Following is my April column that appears in this issue of the print edition of The Catholic Post.
My friend Michele is a busy mom of many kids, who in the last year has worked very hard to take better care of herself through diet, exercise, and other lifestyle changes. One of her starting points was the “Whole 30,” a month-long eating plan of whole foods that forbids sugar, dairy, grains, among other restrictions. “Challenging” would be an understatement for this.
At the beginning of her journey, when she wanted to cave on her resolutions, Michele repeated to herself, “I am worth it and I deserve to be healthy and strong.” She said this helped her get over some of the bumps in the road, and saying that to herself has helped her stick with healthy habits for many months.
Researchers call this a “virtuous circle,” where one choice to do the right thing helps one make better choices in other areas. These choices eventually become good habits, a good routine, and a healthy pattern. And a brief affirmation like, “I deserve to be healthy and strong,” can aid greatly in momentum to keep that virtuous cycle going, and help a person succeed in big goals.
I had Michele and this “virtuous cycle” when I read Jared Dees’ new book, Praying the Angelus: Find Joy, Peace, and Purpose in Everyday Life.
Yet at first, I admit I was skeptical. How does one write a full-length book about the Angelus— that humble prayer that combines short Scripture/prayer statements on the Incarnation and Redemption (“The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary…”) with three repeated Hail Marys, and a closing prayer? The simple prayer that takes about a minute to say? The devotion that Christians have been saying for centuries at 6 a.m., noon, and 6 p.m. each day? An entire book?
The answer? Absolutely, yes.
Praying the Angelus is an instructive book about the origin and importance of this modest prayer, and how it can be transformative in shaping a “virtuous cycle” that can promote spiritual growth and an openness to grace.
Dees, a religious educator and founder of TheReligionTeacher.com website, begins Praying the Angelus with a short preface on how like many Catholics, he was ignorant of the Angelus, but learned about it when he was a young teacher from a newly ordained priest. The priest explained how the Angelus was begun in the Middle Ages as a way for laypeople to share in the regular structured prayer life of religious in monasteries, whose lives revolve around times of prayer.
After listing the prayers and order of the prayers of the Angelus and the Regina Caeli (the substitute for the Angelus during Easter season), the book is divided into three sections.
First is “An Invitation,” with an explanation of the origin of and how to pray the Angelus, what to expect, and why it’s important to pray in today’s hectic world.
The second section is “Angelus Meditations,” contains a short and incisive meditation and prayer for each line of the Angelus. The third section echoes that in “Regina Caeli Meditations,” with prayers and reflections for each line of that prayer.
I’ve prayed the Angelus and the Regina Caeli for years, but very inconsistently. Reading this book helped me re-set my phone alarms to remind me of the Angelus, and to make an effort to focus on the prayers, and encourage those who are around me to do the same.
Contemporary Christianity, including Catholicism, has tended more towards spontaneous prayers and praise in recent years. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But Dees makes a provocative but compelling case that structured devotional prayer is vital to a healthy prayer life.
To me, the nucleus of the book is contained in the “lessons” Dees shares of the Angelus & Regina Caeli, such as “We are called to be humble,” Repetitive prayer is more powerful than spontaneous prayer,” and “Time is a gift from God.”
Among these lessons, “time is a gift from God” is one of the most-needed in our current culture. An openness to “Angelus moments” is a positive “side effect” of praying the Angelus, Dees writes.
He makes the case of how stopping at “inconvenient times” regularly to pray the Angelus primes a person to be available for “Angelus moments,” a receptivity to others and situations in which a person can be a conduit of God’s grace. As Dees writes, “Praying the Angelus trains you to welcome interruptions as a possible gift from God.”
Reading Praying the Angelus and putting it into practice can help readers to learn the prayers of the Angelus and their beautiful message.
“I did not take up the Angelus hoping to solve a specific problem or curb some specific bad habit,” Dees writes. “But through my prayer my habits did change, and the sinful temptations and tendencies in my life were made plain. Here’s why: when you recite these same holy words again and again, they sink into your psyche.”