Summer holiday weekends have come and gone, and so has our trek from Michigan to upstate New York to visit family. Many a Labor Day, Independence Day, or Memorial Day weekend has been spent going down the road—an eleven-hour trip done in one day—to be with my husband’s family. We usually add at least one day onto the trip, sometimes two, stretching it to a four- or five-day weekend. It seems reasonable, considering two of those days are going to be solid ones on the thruway.
Doing a regular trip of such duration always begets routines and traditions. Who drives which stretches? What is done in the car? What stops are made? And of course, an exact calculation of time from start to finish is determined, as well as how short and few we were able to make the stops. However, any family trip starts with the same tradition: as soon as we have made it onto the highway, we all pray a rosary together. This goes for any excursion we take on the road that keeps us from home overnight, including the two-hour drive to my family on the western side of Michigan.
We have gone through numerous methods of praying the rosary, and have tried to accommodate the children’s preferences. For a while we prayed a scriptural rosary, each child getting to lead the prayers for a mystery. Sometimes we have added other prayers at the end, like the Memorare, or an Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be for the intentions of the Holy Father. We have even let each person choose an intention that his or her mystery will be prayed for. Among the intentions, a safe trip is always included.
None of our children seemed overly fond of the rosary while growing up. They were not the ones reminding us to make sure we got it in. Given the choice, they always chose the prayer method that wss the shortest. It didn’t matter. They were a captive audience and they knew it. They could look out the window. They could daydream. They could say the prayers without enthusiasm, but the rosary went on. We didn’t do it to torture them, but to teach them a prayer discipline. Sometimes prayer is hard work. Perhaps even most of the time it isn’t something we feel we get much out of. But it is something we do, not for us, but for the one who sacrificed his all for us.
Like the rosary, the Liturgy of the Hours didn’t grab them either. But they have learned how to use the prayer book, and can lean on it as adults when prayer is dry and inspiration is a long forgotten memory. The rosary, the Liturgy of the Hours, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, and the Angelus are just some of the many ways Catholics pray. Our children need to know them. They can learn to love them later.
We only asked a few things of them while we prayed. They must sit up straight and make an attempt to stay awake. They must speak up loudly enough for everyone to hear when it is their turn to lead. They also knew that whining or fussing about it would only lengthen the amount of time it took, so they learned to cooperate.
We often shared tips with them on how to pray more effectively. They have been told how to use their imagination as the scriptures are read, to make it come alive by picturing themselves there seeing the mysteries as they happen. We taught them to pause at the beginning of each mystery long enough to get their mind focussed on it. These days we most often pray the rosary responsively: the leader prays the first half of each prayer, and the rest of the family prays the second half. Whatever method is used, the important point is that we taught them how to pray it with devotion.
Praying the rosary is not the only tradition established while we roll down the highway. We have pinpointed the location of every donut shop between here and our New York destination, and the bakery is usually our first stop. There’s no sweat when we’re going down the beaten path. The location of the desired shop is known and greatly anticipated. Some of our family members, however, experience considerable distress when breaking out into new territory, territory that might not be filled with donut enthusiasts. Some of them even come to the verge of panic when the favored nationwide franchise is not as nationwide as supposed.
There are also certain individual prejudices about different shops. Dunkin’ Donuts or Krispy Kreme or Tim Horton’s? Some family members even prefer the independent donut maker—Aunt Mary’s Coffee Time Doughnuts? And horror of horrors, there are even family members who dare to request a scone or muffin at a donut enterprise. Adjustments are made to accommodate reasonable preferences, and the main point—getting a snack with that needed cup of java—is accomplished. We can work on the fine tuning of donut connoisseuring later.
Praying the rosary and stopping for donuts, at first glance, don’t seem to have much in common. It may depend on how you feel about donuts. If, like me, you are not the connoisseur, you might just prefer to skip it. You may not realize there are many choices to pick from and many ways to eat donuts. You may feel that the only thing you get out of eating donuts is fatter—who wants that? But taken in moderation they aren’t much worse than some other indulgences. Eaten slowly, with sips of coffee between bites, the flavor and texture can be savored and appreciated. The rosary, like donuts, could be skipped. We might decide it doesn’t do us any good, because we only do it one way. And whether we realize it or not, prayer is our spiritual nourishment, as essential to our spiritual health as food is to our bodily health. And like donuts, if all we prayed was the rosary for spiritual nourishment, we would soon long for other things. So, whether you have coffee and donuts or tea and scones, make that welcome break happen. And whether you pray the rosary or just read the Bible together, nourish those spiritual bodies with devotion. Just remember: the glazed crullers are mine.