This past week I was on retreat at Kings House in Belleville with many of the priests of my diocese. Normally, I don’t like to leave the retreat house during the week, but some of us decided we should pay our respects at the wake of the mother of the head of the religion department at Mater Dei Catholic High School, Breese IL where many of our parishioners attend, since the visitation was just down the street a couple of miles. Four of us priests got in a car and went to the visitation. On the way back, one of the men suggested that since the rest of the retreatants were praying evening prayer at that time we should also pray. Of course none of us had our Liturgy of the Hours prayer books with us.
So, I thought this priest was just joking around, to be honest, but said “Well, I’ve got my Liturgy of the Hours app on the phone, so if you really want to…” and this priest started saying the opening verse which we all knew by heart, “O God, come to my assistance,” to which everyone in the car replied “O Lord, make haste to help us!” “They are serious” I said to my surprised self, and so we began, me reading the psalms from my i-phone app, they responding with an antiphon I’d proclaim for them to repeat in a responsorial form of psalmody. It was a first for me, praying the hours with brother priests while in a car. What at first I thought was just kidding around became serious, sincere prayer, thanks to the technology of smart phones and applications downloaded to them. Welcome to the 21st century. It was a unique experience for me of the brotherhood of priests, being able to pray together a prayer we’re obliged to say by our ordination promises in that particular time and place because technology made the text of the prayer available where it would not have been accessible without a book just a few years ago (you know, in that ancient time of the 20th century). And the spontaneity of the moment seemed to make it an occasion of grace prompted by the Holy Spirit moving one of us to suggest prayer and me remembering that the liturgy of the hours is now available on my i-phone and taking a chance that my fellow traveling companions were serious about praying together instead of just presuming we were kidding around as priests often are prone to do in each other’s presence. That kidding around, by the way, may have something to do with being about to “let our hair down” with just in the company of other priests in a way we might not in the presence of laity, due to the desire to appear “priestly.”
Then there was another image that came to mind. I’m told that in the “old days” nuns and priests would often pray the rosary while traveling together in order to keep their minds focused on the Lord (hopefully the driver was focused on the road!) and to make a productive use of the time in the car instead of “wasting it” doing nothing, like engaging in idle chatter.
I remember when I was child, every trip in the family care outside the city limits of my hometown began with a set order of prayers being recited and lead by my mother. That’s how I learned the Memorare (“Remember, O most gracious virgin Mary, that never was it known…”). A Memorare, Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be and a short Litany of the Saints always ending with the petition “St. Christopher, protect us” began each out of town trip. I continue the practice, today, mostly when I find myself on an airplane, during take off!
St. Paul did say to “Pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) And I’m sure he spent many hours in boats and on horse in his journeys reciting psalms and singing hymns. Be it the rosary or a homegrown oder of prayer while beginning a trip or technologically assisted Liturgy of the Hours in a car the injunction to pray always continues to be observed as God’s people travel here and there. May that prayer be a reminder that the whole journey of life needs to be accompanied by prayer helping us to safely reach our destination, The Kingdom of Heaven.