The phrase, “The Family That Prays Together, Stays Together” was coined by Venerable Father Patrick Peyton.* And it seems to have been received as a relatively uncontroversial assertion. But I want to ask why this works. Why does the family that prays together stay together? It’s not a magic spell we cast with our formulas. The prayers are a meditation on the life of Christ, and through them, we receive the grace to become more virtuous – better at being a family. Yet, lofty aspirations for virtue aside, there’s a simple reason this works.
In a word: togetherness.
My family started praying the rosary each night during the first year of COVID-19. Even when I was hospitalized, my husband set up a video chat for our rosary. We aren’t always hyper-focused or reverent, but we do cling to the habit like a lifebuoy. As much as anything else, being together during those 30 minutes every day is what changes all our familial interactions. Here are a few reasons why the “family that prays together stays together”:
Many times, I start a rosary angry with someone in my family. I want to stomp up to my room and pray alone, but before the first decade, I’m not able to be angry anymore. I may even start my rosary by telling Jesus that I’m fuming and I have a right to be, but if I choose to go on with the prayer, it’s just lifted from my heart.
Listing those who need our intercession before praying has prompted great conversations, giving my children perspective and gratitude for their health and comforts. We pray for cancer patients, a Minecraft YouTube star struggling with faith, a paraplegic, the elderly, pregnant moms, the President, the pope, the dying and the oft forgotten.
I’ve heard that children are more open to discussing important things in the car or at bedtime. With us, it’s during the rosary. It’s one of the only times we sit and rest without distraction, so our rosary often starts with the children rapidly telling us what’s on their minds or asking questions about all manner of things. We must cut them off in order to start praying, they are so hungry to talk! We have addressed some important issues during this time.
Being together without any distractions has also given us a chance to dote on each other. Once he stops rolling around and finds his calm, my son reaches for my hand or lays his head in my lap. My daughter always asks for a head rub, as does my husband. Many members in my family equate physical touch with love, which has been difficult for me. How can I refuse love during the rosary? It is a war with myself to reach out and give affection when it’s the first time I’ve taken a seat all day, but with the rosary I win that war.
Praying together was the most healing thing we ever did for each other during that difficult time after we lost our baby Sloane at 27 weeks’ gestation. At first, I cried during each rosary. Whatever I had held in all day broke free halfway through. When I cried during the rosary, my husband always knew. My son could tell by my voice. Someone would hug me. My daughter sometimes cried with me, which helped her process her emotions. One night, right after I came home from the hospital, my husband told our children to give me a hug during the rosary. My son started rubbing my back, in the awkward way a six-year-old rubs a back. My daughter massaged my legs. Their care was so healing. Another time, after weeks of not crying about Sloane, I had some flashbacks of the trauma of her birth during our rosary. My husband noticed, sent my son over and, in the silent candlelight, Antony said, “It’s okay mom. You still have me…and Sloane is in heaven.” Then, he curled up in my lap, and I smiled through the tears.
The love and unity that have poured into my family through the rosary is incredible. Give the daily rosary a try or pick it up again if you’ve fallen off. It’s intimidating, but once the habit is formed and the whole family expects it, this devotion will change your home. Beyond grace and spiritual formation, it is simply unifying.
*Venerable Father Patrick Peyton is called “the Rosary Priest” because he dedicated his life to promoting family prayer. He hosted a highly popular radio show, and his guests lead the audience in praying the rosary. He even hosted President Truman and Bing Crosby. Learn more here.
Theoni Bell is author of The Woman in the Trees: a novel about America’s first Marian apparition. Starting her career in journalism, she traveled to 13 countries studying religion and culture. Now, this homeschooling mother of four lives in California with the coolest guy she knows. She is currently working on a picture book resource for families dealing with baby loss. Learn more at theonibell.com.