Reflection - 7th October 2020
In this month’s edition of ‘The Beacon’, our parish magazine, I highlighted today’s Feast, Our Lady of the Rosary. I do not wish to repeat what I said there, which was primarily about its history, but wish to focus on the Rosary itself, an incredible gift to all humanity from Our Lady and originally given by her to St Dominic in the early 13th Century and now used to great benefit by people all over the world.
The rosary as a physical object is quite simple. It consists of a circular chain of five groups of beads, each group consisting of a single bead and then a continuous group of ten beads. There is also a simple medal, usually of the face of Christ, with an image of Mary on the reverse, then below it the first single bead of a group, a group of three beads and then another single bead. Suspended at the end is a crucifix. Most, if not all of you, will be familiar with it. Rosaries come in many forms; some are simple wood; others are made of precious stones and they can vary widely in size. Its purpose is to retain count of the prayers being recited and, importantly, to provide the hands with something to do to avoid distraction.
It is the prayers and, in particular, the meditations which accompany them, which are most important. The physical rosary is merely an aid to devotion. Groups of the Lord’s Prayer, Hail Marys and the Glory Be accompany the meditations on aspects of Our Lady’s life, both here and in Heaven. It is these which are central to the recitation of the Rosary and there are many excellent books, pamphlets and websites which act as guides to its recitation.
What, though, are the benefits of reciting the Rosary on a regular, even daily, basis? To say that they are legion is an understatement! The Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary has been a vital tool in the spiritual armoury of the Christian for centuries and for incredibly good reason. Prayer has many purposes but the most important is to help conform our minds and our lives to the pattern of Christ’s, to the mind of God. The more we enter into prayer, and I do not primarily mean intercessory prayer, where we ask God for favours for ourselves or for others, the easier and more natural we will find the Christian life to be. We will find ourselves dwelling more consistently on the things of God and will find it easier to reject sin, temptation and all the distracting things of this world. We will find it easier to make moral decisions which are more in line with God’s laws and requirements and, ultimately, will naturally breathe in the atmosphere of Heaven, even whilst on earth. That is the secret of the saints. So imbued with prayer were they that they were able to live the life of the angels whilst here on earth! The more they prayed, the deeper and richer their prayer lives became and the more fully the life of Christ was manifest in their own outward lives! Think of the lives Padre Pio, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, St Damian, St Bernadette, or St Therese of Lisieux! These people, and countless others like them, manifested the Divine life in their own precisely because of their devotion to prayer!
Of course, this did not come naturally or at once! Each of them had to combat the normal temptations and sins which are common to all humanity. In this they were no different to anyone else. What distinguishes the saint from the greatest sinner, though, is not their own sanctity but their willingness to cooperate with God in their salvation. They gave themselves to prayer, to the sacramental life and to the practical works of charity and, in turn, God strengthened them and drew them, ever so gradually, more deeply into his own life!
This path is open to everyone! The saints were not a breed of super-beings but were just ordinary people who so gave themselves to God in such a way that they became, through his grace, sharers in the Divine nature whilst still on this earth and then fully in Heaven. This is our calling too!
The way of prayer, the way to sainthood, is both easy and incredibly hard. It is easy in the sense that the way is made clear to us. We know how it is done! There is a clear roadmap for us to follow and, if we do it, we shall most certainly be led by Jesus into his Kingdom, to rejoice in the company of all our fellow saints! The glory of Heaven is held out to us to participate in.
Yet, at the same time, the way is dreadfully hard. The world is full of enticing distractions, devised by the Devil (oh, yes! He is very real!) to lure us from our destiny. He offers us all sorts of inducements and they are designed to appeal to each of us according to our natural weaknesses. For some, it might be the pursuit of power, or it might be money. For others, it is worldly success. For others yet, it is sex or pleasure or the approbation of others. And, of course, for many it is the mind-numbing allure of constant entertainment. The Devil has many means of luring us from the hard, narrow, path to glory and leading us onto a broad way, an easy way – which, as Christ warns us, leads straight to Hell!
Yet there is no need to despair! Our Lady, who constantly seeks to support and aid us in our journey to her Son, has provided us with a simple tool which will bring us many spiritual benefits and which, if properly used, will guide our faltering footsteps along the path laid out for our salvation – the Rosary!
The first thing to do is to set aside a time, perhaps once a week to start with, for the recitation of the Rosary. It may be said alone or in company, but it should be said at a normal pace, not hurried or gabbled. Books may be a great guide to the meditations, particularly in the early days and we should always seek to keep our attention focussed on the mysteries upon which we are meditating. The Mysteries are best kept according to the plan laid out, which ensures that we will be praying in the company of the whole Church.
In the early stages of reciting the Rosary, we must expect distractions, we must expect failure. This is both because starting a good habit is difficult and, more especially, because the Devil will do his hardest to put obstacles in our way. He wants us to fail, to give up! So, expect discouragement, expect a sense of failure when we do not say the Rosary ‘properly’ or when we even forget to say it! Forewarned is forearmed, as they say! Know that it is Satan at work and just resume the spiritual warfare you are engaged in, trusting in Our Lady to come to your aid – and she will most certainly do so!
As we persevere in our saying of the Rosary, it will become easier, both in gradually shutting out distractions and in making fruitful meditations. It becomes easy to move from a weekly to a daily recitation, to actively looking forward to one’s time with the Rosary. As it becomes more of a habit, notice other things changing. Our minds will start to find it easier to recall the things of God, even during our normal daily tasks; we will find that it is harder to enjoy sin, then to sin itself. Acts of charity become easier to perform and it becomes harder to think ill of others, easier to forgive, more natural to show the mercy which is required of us.
The Rosary is not magic. These things will not happen without our cooperation with God’s grace – but devote and regular recitation of the Rosary will make our task so much easier. Gradually, our minds and our lives will be conformed to the pattern of Christ’s and we will be enabled to move closer to our goal – life with God in his eternal Kingdom!
We should never forget that whist very real indeed, this world and this life are not the sum total of reality. We are placed here to work towards our theosis, our becoming like God, our sharing in the Divine Nature. Our salvation is not guaranteed. It is possible for us to become so enmeshed in this world that, without seeming to be ‘evil’, we lose our salvation and find ourselves in Hell for all eternity. The Rosary has been given to us as a simple but highly effective means of avoiding this fate. It is a spiritual sword with which we may repel the assaults of the Devil. Those who devoutly and regularly make use of the Rosary will be well able to repel the worst the Devil can do.
I would encourage you to make use of the miracle of technology which is the internet. Like all such things, it is double edged. It can be used for great evil, to turn us from God. Yet great good can also come through it and it can be a real help in our journey. Please visit the following site and explore its pages: https://www.marypages.com/
There is much there about the Rosary, Our Lady and the help God provides for us to attain our ultimate goal – Heaven.
May Christ and Our Lady bless you richly on this glorious Feast Day!