‘Praying Together, That’s How We Start’
By Ma. Milagros T. Dumdum
Ma. Milagros Teleron Dumdum is a mother, poet, insurance underwriter, teacher, and wife of Cebu RTC Judge Simeon ‘Jun’ Dumdum. This is a slightly revised version of a talk given to students, teachers and families who gathered on 21 January 2003 at the University of Southern Philippines, Cebu, for a prayer vigil for the success of the Fourth World Meeting of Families in Manila.
Last Sunday, the day of the Sinulog, I was awakened by words quoted by a bishop in his homily at a Mass on television: ‘I assure you that unless you become like little children, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.’
Like any family, we pray together -- we say grace before and after meals, we pray the Rosary daily if possible, and occasionally Night Prayer (Compline) of the Liturgy of the Hours. We encourage praising and thanksgiving at every opportunity. We endorse spontaneous prayer, following our example. Usahay magkayagaw. The prayer becomes rambling, as any real conversation, even conversation with God, often does.
We, of course, know that the family is a little church, a domestic church. As such, the family must be a community of prayer. Prayer requires the values of children, and it is here that the Gospel of last Sunday’s Mass has a bearing: ‘Unless you become like little children, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.’ (Matthew 18:1-5)
Prayer springs from a sense of littleness, of our being children. It is as children that we should pray, for did not the Lord teach us to address God as our Father?
This being children in a good sense -- of being gentle, kind and giving, of dependence on each other, of compassion -- is what constitutes the Christian family. Jesus Himself told us to be bold like children, by asking: ‘Ask and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; know and it will be opened to you.’
What happens when we pray? And what happens when we pray as a family?
When I was in high school, I used to kneel down to pray at bedtime, to ask the Lord to protect me and my family, to help me get good grades, and to see me through in all my struggles. To excel was then my main concern, and in this I felt I needed God’s help. When I prayed everything felt light and easy, and it seemed that I was floating like a ball on a mountain stream. It is true that in prayer one gets to know the Author of all things, who assures us who are weighed down by daily living: ‘My yoke is sweet, and my burden light.’
Prayer has been essential to my life. I remember what a writer said: ‘The right relation between prayer and conduct is not that conduct is supremely important and prayer may help it; but that prayer is supremely important and conduct tests it.’
To live is Christ, St Paul said. This is the goal that we strive for in our family -- to live the life of Christ in its fullness in the home and the world outside. We hope to accomplish this by constant prayer, by reading the Bible, and of course by availing ourselves of the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist. Life’s voyage is a voyage of faith, a voyage in which we seek the help of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the model of all those who believe, a devotion to whom we strive to instill in our children.
Gingging Dumdum, her husband Jun and their daughter Yeni
In the address to the Third Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Family on 13 December 1985 His Holiness John Paul II said that the family is one of the specific areas in which it is up to the laity to fill society with the Spirit of Christ.
Not only is the family the basic ‘cell’ of society, it has also its own ‘subjectivity,’ its interior life. Our family is unique, as every family is, and our subjectivity, our interior life, finds affirmation, and draws grace from the well of the Holy Spirit, in prayer.
I discovered from the writings of our daughter who died in 1997, a confirmation of the family’s influence on her, in a piece she wrote on the occasion of a school recollection, entitled, ‘Giving the Lord Space on a Busy Day’: ‘As I get older, I try to discern more or myself, and it is through other people, especially those who are my constant companions, that I am able to unravel who I am and who I am not. I realize that my family has been and will be the second most precious gift the Lord has given to me, next to my life. I have learned to value thanksgiving more especially as I am blessed with loved ones and with graces that will help me live a fuller life with God . . .’
(Simone was 18 when she died in a sea-accident together with six other relatives. A writer-priest likened her short and full life to a beautiful haiku poem. Always a dutiful daughter and an honor student excelling as well as in extracurricular activities of her school such as writing, debating, and theatre, she made prayer central in the details of her day-to-day life. Had she lived to this day, she would be 26 and an architect.)
Indeed, it is in and with the family that children learn how to get strength from prayer and the guidance of the Holy Spirit as they turn into mature Christians, just as it is in and with the family that parents find their burdens lifted and their days lightened by prayer, as they grow in the joy and wisdom of faithfully living the life of Christ.
Thanks to my spouse and children, who have journeyed with me, my sense of gratitude for my life and everything that has happened has never been so marked as now.
One quiet windy Saturday at home, just seated at our terrace, I watched the leaves flutter. They brought me childhood memories of leaves moved by a gentle wind at the piano house years ago -- and I prayed, ‘Lord, how indeed you have taken care of me and my family. Sanctify every moment now, such that every decision I make comes from you and is blessed by you. Give me the strength to do your will. Perfect my work as wife, mother, daughter, worker, friend, guide, your servant in this wondrous gift of family and the bigger community of your Mystical Body. Amen.’