In a small European town most of the elderly people would bless themselves as they passed a certain spot on a wall that bordered one of the streets of the village. When asked why they did this they could give no reason except that their parents and relatives used to do this and taught them as children to do it too. One day workers were cleaning the wall. As they scraped, they found a mural of Mary and the child Jesus which had gradually been covered over by the dirt and grime of many generations. People passing that spot had once blessed themselves for a reason. Over the years people did it blindly without thinking. It is easy for something similar to happen with us and our spiritual practices. For example, when we come into the church and by habit bless ourselves with the holy water in the baptismal font, do we do so thinking of what we have to do after Mass rather than reflecting on and recommitting ourselves to the meaning of the great gift of our baptism? When we genuflect before entering our pew, do we wonder who we are sitting next to rather than honoring the presence of our Lord in the Eucharist? When we answer the responses at Mass do we give attention to what they mean? Does “Amen” really mean that we are saying “yes” to the content of the prayer that has been offered? Have we even listened to the prayer? In the scriptures God says, “This people worships me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me”. We must strive to not let these words be true of us. As the early Christian British author John Bunyan said, “In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart”.
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