By Carrie Gress
For many years I carried a prayer book with me. I found it as a teenager among my father's things after he died and initially treasured it because it had been his. Later, when I started really using it, it soon took on a life of its own.
A few years after I started praying with it, I began to notice slight discoloration of the pages where daily my fingers held the book open. I was a poignant reminder of the time that had passed and that my dedication was leaving a mark, even if sometimes it left like the only effect my prayers were having were just dingy thumb prints.
Eventually, my prayer book became something a time capsule, a reminder of my life as a single women living in Europe, both Poland and Rome. It had inspiring quotes scrawled in it that I picked up along the way, business cards, a card for a favorite Roman restaurant, novena prayers and other devotionals tucked into it. I carried it with me everywhere, opening it daily in the different churches I frequented around the Eternal City - especially Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, Santa Maria in Trastevere, and, of course, St. Peters. It was humble and small, worn, and useful in ways I know I can scarcely imagine. Thumbing through it is a reminder of saints I was closest to during that season, and of the cold damp churches in the middle of Italian winters where I pulled my sleeves over my hands, with just enough of my fingers out to hold open the pages.
Recently, I've started to notice other people's prayer books - my own having finally fallen apart - the guts of it lost by a child who didn't know what he was playing with. Like mine, rarely are these books just a prayer book, but include Mass cards from the funerals of friends and loved ones and other devotional cards. They are worn, images rubbed off, pages dog eared or tattered. They are no longer objectively beautiful, but they carry a different kind of beauty.
Well-loved prayer book from a devoted soul at my parish.
The beauty they embody is not the flash of youth and freshness, but the witness of a life striving and thirsting for God. I see them in the hands of daily Mass goers who are there no matter what, through the days of dryness, frustrations, and temptation, through joys and triumphs, and even confusion and disappointment. The tattered pages testify to their perseverance even though they may feel like their prayers are falling upon deaf ears. It is like the worn marble steps, the Scala Sancta from the Via Crucis in Rome, sunken from centuries of pilgrims walking up the stairs on their knees, or the worn foot of St. Peter at St. Peter's, rubbed down from the touch of millions of pilgrims hands. It is the little things, done over and over, that have a lasting natural and supernatural effect. They are a sign of perseverance, faith, dedication, and love. But more than anything, they are a sign of hope, that even when it seems like nothing is happening beyond the wearing of pages, something is happening that will resonate into eternity.
I think it might be time for me to find a new one.