DIARIO DI MAMMA
Amen is, perhaps, the most comforting word in the English language, at least for me. I say it at least once a day if not more. It soothes me, almost as much as a warm hug.
Most of the time, I’m not sure how I feel about religion. It’s complicated. But I won’t bore you with the rationalizing that goes on in my head like a hamster on a wheel. Faith is a personal journey, and one I’ll be on until the day I die. Let’s leave it at that.
I consider myself Catholic, like most of the old-school Italians I know. Many of my relatives have pictures of the Pope on the wall. All of them have a Madonnina statue on the front lawn (as do I). Men and women alike wear crucifixes or saint medals around their necks. I wed a fellow Italian Catholic in a church, baptized our son and plan to have him attend Mass regularly and go to CCD and make Communion and Confirmation when the time comes. I’ve even written about my relationship with the Madonna (the mother of Jesus, not the pop singer) for Italian-American publications.
I’ve studied religion at length, both in school and on my own. I took a high school course and two college courses on religions of the world. I read the entire Bible (both Old and New Testaments), the Koran, and the Talmud for one class alone. And I have read writings on Hinduism and Buddhism. I have great respect for them all. I also understand and, in a way, even admire those strong enough to cast off religion all together. For me, faith is like my nephew’s security blanket in that it keeps me cozy and able to sleep at night. Mostly I feel this when I pray, and I pray hard everyday.
Once upon a time, prayer was my solitude. Now, I share it with my son. He’s slowly learning to repeat, “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.” It’s become our little ritual in the car when I’m driving him to school. I recite the “Our Father,” and he tries to follow along. Once in a while, I shout out a “Hail Mary.” We visit the cemetery and light candles. Don’t get me wrong. I have my problems with all organized religion, and there’s no doubt that human beings have manipulated and exploited the faithful since the beginning.
But life is so very hard. I selfishly need to have conversations with God, a being higher than I am. I selfishly need to believe that He exists and He is the guard of Paradise, the home I will win after leading a decent life here on Earth. My logical brain laughs behind my back about these beliefs. But I don’t think I could go on without prayer, these moments of reflection, moments to show gratitude for what I have, look at the positive, ask for help if I need it, and feel as though there’s something out there watching over me and lifting me up.
In times of great need, I pray all the more. I don’t limit my talks to God alone. I sometimes turn to the saints (most southern Italians do). When I had a miscarriage and could not get pregnant, a friend of mine brought me to the Shrine of St. Gerard at St. Lucy’s Church in Newark, N.J. I purchased a candle there, and my husband and I lit it and prayed for a baby on a regular basis. Our prayers were answered, and I took my son to the annual blessing of the newborns at that same church three weeks after he was born. When I was with my grandfather when he took his last breath last year, I prayed for his soul and mine. Seriously, what kind of Italian Catholic would I be if I didn’t pray to St. Anthony every single time something – such as my car keys – went missing? So, I pray.
And I pray for you, too. Prayer allows a moment to think about the people around you and what they need. Too often, we are the “me” nation. What’s in it for me? We’ve stopped worrying about our neighbors. We put each other down rather than lift each other up. We see it in headlines about bullies and violence. We don’t trust each other. We don’t love each other. We make this hard life even harder, not to mention rather lonely.
Yet, when I pray I give thought to how you’re doing. Recently, I seem to get bad news every time I scroll through my Facebook newsfeed. Old friends and some family are facing sadness, regret, disappointment, and all sorts of losses (jobs, loved ones, faith in humanity). And it has made me ponder what’s really happening in the hearts of the others on my feed. They seem happy and there have been joyous occasions celebrated (birthdays, weddings, births). The thing is, however, we never know what’s going on in someone’s life unless he or she chooses to share. A few of my friends have been reluctant to ask for prayers because of their lack of religion or atheism.
What they don’t realize is that prayer doesn’t work that way. I can pray for anyone regardless of whether they are of the same faith, regardless of whether they share my beliefs. For me, prayer is an expression of hope for someone’s well being, for someone’s presence in my life, for someone’s spirits and happiness, for this world to be a better place. So, from now on, I will include you in my daily prayer. You matter to me. More importantly, you matter.