By Fr. Corey Close
As Lent is a time to grow in prayer, I thought I would share two recent prayer experiences I had with the youths of our parish (Prince of Peace, Clinton) that I found tremendously powerful.
The first was praying the rosary. A few days before the Annunciation (March 25), our confirmation candidates gathered for a session on their way toward receiving the sacrament. We discussed Mary, what her life was like, the meaning of the Annunciation, and what role Mary plays in our lives now. Toward the end of the night, the youths were given rosaries and we prayed the Glorious Mysteries (as it was a Wednesday). It was amazing to see these young people praying this ancient prayer, many for the first time. It was a sort of like going full-circle for me.
For many households in the past, praying the rosary together, at least on Fridays during Lent, was a common experience that has since almost been forgotten. I did not have any experience with the rosary until I entered seminary. I remember a time in high school when I was given the Hail Mary to pray as a penance after confession and needed my brother (who had attended Catholic school) to help me through the prayer. Even while living in seminary, where many men prayed the rosary every day, I struggled to do it even once in a while. When I made a pilgrimage to Fatima, Portugal, part of me hoped I could pray the rosary with consistency. It has only been in the last year, since making a pilgrimage to the Our Lady of Guadalupe shrine in La Crosse, Wis., that I received this grace.
Teaching youths how to pray the rosary, which I did not know how to do when I was their age, proved to be a breathtaking moment. I encourage you, if you don’t know how to pray the rosary, to ask your priest or a friend or look online. If you struggle with it, know that I struggled with praying the rosary consistently for many years; so keep trying! The key is that we don’t pray it as a way to “get stuff,” but rather as a way to give to God a special gift of prayer.
The second powerful prayer I experienced with the young people of our parish this Lent was Stations of the Cross. This was with a group of sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders who were given different roles which they portrayed in a living Stations of the Cross. That is, we prayed the Stations of the Cross, but with the youths as the figures in the scene such as Jesus meeting Mary or Jesus being taken down from the cross. It was amazing how this group of highly active youths became quiet once the Stations began. I encourage you to go to your parish this sixth Friday of Lent to experience this beautiful prayer that allows us to walk with Jesus on his way to Calvary.
Like my experience with the rosary, I had never done the Stations until seminary and, even then, usually only when it was required of seminarians. Something kept me away. I think it was the fear of suffering; all I could see when I looked at the crucifix was pain. By God’s grace I have begun to see the crucifix not as a symbol of suffering, but as a symbol of God’s unquenchable love for us regardless of who we are or what we have done. Thus, the Stations are not about reveling in death or suffering, but watching in awe of God’s great love for us despite our sinfulness and mistakes. It was great to see these youths experience such a powerful prayer when I, at their age, had not.
As Lent comes to a close, besides praying the rosary and participating in Stations of the Cross, please consider joining your local parish at the celebrations of the Last Supper (Holy Thursday night), the Lord’s Passion (Good Friday), and the Easter Vigil (Holy Saturday night). These are the highest holy days of the year. Your participation will make the celebration of Christ’s Passion, death and resurrection that much more real for you this Lent and Easter season. God bless!
(Fr. Corey Close is parochial vicar at Prince of Peace Parish in Clinton.)