I suppose it's partly our own fault. We assume everyone has heard about us already. In a way, that's true. You'd be hard pressed to find people who have never heard of the Catholic Church. Yet whenever I write about Catholicism, I invariably get at least one comment that says, in essence: "I had no idea that (insert Catholic practice/belief here) had meaning for you."
One thing I think is misunderstood is formal prayer. Certainly, other sects memorize prayers too, but none seem to do it quite as much as we do. Most Catholics have memorized a very large number of them, sometimes in both Latin and their native tongue. Why? What is the point? Can't you just pray?
Well, of course you can just pray. Prayer is the raising of one's mind and heart to God - you can use whatever words you like or even none at all. The idea that God needs to hear your prayers in certain words or in a specific language is a bit silly. God doesn't need anything. So what is the point of formal prayer?
For me, formal prayer, especially the Rosary, is communication. It is not mindless repetition of words. The prayers, the beads, are secondary; they are a tool to help maintain focus on what is really important. It is not mechanical; the form gives structure to your prayer. It frees your mind to meditate. When your mind wanders, as it will, the murmured prayers, the beads in your hand, gently pull it back.
Formal prayer helps me to pray when I have no words. When I am lost, confused, or troubled, the Rosary is always there to lead me to Christ, to help me find answers to questions I cannot put into words. You can learn a lot from a daily Rosary. It can give balance to your life. In times of joy, we pray. In times of sorrow, we pray. We come to realize that there is only one constant in our lives: Jesus Christ.
My own Rosary is olive wood. It is nearly a hundred years old. It belonged to my grandfather. The beads are worn smooth, polished in a way that comes only from years of use. I have two others: one for each of my sons when they are old enough. I hope someday they will feel some of the connections I do whenever they pick it up: to family, to faith, to tradition, to hope, to charity, to love. That would be a good beginning.
Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, Ora pro nobis.