Living where I do in central Virginia, I am surrounded by Evangelical Christians. I was one of them myself until about 10 years ago, when I became convinced of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. Having lived among Evangelicals for so many years, I can tell you that they are, for the most part, great people. Those of them with children do their utmost to raise those kids “in the fear and admonition of the Lord.” Many of the women I work with are Evangelicals, and I oftentimes see them checking in with their children via text or a phone call. One thing that has impressed me is that these ladies religiously end their phone calls to their children with the words, “I love you,” even if the phone call is basically the extension of a running argument that started two days ago. Hypocritical? I would say not. But why end a phone call with an “I love you” if the call is essentially a squabble ending in a huff?
Because it’s true.
Evangelicals will be the first to tell you that “love” is not just a feeling – it is an act of the will. They strive to express to their kids that very real love that they may or may not happen to be feeling at the end of each phone call, because it is the most important part of that call. “I love you” are very important words.
This is exactly the Catholic point when it comes to rote prayers like the Litany of the Sacred Heart. Protestants break out in hives when they think about the Catholic practice of praying litanies, or rosaries, or novenas. How insincere can you get, praying pre-written words! Sincerity means spontaneity – never saying the same thing twice! Sincerity means praying in words that just pop into your brain! Sincerity means praying only what you happen to feel at the moment!
sin·cer·i·ty [sinˈseritē]: the quality of being free from pretense, deceit, or hypocrisy.
Evangelical Protestants and Catholics can certainly agree on what prayer is supposed to be – prayer is an “I love You” to God. On a morning when I get up on the wrong side of the bed, discover that the kids ate the last of the Krispy Kremes, learn that my dog bit my neighbor (and my neighbor bit him back), get a traffic ticket on the way to First Friday Mass, and arrive late, I still can breathe a heartfelt “I love You, Jesus!” as I genuflect before the Tabernacle, not because I’m feeling overcome with warm fuzzies, but because it’s true. I still can sing “What Wondrous Love Is This” – not because I happen to feel wondrously loved at that particular moment, but because it’s true. As upset as I am, I still can (and should) pray the Divine Praises before the Eucharist at Benediction:
Blessed be Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar!
I still can (and should) pray the words to the Act of Consecration to the Sacred Heart:
You are the Font of Divine Love, and concerned for all Your creatures for whom You shed Your Precious Blood upon the Cross. Receive me, Beloved Redeemer, as I seek to give myself totally to You.
Not because I’m feeling all ooey-gooey at the moment – left to my own devices, my prayer at that point might be a lot closer to a gripe. When “ugh” is all I can think of to pray, the prayers of the Church come to my rescue – not because I long to hypocritically mouth pre-written sentiments, but because the sentiments expressed in the prayers are true, whether my feelings happen to coincide at the moment or not. These “I love You’s” are an act of the will, and they are, needless to say, very pleasing to God.
So, when I leave the Real Presence of the Lord to go and pay my traffic fine, it’s a mighty good thing to have prayers like the Litany of the Sacred Heart to fall back on. In all likelihood, a sincere “Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like unto Thine!” will be the most important words I say today.
On the memorial of St. Paul the Simple
Deo omnis gloria!