Monday, November 14, 2011

Be Not Afraid

The Man and I encountered something new, something completely unexpected, yet understandable.  We have noticed this in the past, but we never actually discussed it.  Recently, we went over to our friends' house for dinner, and before we ate, our host said a prayer of thanks.  No big deal, right?  Except we all had an air-clearing moment where our non-Catholic friends agreed that it's somewhat awkward to pray before meals in front of Catholics.  I think I've sensed some apprehension about mealtime prayers when The Man and I are with my family as well.  Apparently we are an intimidating bunch.

Having spent the majority of my life on the other side of the Tiber, I understand this more than our friends can know.  Catholics pray very differently than Protestants.  First there's that whole Sign of the Cross deal, then there's the memorized prayer recitation--but sometimes it's made up and you don't know it wasn't simply recited, and then another Sign of the Cross.  Three Amens after all is said and done.  It's confusing, elaborate, and intimidating.  To a Protestant, it can seem like Catholics know the right way to pray and that Protestants are just making things up.

But, having become a Catholic, I can tell you for sure that those made-up-on-the-spot prayers are totally fine. Yes, [some] Catholics have lots of memorized prayers to pull from our hearts on any given occasion.  We have a mealtime prayer, a bedtime prayer, a prayer for hope, a prayer for help, prayers for everything including the sun.  Having these tools doesn't make them better or more right, it just means that we think someone else said it better first.

I guess the same could be said as a Catholic.  Sometimes I worry that if The Man and I recite our very common Catholic mealtime prayer complete with the Sign of the Cross at either end that we'll seem over-ritualized or lacking emotion.  I wonder if our non-Catholic guests are scared of, in awe of, or even mind when we cross ourselves.  I know I used to be weirded out by those rituals.

I think there are two important lessons to take away from this:
1) Praying in front of anyone from a different faith or tradition is scary!
2) It's okay to talk about these differences and reassure people that neither side is going to take arms about a simple mealtime prayer.  Despite the multitude of differences between Catholics and Protestants, food isn't one of them.  If nothing else, give thanks for that.

If you pray before meals (even once in a while with the "big" family), what do you say?  Are you scared/intimidated/worried about praying in front of other people?  Do you all join hands or clasp your own in front of you?  Do you have a favorite mealtime prayer?  Do you get annoyed when someone doesn't do it "your" way?  What do you think about all of this?


cm0978 said...

As a Catholic, I always thought the Protestants knew how to pray better because they made it up on the spot. Sometimes I get asked to say a prayer before our meetings at (Catholic) school. I try not to wander too much or sound incoherent. Perhaps it's just practice -- which as a Catholic I lack!

Linda G said...

when we are at a Protestant house, we let them say the prayer. but I usually make the Sign of the Cross at the end of their prayer (habit). If the family holds hands, we hold hands. Sometimes a bit awkward with the Sign of the Cross.