Lisa Hendey shares a conversation with Robert M. Hamma, author of the newly released book Bless Us, O Lord: A Family Treasury of Mealtime Prayers.
In Bless Us, O Lord, author Robert M. Hamma brings his warm and gentle spirit to original prayers, which he combines with traditional blessings to offer an open-and-go resource for parents and caregivers. He provides the perfect words for every occasion — from observing saint feast days and liturgical seasons to celebrating a child’s birthday and remembering the life of a loved one.
Bob, congratulations on the publication of Bless Us, O Lord. Would you please briefly introduce yourself and your family?
Thanks so much, Lisa. I so appreciate your interest in the book! I’ve been involved in Catholic publishing through most of my professional life as an editor and an author. I recently retired as editorial director at Ave Maria Press. My wife Kathy and I met in graduate school at Notre Dame and returned to South Bend when I began work at Ave Maria Press in 1991. We have three grown children and two young grandsons. Like many families, we are in different parts of the country—from Indiana to Minnesota to Colorado. But we stay close and see each other as much as we can.
I had the great pleasure of working alongside you at Ave Maria Press. But long before I knew you as a colleague, I was a fan of your writing! I’m curious about how this book happened at this point in your career. What inspired you to write it?
Back in 1995 I authored a smaller book of meal blessings called Let’s Say Grace. The book was pretty popular, but eventually it went out of print. Since then friends and family, as well as people I would meet at conferences, have asked about the book and wanted to get copies. So when I retired from Ave and had the time to work on it, I decided to do a new and much expanded book of prayers for families to use at mealtimes. But there was another more important reason as well — the arrival of our grandsons who are now one and three years old. I wanted them to grow up with this new book on their family table. Of course, we’re hoping that our family keeps growing and there are more grandchildren who will know and love this book too!
One interesting byproduct of the Covid-19 pandemic is that it has in so many ways drawn us inward, into the heart of our homes. In that respect, your book feels like the perfect resource for these times. Although I’m sure you couldn’t have anticipated this, how do you feel that family prayer can bless and support us during such challenging times?
One of the challenges that families normally face is that everyone is so busy that it is hard to have a family meal. But now everything has stopped — there are no games, recitals, birthday parties or anything else to go to. We are all home. So sitting down together is much easier. But what we bring to the table is different these days. The excitement about everything going on in the family is muted and there is the worry and tension of dealing with the virus and living so close together all the time.
That’s why I think pausing to pray together at table is more important than ever. It’s an opportunity to place all the challenges we are facing in God’s hands. It is likewise a moment to remember that we are not alone in this — everyone is facing Covid-19 together and there are many who are suffering much more than we are. Bringing their suffering to mind and praying for them helps us to keep perspective.
One of my hopes for the book is that it will help families see the relationship between their family meal and the Eucharist. When we acknowledge that Jesus is with us at our table and give him thanks for al we have we unite ourselves with the table of the altar. Our thanksgiving is part of the great Eucharistic thanksgiving. Today, when so many of us are not able to take part personally in the celebration of the Eucharist, we do so virtually. Making the connection between our family’s meal and the Eucharist is real way to participate in the great Eucharistic prayer of the whole Church. It can both deepen our appreciation and increase or longing for the Eucharist.
I’m loving the multi-cultural aspects of the book! Why does introducing ourselves to diverse prayer traditions bless our families?
The Church in the United States is wonderfully diverse. Around the country, one can find the Mass celebrated in so many languages. Of course, the main language that the Mass is celebrated in, other than English, is Spanish. I wanted to include some prayers and traditions like the Day of the Dead or Posadas for Hispanic Catholic families who want to keep them alive in their families. I offered the descriptions and prayers in both English and Spanish so that everybody could take part in them.
As I was choosing which saints to include in the book, I decided to pay special attention to both saints from the Americas and recently canonized saints. One of the features of the effort during St. John Paul II’s papacy to canonize many new saints was his desire to bring saints from many countries to the attention of the universal Church. Still, many of these new saints are not well known in our country and they were not all familiar to me. It was a delight for me to learn about saints like St. Andrew Dung Lac, St. Joseph Zhang Dapeng, St. Lorenzo Ruiz, and Bl. Rani Mariam of Vattalil. So many of these saints have truly heroic stories that will appeal especially to children. In a few instances I decided to include a prayer in the language of the saint: Vietnamese for St. Andrew Dung-Lac and Korean for St. Andrew Kim Taegon. There are so many Vietnamese and Korean Catholics in the U.S and I wanted to offer them prayers for their family meal in their native language.
Children have a natural curiosity about customs and traditions that are different from their own and I wanted to encourage families to foster that as part of our Catholic heritage. We are a part of the universal Church!
Do you have a favorite prayer in the book? Why is it compelling for you?
My favorite is the birthday prayer. It begins with thanking God for the birthday person. Then everyone at the table takes a turn to name a special quality of the person that they are thankful for. Everyone gets a chance to say something and it brings smiles all around. Of course, we all like to hear nice things about ourselves. But what is just as important is actually saying aloud what you are grateful for about a family member because we often neglect to say loving things to one another. This has become a wonderful tradition in our family. We do this when we celebrate a friend’s birthday as well. Our adult children have started doing this with their own adult friends as well.
What did you learn about your own spiritual life during the writing of this book?
Gratitude is such an important part of our spiritual lives and writing this book helped me renew my own sense of gratitude for all I have been blessed with. Gratitude directs our attention outward, off of ourselves and onto God and others. Gratitude helps me remember that whatever I have or may have accomplished is God’s gift to me, not to be held onto, but to be shared with others. Gratitude is also a wonderful antidote to resentment. It silences the voice inside me that says, “That’s not fair!” or “What about me?” Gratitude also raises my awareness of others who are in need. I tried to make that a feature of every grace in the book.
To give thanks and to remember: these are the central actions of the Eucharist. When I try to live each day with gratitude and remember others who are in need, I join myself to the eucharistic life of the Church—the ever-growing story of grace active in our world as we remember Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection. It continues to unfold in our lives and the lives of the poor and suffering.
What else would you like my readers to know about Bless Us, O Lord: A Family Treasury of Mealtime Prayers?
I was recently interviewed on the morning show of Catholic Community Radio in Louisiana. One of the hosts said something funny that I had never heard before — ”No rapper can rap faster than a Catholic can say, ‘Bless us, O Lord and these thy gifts. ...’” So the last thing I’d say is, take a moment, whether you say the traditional grace or use this book. Take a moment—long enough to slow everyone down, but not so long that the food gets cold — to remember how incredibly blessed you are and to think about someone in need.
Find Bless Us, O Lord: A Family Treasury of Mealtime Prayers at Ave Maria Press, Amazon, or your local retailer.
A question for you: Does your family have any favorite mealtime prayer traditions?
Robert M. Hamma is the author of nine books and numerous articles on spirituality and family life. He retired in 2016 as vice president and editorial director at Ave Maria Press. Hamma earned a master’s degree in theology from the University of Notre Dame and a master of divinity degree from Immaculate Conception Seminary. He previously worked as an editor at Paulist Press, a hospital chaplain, and in parish ministry. He and his wife, Kathryn Schneider, have three grown children and two grandsons, They live in Granger, Indiana.
Editor's note: Here at CatholicMom.com, we're blessed to share Mr. Hamma's weekly Sunday Mealtime Prayer on our social media and Sunday Gospel Activities page, where you'll find a printable version of the weekly prayer.
Copyright 2020 Lisa M. Hendey
Image copyright 2020 Lisa M. Hendey
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About the Author
Lisa M. Hendey is the founder of CatholicMom.com, a bestselling author and an international speaker. A frequent radio and television guest, Hendey travels internationally giving workshops on faith, family, and communications. Visit Lisa at LisaHendey.com or on social media @LisaHendey for information on her speaking schedule or to invite her to visit your group, parish, school or organization. Visit Lisa's author page on Amazon.com.