and had the ability to influence others to set aside their differences and get along. It is those particular traits that I asked him to help me develop.
4. My grandmother, Cecilia LaHood, whose husband died when the youngest of her six children was five years old. Even though several men were interested in her during the years that followed the loss of her husband, she refused to go out with any of them so that she could devote all her time to her children. I asked her to help me to be less selfish and to help me be a better father to my children.
5. My uncle, Bill Williams, who was a carpenter by trade and worked as a superintendent for a commercial construction company. He died from cancer when he was in his early 50s. During one of the summers when I was in college, I worked on a construction site with Uncle Bill. I remember coming home one night and telling my mom that I thought he would have had a great career in public relations. Uncle Bill was very charming and had the ability to get along with anyone. He also had the ability to influence others to do what he wanted them to do. It is those traits that I asked Uncle Bill to help me develop.
6. My cousin, Tommy LaHood, who died from a tragic accident when he was 11 years old. The summer before he died, I spent a couple of days at his house. On one of those days, we were riding bikes on the street where he lived, and there were some college-age men who were standing on a porch making lewd gestures and using filthy language. After we rode past the men, Tommy spent the next five minutes telling me why the men’s behavior was inappropriate and contrary to our beliefs and morals. Tommy was a year younger than me. For an 11-year-old boy, he possessed wisdom way beyond his years. I asked Tommy to help me be more morally upright.
7. My cousin, Harry LaHood, who was Tommy’s older brother. Harry died in 1999 at the age of 42. He was the best deal maker that I ever met. He had a unique ability to sense lucrative deals, to assess the desires of other people, and to create long-term relationships that allowed him to put together deals that benefited everyone who was involved. It is these traits that I asked Harry to help me develop.
8. My cousin, Chuck Couri, who recently died from cancer at the age of 58. Chuck was an attorney who did a masterful job of representing his clients. He was smart, organized, strategic, and focused. I asked Chuck to help me better serve my clients.
9. My younger sister, Kathryn Mary Williams, who was born in 1972 with a heart defect. She passed away when she was 13 months old. For the entire 13 months of her life, she suffered immensely but was always happy and smiled when we interacted with her. I asked Kathryn to help me smile and always be happy, even when I am suffering.
It has been four days since I started this new daily ritual. One benefit I did not anticipate is that in addition to being able to reach out to my deceased loved ones for assistance, each morning I have been reminded of how generous God has been with me by making these people an integral part of my life (while I was growing up, and now, even though they are no longer on Earth). By praying to each of these individuals every morning, I have been able to reach out to them and talk to them as though I were speaking to each of them on the telephone.
I am thankful that Julie asked me to pray for her family. My response to her question led to my decision to develop my new morning ritual. You may want to consider developing a similar morning ritual during this Lenten season.