Editor’s note: In our online book club, we’re reading Jane Knuth’s The Prayer List…and Other True Stories of How Families Pray. Each Tuesday through August 7, 2018, we’ll bring you Book Club Bonus Days—sharing additional stories of family prayer, continuing the weekly conversation, and more. Find all the book club posts here.
My Uncle’s Song
“After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” (Matthew 26:30)
In the midst of anguish and faced with fear and uncertainty, Jesus and his disciples lifted their prayer in song. This intimate expression of prayer resonates well with my family of musicians. We must sing our prayers, especially when merely reciting words fails to fully express our emotions.
Following a sudden and unexpected illness, my beloved uncle lay at home dying. Our family gathered around his bedside, taking turns speaking quietly to him. When it became clear that death was imminent, his son began to hum a tune. We instantly recognized it as a hymn that my uncle, a faithful Catholic, had written as a young man. The lyrics formed a beautiful prayer that expressed his devotion to the Blessed Mother and his yearning for the Father to “lead us to Your heavenly home.” We all joined in, lifting our voices in song, pouring our emotions into each word, surrendering our sorrow to God.
It was during this special prayer experience that my uncle peacefully passed away. We sang for a few minutes more, allowing God to reach into our hearts and calm our anguish as he led my uncle to eternal life. My uncle’s song had accompanied him home.
Jayne Ragasa-Mondoy serves as Director of Religious Education for the Diocese of Honolulu. Her perspective of volunteer recruitment and management is shaped by her lengthy experience in working with and leading volunteers in diocesan and parish catechetical ministries, as a high school teacher and administrator, and as a governing board member for local Catholic and private schools and the National Conference for Catechetical Leaders (NCCL). She is the author of Cultivating Your Catechists, part of the Effective Catechetical Leader series.
Last summer we were invited by the Franciscan Sisters in Michigan to speak at a conference for special needs families. This is a subject near to our hearts, as we have a daughter with autism, and we enjoy sharing our family’s journey of faith. The night before the conference, the sisters invited us to join them at their convent for dinner and to sing vespers. We were familiar with convents as Mercedes’s aunt was a Sister of Saint Joseph for over 60 years. We had visited her convent many times with our children. We had never participated in vespers, however. So when we were asked by our hosts if we’d like to pray with them, we agreed. It was a beautiful experience to hear the sisters harmonizing as they sang.
Several of the sisters were music therapists and had beautiful voices. Their ministry involved working with children with autism by using music as a means to encourage communication and expression. This made the experience particularly meaningful to us. We were nervous as our daughter Danielle could be restless and noisy at times. We had to step out in the hallway briefly with her but were able to return before the end. It was very moving to kneel in the small chapel and raise our hearts and minds to God along with these women who had dedicated their lives to him.
David and Mercedes Rizzo write and speak from a faith perspective as parents of a child with autism. Inspired by their daughter, they developed the Adaptive First Eucharist Preparation Kit. Together they are the authors of Spiritually Able: A Parent’s Guide to Teaching the Faith to Children with Special Needs. In addition, David is the author of Faith, Family, and Children with Special Needs. David has a master’s degree in physical therapy and Mercedes has a master’s degree in education. They live with their four children in New Jersey.
If you missed it, read Jane’s reflection on chapters 22–24 of The Prayer List, and add your thoughts to the discussion. #prayerlist