During my years in Catholic school, from age six to seventeen, I spent a lot of time praying. I\’d say my morning prayers while I was putting on my uniform. In school, at the beginning of each class, we would stand up and say a short prayer, like a Hail Mary. Sometimes we would sing. I especially liked \”Come Holy Ghost,\” the English translation of the 9th century Gregorian chant, \”Veni Creator Spiritus.\” In times of stress, such as before an algebra test, I would sing it silently to myself as I waited for the test paper to be placed on my desk. At the end of each class we would all stand up again and say another prayer.
Two prayers per class, six classes a day, five days a week makes 240 prayers a month. And that was not all. My high school had a chapel where daily Mass was said before first period. Attendance was not required, but sometimes I would go. On Fridays confessions were heard in the chapel. You said your prayer of contrition–mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa–and then whatever prayers the priest assigned you as penance . During lunch period–and this seems incredible now–my friends and I would often whip out our chapel veils and stop by the chapel for a visit to the Blessed Sacrament.
At home, before dinner, instead of a formal blessing we would just cross ourselves. But sometimes in the evening my parents would pray the Rosary, led by my father: five Our Fathers, fifty Hail Marys, five Glorias, and the litany of the Virgin Mary. My father recited the litany in Latin, and it used to feel like a reward for sitting through those endless Hail Marys:
Tower of David,
Tower of ivory,
House of gold,
Ark of the covenant,
Gate of heaven,
During the long May evenings my parents and I would kneel before the statue of Mary that lived on the chest of drawers in their bedroom and say the special prayers of the \”Month of Mary.\”
And in all seasons, before falling asleep, I would do an \”examination of conscience\” before saying a prayer to my Guardian Angel to which my mother had added various petitions directed to God Himself, such as \”let Daddy have plenty of good work,\” and \”let me have a little brother or sister.\” The latter was granted the year I turned sixteen. Who said prayers don\’t work?
On Sundays we went to Mass and Communion.
After I married, and my father died, and the Church messed up badly on its birth control policies, I stopped all that–morning prayers, evening prayers, the Rosary, the Mass, the works. Suddenly I had a lot of extra time on my hands.
Now that, a half century later, the vicissitudes of life have steered me on the path of Buddhist spirituality, I meditate in the morning, reciting a mantra that often feels as mechanical as the Rosary used to, and doing my best to tame my \”monkey mind.\” As I undertake various tasks during the day, I try to remember to center myself. Before I go to sleep at night, I focus on my breath and do a little metta.
It feels amazingly familiar and recognizable, like an old friend you haven\’t seen in years and who shows up wearing exotic clothes. The habit and discipline of inwardness, instilled by my parents and by the nuns who succeeded each other like beads on the rosary of my school years, has come back into my life.