As a cradle Catholic, the rosary has been central to our prayer life as a family. When we visited our extended family in India, every night, we came together to pray the rosary. When we lived in Saudi and drove through the desert – or in Alberta, and visited the Rockies – we said the rosary in the car.
This early formation has been so indelible for me, that like all good cradle Catholics, I can say the rosary in my sleep – and have done so, on many occasions. I can even say the rosary at record speeds – up to a point that it is rather unintelligible in sound. So intently speedy are we in reciting the rosary – I believe 15 minutes is the record for the full rosary circuit, which is quickly becoming the average time – that I sincerely hope that God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and Mother Mary have supersonic hearing.
It bothers me when I say the rosary out of rote. I keep hearing about the power of the rosary, and yet it has seemed to be the least effective instrument for deepening my interior life and my relationship with Jesus, and His Mother. It feels like the chains of lethargy and indifference to God keep distracting me from appreciating Him. And the rosary – which can be repeated with a monotonous and ambivalent speed – further binds me in being rather insincere when reciting this particular prayer devotion.
And yet – I know that the Saints were not wrong in saying the Rosary is powerful. I know that Mother Mary would not have offered us this prayer unless it was to bring us closer to Her Son. I want to believe the Marian apparitions in Lourdes and Fatima – to pray the rosary has a spiritual power that can heal the interior dislocation we feel when we are separated from God. Saying the rosary for others, particularly when we see them struggle with their own battles, can heal their interior dislocation as well. When everything seems hopeless, we can at least turn to the rosary as our weapon against giving into despair.
Someone once gave me the analogy that to bear the spiritual fruits of saying the rosary is like bearing the fruits of learning to love running 5 kilometers. At first, you loathe even the thought of doing it, but eventually force yourself to do it again and again because you know it is good for you. Then over time, with steady practice, with practising with others, with listening to music, with guided meditations on each mystery – somewhere there is a breakthrough and saying the rosary is not only the most natural thing, but the most essential thing.
Indeed, the most joyful, sorrowful, and glorious of experiences, illuminating the truth of God’s love for us.
I cannot say I achieved this state of natural flow with the 5 kilometer run. But I will say that I am getting there with the rosary.
Journeying with others with the Rosary
In the past 5 years, I have started to take the rosary more seriously. It started with a sincere intent of wanting to love God, and needing words to say that would give that love to Him. It was a sincere desire for transcendence of an interior life that had grown rather stale – and on too many occasions – rather neurotic.
I went back to the rosary. I have had friends bring together groups of people all around Europe to say the rosary together online. This has particularly helped during lockdown – it provides hope, in saying these prayers together.
We said the rosary in our own languages. A warning when you do that for the first time: have the words of the rosary in your own language in front of you. Somehow trying to respond to someone else in our own language becomes flummoxing when they say the rosary in their language. With practice though, you eventually do develop the mental dexterity to respond in your own tongue to not just one language that is different, but several. It becomes quite enjoyable, and inspiring, to realise the number of nations that say the rosary in different languages, and when we say it together. The same contemplative prayer, in different tongues. A realisation of the global impact of the Holy Spirit coming to the Apostles in Pentecost, almost 2000 years later.
Saying the rosary in person with others is still a treat. Prior to lockdown, my mother met with a group of women each day to say the Rosary together at the ‘Grotto’ – which has a stone from Lourdes embedded under a statue of Mother Mary, in the garden of our Church in Toronto. Thanks to lockdown, she says it with the same group of women online – accompanied by hymns and a PowerPoint with images for each mystery. The result is that more of her friends from around the world that happen to be conscious at the same time – in this case, the morning/evening time between New Zealand and eastern Canada, manage to join.
Prior to lockdown, another rosary group that my parents are part of – our Can-indian crowd – also meet once a month to say the rosary at someone’s house, after which there is a large Goan/Mangalorean meal. In the summers, they rent a group of cabins together in northern Ontario and enjoy rosary, singing, and charades. My family have joined Filipino rosary groups as well, enjoying pancit and one of my favourite desserts, puto, after.
That is another binding force of the rosary. To bring communities together in these beautiful bonds of friendship. I know this happens with other nationalities as well, and can only be grateful that in this century where we can meet people from other countries, the praying of the rosary brings us together. A true communion of the Holy Spirit for the love of God. In person, or even when it’s just online.
Meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary
I never liked to say the rosary by myself. I have done so for different novenas, but I never actually liked it. Alone, my mind would wander as I autopilotted the rosary out of a sense of duty to the novena.
The game changer was stumbling across the youtube videos of Bishop Barron guiding us through the Joyful, Sorrowful, Glorious and Luminous mysteries. Bishop Barron provides reflections on each mystery, accompanied by stunning paintings illustrating the mystery. These meditations visually, mentally and spiritually engage me on the profound truth – so subversive and so contrary to the logos of the world – that I cannot help but be drawn in. Since Lent this year, when Bishop Barron released these videos, I have pretty much said the rosary each morning with him. At first, I would just listen to Bishop Barron. Now I join him in the prayers and response.
Reflecting on the question Bishop Barron asks before saying the decade, I actually do meditate on the mystery as I say the ten Hail Marys. It is a strange thing. I say the words to Mother Mary but my mind actually wrestles with, and eases into, understanding what God is asking me to believe about His Love, by contemplating each mystery. I realise I am doing what Mother Mary did – cherishing these mysteries in my own heart. The rhythm of saying the Hail Mary connects me to her – spiritual heartbeats that respirate the Holy Spirit within me, raising my soul towards God.
To break every chain
Praying the rosary makes me realise each mystery is not about earmarking different events written in the Gospels, but has inner truths – profound truths – of who we are to God, and who God is to us. Of the lengths He would go to reconcile us back to Him over the forces that keep us from Him.
And what are these forces? It is easy to roll our eyes at the idea of evil spirits, but I think something we can all relate to is having that inner voice that convinces us that we are not worthy of love. But then there is another sense within us – a sense of knowing, that we were created for great things – a love that transcends failings that we are only too aware of having, and those limitations that keeps us from living the fullness of life. The somehow, we have the potential to be transfigured.
And it is the battle of these two forces: between the movement towards knowing we are created for a transcendental love against the countermovement that makes us question our own existence, our own sense of purpose, our own value. Anyone can recognise when they are in throes of this interior battle – and also recognise when they are losing that battle. The aftermath is a sense of desolation and emptiness. That no man’s land when we are cut off from God. Cast out of Eden.
The more I meditate on these mysteries, I see all the ways the countervailing forces that shape the logos of the world lead to destruction. No wonder Christ answered Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). From the small decisions we make to the meta socio-economic, industrial systems we have created. It is not that man-made systems are destructive in and of itself – but when they are shaped by the sinful logos of pride, lust, greed, envy, wrath, gluttony, sloth – it does lead to incredible destruction. Just look at how unconscious and mass industrialisation has plundered and destroyed so much of the beauty of Creation – and heartbreakingly, for the concentration of wealth at the hands of the few, to the detriment of the poorest of the poor. From the small to the large things, we experience the aftermath of original sin.
To countervail against these forces will cost us. The battle will cost our own pride, lust, greed, and envy. Those sins that makes us grasp and grab at the finite, thinking it will lead to our own exaltation – that it will fill the emptiness within us. This battle will ask us to overcome our wrathful reactions, our tendency to indulge for ourselves even if it hurts others, our inertia to act when it is not convenient for us. This battle will ask us to forgive – as Christ forgives. The more I see how these countervailing forces hold me back – how easy it is to overreact in anger, to be sanctimonious, to beat myself up when I fail to live up to my own ideals, or what I think God wants, or the ideals of the world – the more I realise my need for God’s help to let go of my own ego.
Fully contemplating the Gospels through praying the rosary makes me realise God did not ask me to fight my battles alone. The rosary is not about remembering events that happened two thousand years ago. It is to fully appreciate that He came to rescue us from our battles – both in this life and for eternity. It actually happened – here on earth.
Meditating on those events – enshrined in praying each mystery of the rosary – brings us to the truth and joy of believing the Good News – God came to redeem us, for now and forever. We do not have to be enslaved to our ego dramas, to our neurotic selves – chained to our original sin. The triumph of Jesus’ Crucifixion and the witness to His Resurrection has eternal consequences for all of us.
Meditating on these mysteries also shows how Mother Mary is the perfect example of how obedience, humility and faith in God makes us part of God’s victory over sin. She is the perfect disciple, the sinless one, as Bishop Barron says. Mother Mary shows us that we are not passive recipients in accepting God’s love. God asked Mary to be part of His rescue mission, and she consented. Mary’s yes to God becomes a game-changer in the course of salvation history. God – God – can now come down as the Holy Spirit to become flesh and blood through Mary. It is God, through His Son, who comes to rescue us – literally in person.
Praying the rosary reveals the message of the Gospel in the here and now. To my life. To yours. We can meditate and contemplate on the rosary – and somewhere in that meditation, in that prayer – we are drawn out of ourselves and towards God.
And in that journey towards God, we are healed. We are filled with hope. We transcend.
If you would like to learn to pray the rosary, please see Bishop Barron’s explanation here.
“And I pray that Christ will be more and more at home in your hearts, living within you as you trust in Him. May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvellous love; and may you be able to feel and understand, as all God’s children should, how long, how wide, how deep, and how high His love really is; and to experience this love for yourselves, though it is so great that you will never see the end of it or fully know or understand it. And so at last you will be filled up with God Himself.”Ephesians 3:17-19