Except for the breviary which contains the divine office, I don’t use a prayer book. Perhaps I should. When I was studying for the priesthood there was a prayer book that many of the seminarians used. Right now the name of the book escapes me. It might have been “The Major Seminarian.” I know at that time I found it very helpful to read and use for prayers.
The value of using a prayer book has been on my mind because recently a friend who works for Catholic Book Publishing Corp. in New Jersey sent me a prayer book that has just been published. Entitled “The American Prayer Book: In God We Trust,” it was written by Marci Alborghetti.
When I received this small book, which would easily fit into a pocket, I had no idea of its content but for some reason I had negative expectations. I guess I feared that it would be some partisan mixture of faith and politics. I was in for a very pleasant surprise. Alborghetti has produced a very attractive guide to prayer and reflection that links faith to our history as Americans. Her prayers should move us more deeply into the world in which we live and should help us illuminate our experience with the light of faith.
The idea behind “The American Prayer Book” is so good that I am surprised no one thought of it previously. In the Introduction Alborghetti writes the following:
“Make no mistake, we are a great country. And, as Jesus said, where much is given, much is required. The United States of America, as we will see in the coming pages, is a noble, magnificent, and amazing work-in–progress. There has never been a nation like it; and that is why we are held to a greater standard. That is why we must hold ourselves to a greater standard. We have raised the bar high, and when we sneak under it, God and the world and our own people know it. No amount of posturing or hubris can hide it.
“I don’t think for one moment that God wants me to give in to a sense of complacency, to stop seeking His will and His forgiveness when I fail. I feel the same way about the country whose birthday He allowed me to share. The reflection, prayers, and suggested actions in the pages that follow – each corresponding to important days and holidays in the American and Christian calendar – reflect my passion for my country and for its potential in the context of my love for, awe of, and faith in God.” (pp. 9-10)
The format of the book is simple butit conveys Alborghetti’s passion and challenges the reader to relate his or her prayer life to daily experience. I have found in recent years that frequently in homilies I urge members of a congregation to reflect on their prayer life. It seems to me to be one way of checking on how seriously we take what we believe and how we live. I think “The American Prayer Book” could aid people in broadening their approach to prayer and also in trying to relate their prayers to their daily lives. Each section begins with a reference to a day that is either a Christian feast or a day that has special significance in our country. Alborghetti comments on the importance of the day, then offers a prayer and a suggested activity related to the meaning of the day.
There are more than 60 days cited as important in “The American Prayer Book.” I could use any one of them to illustrate the value of this small volume. I choose Dorothy Day’s birthday for several reasons. One is that I believe Dorothy Day is a saint and I hope some day she will be officially canonized. Apparently Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York is interested in promoting her canonization. Another reason is that I have gone over to the Catholic Worker house to lecture several times. The movement was begun by Dorothy and Peter Maurin in the 1930s. Those who live at the house or are in some way involved in the apostolate feed the hungry, clothe the naked and bear witness to Christ by their presence to the poor. I believe every Catholic should visit The Catholic Worker house at least once. Whenever I give a lecture there I return knowing that I have received much more than I gave. The following is part of the prayer that Alborghetti has placed in the section on Dorothy Day:
“Patient Father, You are always ready to accept us when we turn to You. Thank You for the example of Dorothy Day, a strong woman who committed herself to You. Make us bold in your service. Amen.”