This Thursday, May 3rd, marks the 61st observance of the National Day of Prayer. Our nation was first officially called to prayer in 1775 when the Continental Congress asked colonies to pray for wisdom in forming the nation. In 1952, a joint resolution by Congress signed by President Truman declared an annual day of prayer. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan amended the law and set the first Thursday of the month of May as the official National Day of Prayer. According to the National Day of Prayer website, this day of reflection belongs to all Americans and transcends our differences to achieve the Prayer Task Force's intention to “mobilize prayer in America and to encourage repentance and righteousness in culture.”
Dictionary.com defines prayer as “devout petition to God; spiritual communion with God; a formula or sequence of words in or appointed for praying, as in The Lord's Prayer”, a good explanation, but one that somehow creates the illusion that prayer is a state of union with God unattainable for the average Joe. Indeed, for those of us raised on stories of saints flogging themselves to share in Christ's passion or kneeling in rapture before visions of the Blessed Mother, prayer can seem like a distant, foreign element of religion.
My mother taught me to pray through direct instruction and example. She started with the standard guardian angel prayer known to countless Christians (“Angel of God, my guardian dear, etc.”) and underscored the importance of a relationship with God by taking (often dragging) me to Sunday mass and doing simple things to focus my attention on God, like adhering a cross to my headboard and reading me stories of saints I could relate to, like St. Francis of Assisi. My mother also led me to prayer through example; I often saw her reading one of her prayer books or praying the rosary. Mom was a devout Catholic; I am not nearly as good a person as she was, but I have her to thank for my understanding of prayer.
Our nation needs a National Day of Prayer to remind us of all we have to be thankful for and all we have to pray for collectively and individually. I encourage those of us who are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with prayer to disregard fancy words and lofty calls to worship and follow the simple and true definition of prayer offered by St. Therese of Lisieux: “I do like children who do not know how to read, I say very simply to God what I wish to say, without composing beautiful sentences, and He always understands me. For me, prayer is an aspiration of the heart, it is a simple glance directed to heaven, it is a cry of gratitude and love in the midst of trial as well as joy; finally it is something great, supernatural, which expands my soul and unites me to Jesus.” (From St. Therese's autobiography – Story of a Soul.)
This Thursday, May 3rd, please join the National Day of Prayer; simply glance toward heaven and say what you wish to say. You-Know-Who will take care of the rest.