In this Random Nun Clip, a listener wonders if saying the same memorized prayers can turn you into a prayer robot. Hear the full Ask Sister episode AS214 at aNunsLife.org.
Sister Mindy Welding, IHM, grew up in Pittsburgh, Penn., and is a member of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) of Scranton, Penn. Sister Mindy is the Vocation Director for her congregation and assists the Diocese of Scranton vocation efforts. She is also a spiritual director. She previously served as a religion teacher, Director of Religious Formation, Pastoral Associate and a Campus Minister. Sister Mindy loves music, and in addition to playing the guitar she is learning the mandolin. She also enjoys kayaking, creating art, and visiting with family and friends.
SISTER MAXINE: Our first question today comes in from Mary, and Mary asks: “Why do Catholics use the same memorized prayers all the time? It would seem like the prayers would get so familiar that after a few years, they’d become routine and lose their feeling. By using the same prayers, isn’t that like saying the same thing to God over and over and over?” Mary, thank you so much for your question. I actually hear a couple of issues in Mary’s question. One is about saying the same prayers over and over—like, could you become a prayer robot and just lose your feeling and just keep going, no matter how you feel about it? The other is, for the memorized prayer piece of this—Mary talks about memorized prayers—we do have some prayers in the church that are repeated—in the Catholic Church. I don’t think every faith tradition has that, other than maybe the Our Father, for example. Our liturgy, we say a lot of the same prayers. Some of devotional prayers—the Hail Mary, the Memorare—are like that. For you, Sister Mindy, what do you think about the whole memorized prayer thing—and have you ever become a prayer robot? (laughter) You look real to me. (laughter) You don’t look a prayer robot.
SISTER MINDY: (laughter) I think robot prayers can become something in our life that either we do by fault or we do because we need them. There’s a line in scripture that “Often we do not know how to pray and so the spirit groans within us.” Sometimes we need those rote prayers because we don’t know how to pray. I remember when my mother died, I did not know how to pray. The rosary became very important to me because I couldn’t do anything else. Even in the plane yesterday I was praying the rosary. I thought, “Wow, where did that come from?”
SISTER MAXINE: Was it a rough plane ride?
SISTER MINDY: It was a little! It was a little bumpy! (laughter) It was! So out comes the rosary. It can be a real comfort. My grandmother prayed the rosary every afternoon. I remember her doing that. It can be a real comfort, but we can also get into that whole, “I just need to get a rosary in. I just need to say my prayers.” So we do become like robots. So what do the words mean for us? Can we say one Hail Mary and really pray it? It’s one type of prayer that we have within the church. There are so many. Another thing that I’d like to just share with our listeners, is that our early desert mothers and fathers, our early mystics of the church, taught us how to pray mantras, and that has continued in the Eastern church. Very, very important, in order to reach contemplation. So what happens when we repeat something is that we’re not concentrated on self, we’re not concentrating on the words, but we are going deeper into ourselves in order to lift ourselves, our hearts, to God.
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This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.