The rosary, an icon of Catholic identity, rattling around in millions of Catholic drawers, purses, and pockets—not to mention dangling from Catholic rearview mirrors. It’s one of the most popular devotions acclaimed by popes and saints. Bl. John Paul II describes meditating on its mysteries as “contemplating the face of Christ with the eyes of Mary” (Apostolic Letter on the Rosar, 1). That sounds like something worth spending 15 minutes on a couple times a week, doesn’t it?
The Rosary, however, isn’t everyone’s spiritual cup of tea. To some, it seems boring. Others have difficulty relating to the Blessed Mother, especially if they came from a Protestant background. Still others find it old-fashioned.
A few of these people spoke to Catholic Digest, describing the attitudes that kept them away from Our Lady’s Rosary and how they later came to understand what they had been missing.
Heather Chastain Bain was brought up as a Fundamentalist Baptist. She believed that “Catholics were not Christians. They worshiped Mary, and the Church was the ‘Whore of Babylon’ from the Book of Revelation. I thought it was my duty to convert them.”
But when Heather gave anti-Catholic tracts to a devout Catholic neighbor, hoping to “save” him, he gave her Catholic materials to read, initiating seven years of friendly debate and dialogue. Then, while she attended a local Christian college, a teacher whom she describes as a “closet Catholic” opened her eyes to the coherence and beauty of Catholicism through the writings of G.K. Chesterton, St. Thomas Aquinas, Flannery O’Connor, and others. One day, the conviction came to her in prayer that she should join the Church. “But it took me seven more years to have the courage to enter,” Heather continued. “I still had these deeply embedded fears of being an idolater of Mary and the saints.”
Heather was well acquainted with the testimony of the Church about the greatness of the Rosary, and finally, she got up the courage to try it. “I began praying, sure that my reason and my intentions would guard against any tendency to idolatry. As I prayed, I realized that there was no danger at all! I began to identify with Mary, in her pregnancy, in her helping Elizabeth, in her guarding the Child Jesus. These prayers were not about Mary, but about the Christ to whom her whole life points! She is the lens we look through, not the object of our sight. One Hail Mary led to another and finally to the Hail Holy Queen. I finished, feeling nothing but peace in my heart. I also had added a special intention to this Rosary. When it was answered a couple days later, it was affirmation that I could say this prayer without fear.”
Example of St. John Paul II
One doesn’t have to be a convert to hesitate about the Rosary. Cradle Catholic Allan Wright is Academic Dean for Evangelization at St. Paul Inside the Walls in Madison, New Jersey, and author of the recent book Jesus the Evangelist. Although Allan now cherishes the daily Rosary he prays during his morning commute, it wasn’t always this way. Although the rosary he’d received at his first Communion hung in a place of honor in his bedroom, he’d never really used it. “I never saw it modeled, growing up. My mom prayed novenas, but we didn’t do the family Rosary.” Allan became committed to his faith in high school and college, mostly through the spirituality of the charismatic renewal. “I grew in faith with the Scriptures, the Church Fathers, the saints. But I didn’t see the value of the Rosary. It was for the elderly, not for me.”
What made Allan take a second look was the example of St. John Paul II. He was someone who loved Christ and prayed the Rosary daily. “If something is important to you, you do it daily. Like sports, to use a secular example. I reasoned that if the pope thought the Rosary was this vital in his life, then who was I to ignore it? So I made the commitment to pray it daily. Meditating on the mysteries links it with Scripture, and I find that I can apply the mysteries to the joys, sorrows, and glories of my own life.”
Joy Dembrowski grew up with the daily family Rosary, but by the time she finished college, Marian devotion in general and the Rosary in particular left her cold. Today, some 30 years later, she can see why. “Perhaps there was resentment toward my mother spilling into my relationship with Mary. When I was a shy girl in high school, my mother and I were extraordinarily close. Then I went away to college and made lots of new friends. I think Mom felt left out. We never completely regained our closeness; there was a distance between us. I found that I no longer wanted to ask Mary’s intercession or even think of her as my mother. My spirituality focused on Mass and Eucharistic Adoration. I was aware of my ‘Mary’ problem but did not know what to do about it.”
What Joy needed was healing of her relationship with her mother. That process began with a special grace from the Blessed Mother. “When I was in my mid-thirties, I agreed to host a traveling replica image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in our home for one night. We said the Rosary that night with our friends. Later that evening, I felt as if Our Lady were walking through my home. I felt her compassion for my hurts in an almost palpable way. I resumed my practice of the daily Rosary and have kept it up ever since. My relationship with my mother slowly improved from that time on.” Joy realizes that not everyone will have the experience that she did, but she suggests that anyone who recognizes themselves in her story should “conduct an examination of conscience to see what old hurts you might harbor, then confess them, and ask Our Lady to heal your heart.”
Real Men Pray the Rosary
David Calvillo never saw anything wrong with the Rosary. He thought it just wasn’t a guy thing. “I was a knucklehead. I thought the Rosary was for old ladies and funerals,” he said. “I figured my Mom prayed it enough for the whole family. I was way too cool for such quaint things!”
Today David and his wife, Valerie, run an organization called Real Men Pray the Rosary. What changed him?
In the summer of 2008, David signed up for a men’s retreat, held at a rural monastery. It was an act of desperation. He wanted to do something, anything, to salvage a failing marriage, and he was convinced that the retreat would help him to straighten out his thinking and set priorities. He wasn’t prepared for what happened on the first morning, when he and the 80 other men went outdoors to pray the Rosary: “As we began to pray, I slowly realized the wonder and beauty of what these men were doing before sunrise, out here in the middle of nowhere. I began to weep…. I marveled at the indescribably, visceral joy of the sight of 80 men wanting to connect with God, earnestly asking for help to do good with their lives.” This experience repeated itself each morning. Now reconnected to Jesus through Mary, David was able to go home and repair his family relationships.
“Now,” says David, “I see Mary as my spiritual trainer and the Rosary as my spiritual exercise, one to take me through an organized, systematic way to nourish my faith.”
You can learn more about Dave’s story in his new book, Real Men Pray the Rosary (Ave Maria Press, 2013) or go to the website, RealMenPrayTheRosary.org.
The Rosary & the Battle of Lepanto
On October 7, 1571, Christian naval forces successfully fought off the invading Turkish fleet at the Bay of Lepanto, Italy. Pope St. Pius V credited the victory to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, to whom, at his request, many Rosaries were prayed in public procession on the day of the battle.
Think the Rosary is too repetitive?
The way Pope John Paul I saw it, loving repetition can be a good thing: “St. Charles de Foucauld said, ‘Love is expressed with few words, always the same and always repeated.’ I saw a lady on a train who put her baby to sleep in a baggage holder. [Note: In Italian trains, the holder is a net above the seat.] When the little one woke up, he saw from above his mother sitting facing him so that she could watch over him. ‘Mamma,’ he would say, and the other [replied], ‘Darling’; and for a long time the dialogue between the two didn’t change. ‘Mamma’ from above; ‘Darling’ from below. There was no need for other words…”
Adapted from the late Pope John Paul I’s My Rosary; translated from the Italian from the October, 1979, issue of II Cuore della Madre by Mother Teresa of Immaculate, O.C.D., of the Carmelite Monastery in Flemington, New Jersey (CIN.org/docs/rosary-jpi.html).