It is barely dawn and I tiptoe around so as not to wake anyone. Tying up the laces of my running shoes, I grab my jacket and head out the door. As my eyes adjust to the early morning darkness, my hand reaches into my pocket where my fingers feel the familiar smooth beads of my rosary. There is an almost instant response somewhere deep inside me, and even before I begin the prayers, a subtle sense of calm fills my soul.
I love to pray the Rosary in the quiet hours of the morning when it is still dark outside. The rhythm of the prayers in my head is echoed by the sound of my feet as I run, and the prayers anchor me for the day ahead.
One of the beautiful things about our life of prayer is that it is a very personal thing. The Rosary, as Fr. John Eckert so wonderfully describes in the Good Catholic series Full of Grace, is like a tether that keeps us connected to God. But each of us holds on to that tether in our own way. And depending on the ebbs and flows of life, how and when we pray the Rosary might change for us over time.
There is more to the Holy Rosary than meets the eye. If I were to show a rosary to someone who is unfamiliar with it, they might see only a bunch of tiny beads with a crucifix on one end. Yet many saints have said that this unique method of prayer articulates our Faith far better than any words ever could. St. Louis de Montfort said in The Secret of the Rosary, “The Rosary is a veritable school of Christian life. It is a reminder of the Gospels, a guidebook to virtue and a source of grace…Far from being insignificant, the Rosary is a priceless gift inspired by God.”
Like a seed that must be watered and cared for, though, all devotion must be nurtured. In my own life, devotion to the Rosary developed slowly. In fact, it took a long time to begin at all, and when it did, it was with fits and starts. Yet now I love meditating on the Mysteries of the Rosary. And there are lots of rosaries in our home—in the drawer in the kitchen, on the mantel of the fireplace, on the bedside table, on a shelf in the “library,” in my purse, and in the car.
It might appear that I pray the Rosary everywhere I go. I don’t. But everywhere I go, the prayers of the Rosary go with me.
In fact, that’s one of the little surprises I have discovered about the Holy Rosary. When I see it hanging from the rearview mirror, or feel it at the bottom of my purse as I search for my keys, or just play with it inside my pocket while in the midst of a conversation with a friend, it’s as if I am secretly transported to the presence of God. St. Thérèse of Lisieux once said that we should often “turn a simple look toward heaven,” and the Rosary helps me to do this. Even if I’m not praying it at the moment, just seeing a rosary or feeling the beads reminds me how fruitful it is to contemplate the Mysteries of Christ’s life.
It is true that, like a faithful companion, the Rosary brings us ever closer to Christ. Pope St. John Paul II called the Rosary a compendium of the Gospel, because “it conveys the depth of the Gospel message in its entirety.” Meditating on these Mysteries “produces countless happy effects in the soul,” he said.
In fact, one of the greatest motives we have for praying the Rosary faithfully is to enter into that humility which Our Lord Himself asks us to embrace in the Gospel of Matthew: “Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls” (Matthew 11:29-30).
The virtue of humility was most perfectly exemplified by Christ, who became man and “emptied Himself” for love of us. Mary, too, is a reflection of this humility.
The Rosary is an aid for growing in humility and we can ask Our Lord to help us attain this virtue while we pray.
I think one of the reasons praying the Rosary was difficult for me at first was that I felt guilty about not praying it. As a convert to Catholicism, I had not grown up with the Rosary and it was unfamiliar. Many of my Catholic friends had a devotion to Mary and encouraged me to pray the Rosary. But it was awkward and I often felt like I was doing it wrong. Was I supposed to focus on the intentions or on the Mysteries? Why did I so easily become distracted while praying the Rosary? It seemed daunting to find the fifteen or twenty minutes needed to pray the Rosary on top of my other spiritual commitments. I would often miscount the Hail Marys or forget which Mystery I was on, and it felt more like a duty and less like a prayer. I made promises to myself to say it regularly, but inevitably my “rosary habit” would lose steam and it would become a burden or a box to be checked off.
I shared my frustrations with a dear and holy friend of mine. This friend had a longtime devotion to the Rosary. Her advice was interesting. She told me that I should put aside praying the Rosary for a while, suggesting that I find other prayers that might come more naturally and to ask the Blessed Mother to help me find those prayers. “Let God lead you in prayer,” my friend said. While I was grateful for her sincere encouragement, I didn’t know exactly what she meant. But I did set aside the Rosary and began to focus on other means of prayer. I tried to remember to ask the Blessed Mother for help in prayer and to be open to where God was leading me.
I can’t recall when it happened or that it was any dramatic moment, but at some point, I began to pray the Rosary again.
Then, one day, while praying the Luminous Mysteries in the car, the Holy Spirit reminded me of a recent incident and showed me how much I suffered from the sin of pride. All of a sudden, I could recognize pridefulness in many areas of my life. How had I not noticed it before? This new self-knowledge prompted in me a strong desire to go to confession.
Looking back now, I believe that the prayers of the Rosary brought me face-to-face with myself and—more importantly—with the face of Christ.
That day in the car, I experienced what St. John Paul II described in his apostolic letter on the Rosary. He said 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.St. John Paul II, Rosarium Virginis Mariae
St. John Paul II went on to address one of the mistakes we 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.”
That was my problem. In the past, I recited the Rosary. I didn’t listen. I wasn’t allowing God to speak.
Pope St. John Paul II, who loved the Rosary so much, said that when we make it a habit to pray the Rosary, we will be conformed ever more closely to Christ until we attain true holiness. He encouraged us to pass along to others a love for the Rosary because “the prayer of the Rosary will bring the world, with the smile of the Virgin Mother, the tender tones of God’s love.”
I have discovered this truth. This is why, even if I am not praying the Rosary but simply touch the beads in my pocket or see the rosary hanging from the rearview mirror, I sense somewhere deep within me a sense of calm and of peace.
The Rosary is a special and uniquely Marian prayer and therefore it is a way to draw close to Our Lord through Our Lady. She is the perfect guide and wants nothing more than for us to come to her Son with everything.
By its nature, the recitation of the Rosary calls for a quiet rhythm and a lingering pace, helping the individual to meditate on the mysteries of the Lord’s life as seen through the eyes of her, who was closest to the Lord. In this way the unfathomable riches of these mysteries are unfolded…Pope Paul VI, Marialis Cultus
Let us pray during this month of October (and always) that we might consider the Holy Rosary a faithful companion and keep it close so that it might produce happy effects in our soul!
Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us!