By Deborah Danielski
As a former Pentecostal converting to Catholicism, I had very strong convictions about prayer, particularly Our Lord's admonition not to pray with "vain repetition as the heathens do." Who were the modern-day "heathens" who prayed with vain repetition? In my mind, "they" were the Catholics who appeared to rely exclusively on liturgical, discursive prayer, the worst of which, I thought, was the Rosary. As far as I was concerned, repeating all those Our Fathers and even worse, Hail Marys, could in no way be considered prayer.
How then did I pray?
Each morning when my husband and children were off to work and school, I took out my list of "affirmations," and began to "pray" them. "By His stripes, I am healed," I would "pray." Or for my husband, "He will know wisdom and instruction and perceive the words of understanding." (Prov. 1:2)
I asked God only once to give my husband wisdom and understanding. After that, I was taught that to prove my faith, I could never ask again. I had to accept that God had already answered my prayer. It was, however, acceptable to remind Him every morning of what He had already done.
When I spoke to my husband on the other hand, I was much more likely to say "you idiot," than to praise his wisdom and understanding. Not surprisingly, I never did begin to actually experience the answer to my prayer.
"You shall have whatsoever you say," I was repeatedly told. Somehow, I thought that truth applied only to the affirmations I "prayed" in my morning prayers, however, not to those things I said during the course of my day.
I suppose if I had ever begun to perceive "wisdom and understanding" in my husband, I could have stopped the affirmations, but since I hadn't, it seemed important to remind God every morning that He had indeed bestowed those virtues upon him.
In those days, I had a typewritten list of at least 100 affirmations that I repeatedly "prayed" over and over again each and every morning. Though I was completely sincere in my efforts at prayer, I wonder now whether I was actually communing with God or demons, or simply trying to make some mystical formula work for my own good.
"Don't pray as the heathens do, who think they will be heard for their much speaking," Jesus told his disciples."
"Don't pray the Hail Mary, Our Father or any other prayer that doesn't come straight from your own heart," I interpreted that to mean.
I could see the speck in my brother's eye but was completely oblivious to the beam in my own. Ironically, it was the Virgin Mary herself and the Holy Rosary that eventually led me to convert to the Catholic faith.
When a friend gave me a book about the apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Medjugorje, I scoffed. I'll read it, I thought, but only to point out to her just how deceived she is. Thank God, it was my own deception that was unmasked as I read the loving words of the Blessed Mother to her children. At first, I accepted only the idea that the Virgin Mary may have appeared to these children to straighten out the Catholics' twisted thinking. After all, I thought, they needed all the help they could get. Before long, however, it was me who was on her knees. And by the time I'd finished the book, I decided to give the Rosary a try.
Meditating on the mysteries of Christ was not something I had ever considered as a Pentecostal. I gave no thought at all to the suffering Christ -- the Christ who willingly hung on a cross, or who clung silently to a pillar as a whip lacerated the skin from His bloody, battered body.Instead, my prayer focused exclusively on the risen Christ and the victorious life He had won -- for me.
By the grace of God, I am a little less selfish in my prayers now. I've fully embraced the Rosary, not as some magical formula to keep me from harm, but as an aid to contemplation of the life of Christ, that perhaps through that contemplation I might become just a little more like Him -- a little more humble, a little more honest, a little more patient, a little more loving and a little more kind. I no longer feel the need to remind God of how I think things should be. Instead, I use the Rosary, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy and other prayers to remind myself of how I should be. And sometimes in the midst of my repetitions, I hear a still small voice urging me on.
"Not my will but Thine," I respond. And then I go
© Deborah Danielski 1997 (This story first published in the August 1997 issue of New Covenant magazine, published by Our Sunday Visitor)
If you don't know, or have forgotten how to pray the Rosary, click on this link: