As I walked from booth to booth collecting my swag at a Catholic Conference, I got a text message from my confirmand, “Have you ever heard of the Tradition of the Seven Sorrows?” “No,” I replied, picking up still more holy cards. I held them in my hand as I entered the makeshift chapel in one of the hotel conference rooms where Adoration was occurring. Kneeling in front of the Blessed Sacrament I tried to remember the names of each of my nearly 100 students, recalling them row by row and presenting them each before the Lord by name.
As I left the chapel/conference room I flipped through the holy cards I had been gathering indiscriminately. There were three about praying the rosary in the tradition of the Seven Sorrows! That’s weird, I thought to myself, in 40 years as a Catholic I have never heard of the Seven Sorrows and suddenly they appear in front of me multiple times within minutes. Just then a nun who had followed me out of Adoration came almost running up behind me. She touched me gently on the elbow and I turned toward her. “I know this is going to sound weird,” she said looking almost as confused as I was, “but do you pray the rosary?” I couldn’t help but chuckle, looking nervously at the holy cards in my hands. The text message prompt from my confirmand, the instructional cards, and now a nun pursuing me and asking me to pray the rosary, all within a matter of minutes! I mumbled something like, “Yes…occasionally… but I’m getting the distinct impression I should do it more often…”
One weekend not long after that I prayed a rosary for a student who was giving me a particularly hard time in class. She challenged almost everything I said with a vehemence that unnerved me, causing me to question what I knew to be true and making it difficult for me to teach. “I have NEVER heard THAT before” she exclaimed, clearly offended when I mentioned we are adopted children of God…
The Monday morning after I prayed the rosary for her, I sat alone in my classroom preparing for the day, when there was a knock on the door. “Come in,” I said. My face must have fallen when I saw her coming toward me across the threshold. Not on a Monday morning! “Can I talk to you?,” she asked sweetly. Her voice sounded so different, almost like an entirely different person. “Of course, “ I said motioning for her to take a seat. “I’m sorry,” she said before she was settled in the chair, “I know I’ve been giving you a hard time and you don’t deserve it.”
If my face hadn’t fallen when she walked in the room, my chin was officially on the floor now. What’s going on here? Well apparently she had a profound spiritual experience over the weekend. She passed out, “slayed by the Spirit” as they say in the South. She described coming to and knowing that her life had to change: the people she was hanging around, the things she was doing. She spoke with all of the conviction of an alcoholic on her first day of sobriety and I hoped the habits wouldn’t be too hard to overcome. But one thing I knew for certain, I would be starting my own habit: praying the rosary regularly, especially for my students.
I continue to grow in the belief that other than the Mass, it is the most powerful prayer I participate in, a spiritual and Scriptural sword that slays the enemy. I confess to struggling with the discipline of it, often forcing myself to focus with every fiber of my being. Sometimes, when I can’t seem to pray, I settle for simply clutching one in my hands. I keep several rosaries on my nightstand and often it takes every ounce of my strength just to reach out and grab one. Once I have it in my hands I cling to it like a spiritual lifeline.
Here are a few misconceptions that keep many people from reaching for this powerful prayer:
1. It is a prayer about Mary.
Nothing about Mary is about Mary. Everything about her is about bringing Jesus to us at very real sacrifice to her. From the time he was an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes to the time she cradled his lifeless body in her arms she brings Him to us. With all of the awe, joy and love inspired by embracing a newborn, to all of the extreme agony involved in grabbling with the death of a child, she longs for us to love him like she does. Behold my son, she begs us.
The rosary is a Scriptural and meditative prayer squarely centered on the events of Jesus’ life. From the Joyful Mysteries involving the God of the universe entering His creation in the flesh, enthroned within Mary’s most holy womb, to the Sorrowful Mysteries of watching Him innocently executed as a common criminal, she bears him into being in our lives. Look at Him, she says to us, my beautiful baby, my suffering son. Hold Him in your heart and share my mother’s love for Him.
No, the rosary is most certainly not a prayer about Mary.
2. You can love Mary too much.
What a warped and worldly view of love. As though it is finite, and in giving some away we might somehow have less to offer others. UnReality. The truth is that love begets love. When we love Mary we are loving Jesus. Mary magnifies Him for mere humans. She gives God flesh for us. “Don’t worry about loving Mary”, St. Louis de Montfort says, “you can never love her more than Jesus does.” Stop the silliness already and embrace the spiritual Mother Jesus left for us from the cross: “Behold your mother,” he says to us. To deny her is to deny Him.
3. Loving and praying to Mary is idol worship and breaks the First Commandment.
Let’s be clear here: there is only one God, One Supreme Good around which we must order our lives. There are SO many things that threaten to disrupt this order but Mary is not one of them. To be fair, I understand the confusion. If you were to come to my home you would find pictures and statues of Mary and rosaries in almost every room. I’m sure it discomfits my Protestant friends. But if you are looking, you will also find Jesus along with her. You cannot separate a mother from her child.
In addition to all things Marian there are many crucifixes, crosses and Scripture quotes in my home, not to mention a veritable library of books on faith and religion. Mary and Jesus are not in competition with one another. That’s not how love works. I need not tally up the references to each and declare the winner of my heart. Mary and Jesus are in complete SUPPORT of one another. Love for one necessitates and begets love for the other.
The Catholic Church does not worship Mary. We honor her. Why? Quite simply because God did--when he chose her from among all the women in the history of the universe to be the mother of his only Begotten Son. She is the first and model disciple, the first person in human history to say yes to Jesus. Loving and honoring her is always based on her relationship to Jesus.
“Do whatever he tells you,” Mary instructs us in order that the miracles might begin to flow (John 2:5). What are we doing when we recite the rosary? In addition to meditating on the mysteries of Jesus’ life we are reciting Scripture. Scripture from the angel Gabriel’s words at the Annunciation: “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed are though among women” (Luke 1:28). Scripture from the visitation of Mary to Elizabeth: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, Blessed are though among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus” (Luke 1:42). And as far as prayer is concerned, do we not ask others to pray for us? Why on earth would we not ask Jesus’ mother? “Holy Mary, Mother of God, Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.” Of course we can go directly to God in prayer, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t ask others to pray also! Reject the false “either/or” dichotomy that is of the devil and embrace the abundant life of a “both/and” existence. “This is how you should pray,” Jesus taught us (Matthew 6:9), “Our Father who art in heaven...” These are the words of the rosary. God’s words.
I sincerely hope this clears up some of the confusion about Mary and the rosary. It is so sad that the very gifts God has given us to draw us closer to Him are so successfully used by the enemy of all that is good in an attempt to divide us. With all of the things that threaten the Christian Church today, we are the Body of Christ and we need Mary and the rosary now more than ever to help us bring Jesus to others. It’s what she does.
Can I get an Amen and Alleluia?