The Rosary

One of the prayer practices most associated with us Catholics is praying the Rosary. It was in the news recently when someone who doesn’t know anything about it called it “extremist.” Even if you don’t know anything else about Catholicism, you’re familiar with folks, especially old ladies, fingering that rope of beads as they mumble some prayers. That’s about all I knew about rosaries when I became Catholic in 1977. I was going to a Catholic college back then and as soon as I was baptized I ran out and bought one. My favorite professor was an old Dominican priest and he blessed it for me. I learned the prayers so I could say them from memory. The problem was, I very rarely did. I liked the idea of the Rosary but actually praying it kind of left me frustrated and a bit confused. Here’s what I mean.

For those of you who might not know, the Rosary is a series of prayers centered on the Our Father and the Hail Mary. There are five groups of small beads (the Hail Marys) that are separated by larger beads (the Our Fathers). Depending on the day of the week, you meditate on 5 different events in Jesus’ life while you pray the 5 decades of the Hail Marys. These are called “mysteries” and include things like the birth of Jesus, His crowning with thorns, and the Resurrection. To me, the combination of the Hail Marys and the life of Christ is like looking at Jesus through His mother’s eyes. It’s a beautiful way to meditate on everything that Christ has done for us. The Rosary is like giving Jesus and Mary a bouquet of beautiful prayers–roses from my heart–which is where it got its name. What a beautiful way to pray. But I couldn’t do it. I felt guilty because I just couldn’t make myself pray the “most Catholic” of all prayers. I love Jesus and I love His mother but the Rosary was always a chore. I was easily distracted. I couldn’t keep my mind and heart centered on the mysteries while I was also saying the prayers. My mind wandered. I fell asleep. I looked for excuses not to pray it. Eventually I just quit altogether. I was more comfortable reading Scripture and letting the Lord open my heart to inspire my prayers. Mostly I just learned how to talk with God. My prayer life was okay–not great–but okay. Years might go by before I’d try another Rosary and realize again that it just wasn’t for me.

God was patient and helped me to grow in faith. Over the years He led me to understand something most Christians know early on: prayer isn’t about warm fuzzy feelings. Prayer has very little to do with how I feel or how I’d like to feel. Prayer is how God molds our hearts so that we can love like He loves and forgive like He forgives. Prayer works on us like the potter works the clay. In some mysterious way prayer makes us more and more like Jesus. Do I understand how this happens? No. Was I created to understand this? Maybe in heaven but not now. And I’m perfectly okay with that. I’m no theologian. I’m just a little soul trying to follow Jesus. When I realized that, the Rosary suddenly opened up to me. Now when I pray it, I let Jesus do all the work and I just follow Him, holding His mother’s hand. I quit struggling and started cooperating and the graces I began to receive increased. And the greatest of these graces is humility.

When I pray the Rosary I let Jesus show me His life while His mother gently reminds me that I’m completely dependent on her Son for everything. I need this every day. And in ways I don’t understand, the Rosary works on my soul like no other prayer or devotion. I don’t know how God does it but then I don’t know how He made the moon and the stars, or parted the Red Sea, or transformed water into wine. I don’t understand how He can bring love out of hate or good out of evil. And I don’t have to understand my redemption to know that God loves me enough to send His only Son to die for me and save me from my sins. The Rosary is just another facet of the mystery of His love. When I pray the Rosary I’m participating in the redemption mystery. It’s simple and it’s beautiful and I have no idea what I’m doing. But I know the One Who does.

“The greatest method of praying is to pray the Rosary.”

–St. Francis de Sales


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