By Fr Bill Kneemiller
For The Catholic Messenger
I have returned to the Diocese of Davenport after my third military deployment where I was privileged to serve in Kuwait and Jordan. As I traveled in the biblical country of Jordan, I led tours to the baptismal site of Jesus at the Jordan River and to Mount Nebo, where Moses had his only view of the Promised Land, Israel, before his death.
In 1998, during my seminary study trip to the Holy Land, I prayed the Liturgy of the Hours, which consists of the Psalms and Scriptures of the Morning, Daytime and Evening prayers. I got in the habit of carrying the “Shorter Christian Prayer” everywhere with me in the Holy Land, where the Scriptures literally came to life. It was helpful that this convenient-sized paperback book fit in my back pocket. On recent travels to Jordan I again carried the “Shorter Christian Prayer” with me, and something different occurred on this second biblical trip.
I started to experience the “Shorter Christian Prayer” as being much more than a book of Morning or Evening prayers with the Psalms. The book became more like an actual companion, a real person. From the New Testament, we understand Jesus Christ as the living Word of God — the fleshly incarnation of the Word of God. As I prayed the Psalms and Scriptures of the Liturgy of the Hours, the many prophetic words in the Psalms became more and more the living waters that refreshed my soul every day.
Back from my deployment, I have continued to carry the “Shorter Christian Prayer” book with me everywhere, as I revere God’s word. Here in Iowa, the Psalms and Scriptures enrich my day as I pray either in a church or outside as I am taking a walk. I also want to share this with others. Recently in homilies I’ve been doing a pop quiz: “What is the Official Prayer of the Catholic Church?” I ask for responses and often the replies are the “Lord’s Prayer” or “The Creed.” I reply: “No it ain’t! It’s the Liturgy of the Hours, which are the prayers of the Psalms and Scriptures of Morning, Daytime and Evening Prayer that continue the praise to God from the Mass.”
In recent months I’ve thought that it is a real mystery why the majority of Catholics know little about this discipline of prayer, which is not only the official prayer of the church, but also a key link to our Jewish roots. Why is the Liturgy of the Hours not preached about? The likely answer is that prior to 1962, the Liturgy of the Hours, like the Mass prayers, were in Latin. Hence, it was considered to be the private prayer of priests or religious sisters. So, I am on a mission to introduce lay people to the beauty and wonders of the Liturgy of the Hours. Books are available from on-line book retailers or locally. Religious Supply Center in Davenport is hosting a special display of “Shorter Christian Prayer” books along with parish quantity discounts.
I believe that this mission to bring the Liturgy of the Hours to parishioners fits well into the need to help develop a discipline of prayer. There is a close connection between “discipline” and “disciple!” A disciple, or follower, of Jesus Christ needs a disciplined prayer life. The average American watches four hours, or 360 minutes, of television every day. As the news gets worse and programming gets more secular (even pornographic shows are on regular cable this fall), I encourage every family to tithe at least 10 percent of their TV time. Example: pray a short form of Morning Prayer and Night Prayer with just one Psalm, which would be 5 minutes each, and then pray the rosary, possibly after supper, for 20 minutes, which would be about a half-hour of family prayer time together.
As Father Patrick Peyton often remarked, “The family that prays together, stays together!”
(Fr. Kneemiller is chaplain at the Kahl Home in Davenport.)