“Cling to the Rosary as the creeper clings to the tree, for without Our Lady we cannot stand.”St. Teresa of Calcutta
Ever since I became a Catholic twenty-eight years ago, I have known that the Rosary is a powerful prayer.
But it’s only been in recent years that I have truly appreciated its power. Before that, my efforts with the Rosary came in fits and starts.
I would often lose focus and become frustrated after miscounting the Hail Marys or forgetting which Mystery I was on. Finding fifteen to twenty minutes to pray the Rosary on top of my other prayers and spiritual commitments seemed daunting.
Inevitably, after starting a Rosary novena or making a promise to myself to say it regularly, my “Rosary habit” would lose steam and praying it would became a burden or a box to be checked off.
Then something changed for me.
The transformation from “checking off the Rosary box” to praying the Rosary with eagerness and longing didn’t come with dramatic fanfare, but with a still, small voice that—at first—I hardly noticed.
A number of years ago I read an article about Mother Teresa. In it was a picture of her in prayer, with rosary beads draped around the fingers of her folded, wrinkled hands. The article mentioned her dedication to the Rosary and how she often told her sisters to “keep the Rosary close to you always.”
I wondered about Mother Teresa’s fidelity to the Holy Rosary. I recall thinking—as I stared at her image—that she knew something I didn’t.
But the truth is that I knew a lot about the Rosary. I knew that at Fatima and Lourdes Our Lady had asked not just once but many times for us to pray the Rosary. I knew that Pope John Paul II, whom I admired greatly, had called the Rosary his favorite prayer. I also knew many friends who prayed the Rosary daily and were devoted to it.
Why wasn’t I?
My own experience with the Rosary was a fight with distractions, not the supernatural punch that I imagined it was for Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II, and so many of the saints who prayed it faithfully. Although we prayed it as a family as often as we could, I wanted to pass on to my children a true love for the Rosary, but I knew that meant I needed to love it first!
Keeping the image of Mother Teresa tucked away in my mind, I worked on praying the Rosary a little more earnestly. I started listening to an Audio Rosary which helped because a short scripture was read at the beginning of each Mystery and I could ponder it in a deeper way.
Nothing changed immediately.
Then, one day, while praying the Luminous Mysteries in the car, I was reminded of a recent incident and it occurred to me how much I suffered from the sin of pride. It was as if my mind opened up and I could see pridefulness in so many areas of my life. How had it gone so unnoticed by me before? Accompanied by this new view of myself came a strong desire to go to confession.
John Paul II said in his apostolic letter on the Rosary that, in praying the Holy Rosary, we come alongside Mary and she shows us her Son:
“With the Rosary, the Christian people sits at the school of Mary and is led to contemplate the beauty on the face of Christ and to experience the depths of his love. Through the Rosary the faithful receive abundant grace, as though from the very hands of the Mother of the Redeemer.”Rosarium Virginis Mariae
That day in the car, the burden of my pride filled me with sorrow and I saw my sinfulness for what it was.
Looking back now, I believe the prayers of the Rosary brought me face to face with myself. More importantly, with the face of Christ. What felt like a lack of holiness on my part was really an encounter with holiness.
There is a longstanding tradition of pairing each Mystery with a virtue and meditating on that virtue while we pray. Even if we aren’t familiar with those virtues or if we don’t intentionally meditate on them, we can still grow in virtue every time we pray the Rosary. And to my surprise, I learned later that one of the virtues paired with the Luminous mysteries is humility.
What a gift the Holy Rosary can be for us!
In his letter on the Rosary, Pope John Paul II addressed one of the mistakes we can make when we pray the Rosary: “If the repetition is considered superficially, there could be a temptation to see the Rosary as dry and boring.” Instead, he said, we should think of it as an “outpouring of love.” We should listen while we pray and not just recite the words. “It is not a matter of recalling information but of allowing God to speak.”
In the past, I realized, I recited the Rosary—I didn’t listen. I wasn’t allowing God to speak.
While the Rosary is a Marian prayer, it is always directed towards Christ. In the words of Pope John Paul II, “One thing is clear: although the repeated Hail Mary is addressed directly to Mary, it is to Jesus that the act of love is ultimately directed, with her and through her. The repetition is nourished by the desire to be conformed ever more completely to Christ, the true programme of the Christian life.”
After that day in the car, I began to say the Rosary differently.
I try to remember to ask God to help me to listen to what He wants to tell me. I pause after saying each Mystery to think about the face of Christ and to envision Him showing me the mystery. This simple, yet profound image in my mind has totally changed my understanding of the Rosary.
The struggles I mentioned earlier haven’t disappeared—I still deal with distractions—but instead of focusing on them I have decided not to worry about them.
St. Teresa of Avila said:
“It isn’t good to let our thoughts disturb us or worry us at all.” “St. Teresa of Avila
I was surprised to find out that many of my friends and colleagues had struggled with the Rosary at some point. And yet it shouldn’t come as a surprise. It is not uncommon to struggle with prayer.
Many saints have written about their own challenges with prayer, and yet the common thread among them is that they kept praying regardless of the challenges.
I am grateful that I persevered because now I love to pray the Rosary. The more I learn about the Rosary, the more I learn about Christ and His Mother. And the more I learn about myself.
As we grow in our relationship with Our Lord, like so many things in the adventure of the Christian life, we realize there is an inexhaustible treasure in the mysteries of the Holy Rosary. It is Christ who illuminates the hidden truths of our hearts, and in the Rosary we can ask Mary to show us what her Son wants us to see.
Let us follow in the example of St. Teresa of Calcutta, and always keep the Rosary close!