While giving a weekend retreat and listening to what a lot of people have on their minds, I began to wonder about what things run through my own mind. Where are my own thoughts? What do I concentrate on?
My first reflection was that it takes effort to sift my own thoughts from the common thoughts that all of us think. My own interior dialog sometimes resembles the panels of people on FOX or CNN – all talking at once, all yattering off the top of their heads, all saying what they think they “ought” to say. The inside of my head is sometimes like that – even when I’m praying in the morning. I have to be calm and patient to get to my own convictions and hopes.
Then I realized that I have a lot of sentences, phrases, and tags that I think of a lot. I don’t like it when I realize that I’m repeating “what everybody is saying,” and I try to delete that. I also think a lot of times of memorized psalms, a lot of Jesus’ sayings, and sayings from the letters of Sts. Paul, John, and Peter. When I realized that I had made them “my own” thought, I understood better how St. Augustine and St. Irenaeus – and Pope Francis -- wrote sentences full of tags of scripture: it’s how they thought. So I’m in good company there (and decided to memorize another psalm….).
In this context, I understand better the great help that formulas of prayer give me. Some time back, I began saying the rosary every day. When my mind drifts, I turn to the mystery or just to keep attentive to the Hail Mary’s. And I say a number of prayers like that of St. Richard of Chichester (the one that ends “day by day”), the Memorare, and other.
One of the reasons I like them is connected with where my own personal thoughts are. I can’t possibly monitor my thoughts and keep them focused on God and Jesus and my soul all the time. So prayers give me the reassurance that I’m not being narcissistic or anxious or going where I ought not go. For the little while I am praying this prayer, my mind and heart are at least aimed at love for God and the saints and those I am praying for.
I like that. So, Hail Mary…