What Catholics Believe - Chapter Twenty-Three
Growing up when I did, I never really heard of devotions . However looking back as an adult and as a priest, I realize it is only the word devotion that I do not remember. The reality is that from the youngest age I was deeply immersed in the reality of a truly dedicated devotional life. My mother was most assuredly a woman of deep faith and there were any number of devotions that were a constant part of her life and consequently part of mine as well.
For as long as I can remember daily Mass, the rosary, and any number of other prayer and holy cards (all bound together with an elastic in a small tattered prayer book always carried in her pocketbook) were an essential part of the definition of who my mother was. Her days always started and ended with prayer and there were any number of other religiously- motivated activities that were also part of her life. She was always active in the church, singing in the choir, working in the school, counting the parish collections, attending annual parish missions , and never saying no when one of the priests would ask for volunteers to help with whatever the next project might be.
I have mentioned all of these things because primarily it is these private and personal activities that are at the heart of what the Church calls devotions. As any of you who are reading this article would quickly recognize, some of the devotions I have mentioned are far more popular than others and some are practiced publicly while others are completely part of the private devotional prayer life of an individual.
Perhaps the most popular of all the devotions is the rosary which gained a great deal of its prominence through the efforts of Father Patrick Peyton, known for years as the Rosary priest who made the phrase “The family that prays together stays together” so popular. Perhaps such simple advice would be a renewed source of blessing if heeded today.
Another form of devotion still very popular is found in the wearing of religious medals one of the most common of which is the medal of St. Christopher worn by many and still found on the dashboard of many cars. I was just recently asked to bless one of these medals for a young man with cancer, and even though we have never met personally, when he received the medal he made a point of calling on the phone to say thank you and that it meant a great deal to him.
Perhaps a somewhat less common devotion is to relics of the saints. Recently I had an appointment with Bishop Richard Malone who shared with me something he had just received. It is a new relic of Blessed John Paul II, which will be one of the spiritual blessings of the diocese. Relics such as this one are really quite small in terms of their physical size, but in terms of their inspirational value to many people, they are often times of great value.
Back for just a moment to my mother’s elastic-bound prayer book, one of the things in it and kept secure with that elastic were the holy cards given out at funerals, beloved family and friends were all remembered daily as she said her prayers. One of the things that became a special form of devotion for me over the years of my priesthood has been an annual pilgrimage to the various cemeteries where it has been my privilege to lay to rest what are now several hundred people. Even though it is perhaps only a short visit, this annual journey has taken on a truly significant place in my life as I recall some of the moments that led to these final resting places. To once again pray for the deceased and to give thanks for the opportunity to minister to their needs and those of their families and friends.
There is surely a great deal more that could be said on the wide-ranging topic of devotions, but I will conclude with just a word of encouragement to each one who reads this article to find whatever devotions work to draw you closer to God and strengthen you to reach out to others in His name. Not all devotions will mean something to you, but perhaps reflection will lead you to a few which will truly be of long-lasting value in your life.