The other day I took a short break at work and went for a walk to clear my head. It was a bright, sunny day so I took a path that followed a small inlet of water from the San Francisco Bay. While I usually listen to an audiobook on my walks (remember, I’m still trying to get through the entire Catechism this year) I discovered that I forgot my headphones. Instead I took my rosary out of my pocket and began to pray it.
As I was taking my prayer walk, I suddenly got a sinking feeling in my stomach. What would happen if someone saw me and was offended by my public display of religion? How would I respond if someone told me to put those beads away? As outrageous as that may sound, remember that I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was very possible to come across an atheist with the ACLU on speed dial in my neck of the woods.
I then got my wits together and thought of a more realistic scenario. What if someone saw me walking with my rosary and curiously asked what it was? What if someone asked me to describe rosary prayer or describe the mysteries I was meditating on? That got my mind racing on how I would explain the rosary to a casual passerby.
I rehearsed talking about how I meditate on not being so materialistic when I pray the First Glorious Mystery. I ran a through a small monologue in my head about living a clean life of good works when praying the Second Glorious Mystery. I pictured myself saying how I ask the Holy Spirit to guide me when I pray the Third Glorious Mystery. And so on…
And while I didn’t know it at the time, when constructing my defense for a possible confrontation I was in fact meditating and thinking about the themes and lessons of each rosary mystery. I wasn’t thinking about work. I wasn’t thinking about a movie, tv show, or news article. I wasn’t thinking about any of those topics that usually distract me and put me on prayer “autopilot.” Like a student furiously cramming for a test, I was focused of all the reasons I pray the rosary and what lessons it teaches me. In short, I was praying the rosary correctly.
I was never cornered by atheist. I didn’t have anyone come up and ask questions. I didn’t get any odd stares from people I passed. But by preparing for the worst I did experience one of my deeper, least interrupted rosary meditations.
Are you prepared to explain what you’re meditating on if someone asks? Suppose you had an apparition of the Virgin Mary while you were praying. Sound crazy? Remember, you don’t pray the rosary in a vacuum. Who do you think you’re asking to intercede for you when you pray the rosary? What if Mary vocally responded as she’s done to a select few throughout history. What if Our Lady first thanked you for praying the rosary and then quizzed you on what exactly you were praying for. Would you be ready to answer or scrambling because you zoned out?
There is a best selling book titled Heaven is for Real about a young child’s glimpse of Heaven. You may have heard of it since it was also made into a movie. But have you heard about the much darker prequel, Hell is for Real? Okay, it’s not really a prequel and it doesn’t go by that title. I’m talking about the first secret of Fatima when in 1917 Mary showed three Portuguese children a glimpse of Hell. Since November is dedicated to praying for souls, I want to focus on Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory and how the Fatima Prayer in the rosary is a great tool for praying for souls in need.
And now a flashback to my childhood. In my grade school I remember we had “rosary afternoons” in May where we broke up into small groups to pray the rosary. The groups were led by an eighth grader who explained how the rosary worked and led a group of seven other students, one from each grade 1st through 7th, through five decades. When I think back to those childhood rosary days I now recall one prayer being noticeably absent — the Fatima Prayer.
I think my early experience with the rosary was typical for a lot of kids. Someone thought it was best to shield us from the “scary prayer” that mentions the fires of Hell. I don’t believe this was done out of a disbelief of the reality of Hell, but more out of a concern of not opening that door of fear or questions from the inquisitive youth. I’m sure the school didn’t want to receive calls from angry parents about how their kid came home and said everyone is going to Hell or asked if Uncle Barney, who never went to church, was in Hell.
But the avoidance of talking about the afterlife, particularly Purgatory and Hell, didn’t end with the omission of the Fatima Prayer from my grade school’s rosary education. To this day, it’s a topic that most priests don’t touch with a ten foot pole. When was the last time you heard a homily about the eternal consequences of sin or the need to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation? Over the decades, talking about sin and its consequences was unofficially deemed offensive speech. A priest cannot teach about sinful behavior without being labeled intolerant, self righteous, and uncompassionate. That is truly unfortunate because pretending that sin and Hell don’t exist does not make them any less real. Instead of explaining these scary aspects of reality and providing people with the knowledge, prayers, and the will to confront them, we sweep them under the rug. Instead of urging people to pray and help those “souls in most need of Thy mercy” we, as a Church in general, let people just dive into the fire because we’re afraid of offending someone.
Praying the rosary is a great way of meditating on the afterlife and praying for souls. Because talking about sin and Hell may be a taboo topic we have to put extra emphasis on them in our rosary intentions. After you pray each decade, that Fatima Prayer is that little reminder of Heaven, Hell, and even Purgatory (more on this in a bit). It encompasses asking for the intercession of the saints in Heaven, praying for at risk souls on earth, and those souls in Purgatory. Unfortunately, I too often race through the Fatima prayer. I treat it more like a placeholder while I think about my intentions for the upcoming decade. But slow down because there’s some heavy stuff in this prayer.
“O my Jesus” — God sent his only son for our benefit. He wants us to have a personal relationship with him. You don’t say, “O Jesus.” That “my” is in there for a reason.
“Forgive us our sins” — We all sin and are in need of reconciliation. There is nothing wrong acknowledging that we aren’t perfect and we screw up at times. We are asking for Jesus’ mercy for all peoples’ sins, hence the word “our” and not “my.”
“Save us from the fires of Hell” — Again, we are asking Jesus for his mercy on all souls. The fact that this phrase comes after “forgive us our sins” highlights that connection between sin and Hell. We implicitly acknowledge that sin is the cause of going to Hell.
“Lead all souls to Heaven” — This is where we want to go! Everything we do in life should be aimed towards one day living in God’s glory in Heaven.
“Especially those in most need of Thy mercy” — There are many people on that edge of eternal damnation. But there is still hope for them. They need our prayers and the intercession of Mary, the saints, and the Holy Spirit.
Where does Purgatory factor into the Fatima Prayer? There is a bit of a mistranslation of this prayer from Portuguese into English according to Br. Alexis Bugnolo:
I would point out that this English translation is not exactly correct; because the Portuguese does not say “souls”, but “little souls”, a term of endearment among Portuguese Catholics for the souls in Purgatory, equivalent to our phrase “poor souls”. The the context of the phrase refers to the deliverance of all souls from purgatory into heaven; and thus never signified universal salvation.
Remember, souls in Purgatory rely on your prayers to get into Heaven. Imagine knowing that you are saved and you’re so close to entering God’s kingdom but there is nothing you can do unless people on earth pray for you. That frustration alone must be part of the purification process in Purgatory for your sins. But now you have a reason to remember those souls in Purgatory every time you pray the Fatima Prayer. Time to pray it forward because hopefully someday we all may be in a position where we will need those prayers.
“Just ring the bell and this will all be over.” That must be a common phrase many potential Navy SEALs either hear or think in their initial phase of training called BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL). This is the stage that whittles down hundreds of candidates to only a select few who can tolerate weeks of physical and mental exhaustion. While some are cut from the program for underperformance, many voluntarily quit when they ring a brass bell mounted in the barracks three times (hence the term “ringing out”). When doing hundreds of pushups at night as freezing ocean waves crash overhead, many SEAL recruits question whether the pain and misery is really worth it.
When I read Saint Louis de Montfort‘s book, The Secret of the Rosary, many chapters really rang true about the mental exhaustion and tediousness of praying the rosary. I think nearly all of us at some point in our spiritual life begin to feel like a beaten down SEAL recruit and ask, “Why should I continue?” I know in theory we all love and see value in rosary prayer and meditation. Many of us set some rosary praying goal whether that is five mysteries a day or all 20 mysteries every week. We may even start with an abundance of energy. But over time that initial enthusiasm wears off. We start to skip a day here and a day there. We begin to race through rosary decades without even realizing the mystery they represent. And after a while, whether consciously or unconsciously, we “ring out” and just give up rosary prayer.
When a SEAL recruit quits, he doesn’t quit the armed services. Quitting BUD/S doesn’t mean one is a bad soldier or isn’t committed to serving this nation. He just couldn’t find that anchor reason in his heart to keep going through the pain. And similarly, people aren’t giving up the Catholic faith when they give up the rosary. They aren’t bad Catholics because they find the rosary repetitive or exhausting. They are human. Being human means you probably want a calm, happy, and gratifying life that you don’t immediately feel by reciting 50 Hail Marys. Fighting our earthly desire that finds the rosary repetitive and tedious and remembering all the benefits of it is a constant battle we all face. I recall the verse from the Gospel where Jesus tells His apostles, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).
But there is also something else at play besides our own human frailties that pushes people to give up rosary prayer. St. Louis de Montfort clearly states in his writings that Satan is actively working to make people want to give up rosary prayer. Satan hates the rosary because he knows just how powerful it defends our souls from his lies and influence. But he’s very crafty when it comes to weaning people off the rosary. He starts small and simple by implanting the desire to pray something a little less tedious like a little free-form meditation or read some psalms from the Bible. Those aren’t bad prayer habits in themselves but they do plant a little seed of doubt about keeping a rosary routine. It’s that little seed that, much like a SEAL recruit first contemplating quitting, Satan hopes will spread throughout your thoughts.
St. Louis de Montfort says it best:
Being human, we easily become tired and slipshod—but the devil makes these difficulties worse when we are saying the Rosary. Before we even begin he makes us feel bored, distracted or exhausted—and when we have started praying he oppresses us from all sides. And when, after much difficulty and many distractions, we have finished, he whispers to us: “What you have just said is worthless. It’s useless for you to say the Rosary. You had better get on with other things. It’s only a waste of time to pray without paying attention to what you’re saying; half an hour’s meditation or some spiritual reading would be much better. Tomorrow when you’re not feeling so sluggish you’ll pray better; don’t finish your Rosary until tomorrow.”
Saint Louis de Montfort (2013-03-10). The Secret of the Rosary (p. 89). Catholic Way Publishing. Kindle Edition.
Like a recruit in some sort of spiritual BUD/S training, we have to ignore that little voice and not let Satan’s little pestering derail us. Satan wants us to “ring out” of rosary prayer by falsing promising us an easier and more gratifying life. And, depending on our mood, his lies about the rosary being a waste of time might sound tempting. But we have to keep our guard up and not let momentary inconveniences dominate our thoughts or overshadow our prayers.
Much like an elite Navy SEAL, we do have to dig down deep to overcome that urge to quit or take a more casual approach. Mary gave us 15 great reasons to pray the rosary continuously. Saint Louis de Montfort gave us many reasons more. We know deep down how great the rosary is for our spiritual well being. So treat Satan like that little gnat that he is and just swat his little nagging voice out of your mind when you pray the rosary.
I recently finished reading The Secret of the Rosary by Saint Louis de Montfort. In short, I think this is a terrific book that anyone who regularly prays the rosary should read and share with others. First, who was Saint Louis de Montfort? The wikipedia summary is:
As well as preaching, Montfort found time to write a number of books which went on to become classic Catholic titles and influenced several popes. Montfort is known for his particular devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and the practice of consistently praying the Rosary.
Keep in mind that the average Catholic in the 17th century didn’t have EWTN media, the internet, and RosaryMeds to help them learn about the beauty and power of rosary prayer. Saint Louis de Montfort basically wrote one of the first howto guides to praying the rosary and spelled out its benefits by telling stories of miraculous events people experienced when they devoted themselves to rosary prayer.
Not to be overly self-promoting, but I was amazed by the similarities between my book, The Rosary for the Rest of Us, and The Secret of the Rosary. Both books touch on recommended ways of praying the rosary, the benefits Mary promised those who pray it, and even some of the challenges you might face trying to form a rosary praying routine. Of course, Saint Louis de Montfort had years of theological study in a seminary and was a librarian so he had a lot more spiritual and historical knowledge to draw from for The Secret of the Rosary than I have for RosaryMeds. Still, I am proud that The Rosary for the Rest of Us overlaps in subject matter with a book written by a saint! Also, you won’t find commentary on each rosary mystery (not to mention that the Luminous Mysteries didn’t even exist in de Montfort’s time) in The Secret of the Rosary like you find in The Rosary for the Rest of Us.
Buy “The Secret of the Rosary from Amazon.com
Buy “The Rosary for the Rest of Us” from Amazon
The Secret of the Rosary provides a nice little kick of motivation to those who may feel a bit weary after praying the rosary day after day, week after week, and year after year. Saint Louis de Montfort acknowledges many of the challenges associated with praying the rosary such as finding the time, finding it tedious, mindlessly going through the prayers, wanting to give it up, etc. Evidently, a 17th century Catholic faced nearly all the same challenges a 21st century Catholic faces about achieving fruitful prayer. But he offers a sense of hope and infuses a sense of pride for keeping up with rosary prayer even when it is hard. In the book, he writes:
Even if you have to fight distractions all through your whole Rosary be sure to fight well, arms in hand: that is to say, do not stop saying your Rosary even if it is hard to say and you have absolutely no sensible devotion. It is a terrible battle, I know, but one that is profitable to the faithful soul. If you put down your arms, that is, if you give up the Rosary, you will be admitting defeat and then, having won, the devil will leave you alone.
He often talks about the struggle of good vs. evil, God’s final judgement, and other personal encounters people had with Mary about rosary prayer. Unlike today’s white-washed view of evil, 17th century Catholics weren’t afraid to acknowledge the terrible reality of Satan and Hell. When de Montfort writes about the dire consequences of falling into sin and the rewards for remaining in God’s grace, you can’t help but see the rosary in a new light. No one who reads The Secret of the Rosary can possibly think of the rosary as a silly little necklace or just mindless repetition of prayers when you know all the good it has produced and how many souls it has saved.
I think everyone will take away at least one action item from this book. For example, I realized that I need to slow down and take my time praying the rosary. Often, I try to “beat the clock” and get through all five mysteries and additional prayers before arriving at work on my morning commute. When I know I’m getting close to my office complex, I tend to speed up the prayers in a mad dash. After reading The Secret of the Rosary, I now realize that there isn’t really no point in racing through Hail Marys so I can check off praying the rosary on my daily todo list. Essentially, Mary cares more about the quality of your prayers, not the quantity.
Oh, one last point about The Secret of the Rosary. It’s a fast read. Each chapter (or Rose as de Monfort calls them) is only a few paragraphs. So you really don’t have to dedicate a lot of time to the book. You can read a few chapters a day almost like a daily prayer book.
Those who recite my Rosary faithfully are my beloved children, the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.
I think about one of the companies I worked for which had a very intense, deadline-driven atmosphere. This was in the feature film industry where you can’t just partially finish a shot in a movie or half-deliver a commercial. There are no beta releases or patch fixes you can deliver later if you fall behind schedule or miss an important detail. There is tremendous pressure to finish complex shots on schedule and get every detail perfect.
People new to the industry get weeded out fairly quickly because many of them realize that the 7-day work weeks, the every increasing standards, and constant pressure isn’t the career for them. Initially, fellow coworkers don’t exactly embrace new employees with open arms because they don’t know if they will stick around for very long. But if you can weather that culture shock and survive a few projects then the company and your fellow co-workers start to accept you more as a teammate. You showed that you have what it takes to survive and thrive in the industry and you aren’t just some flash-in-the-pan employee who thought movie production was all fun and games.
Many careers have this type of path where you have to pay your dues. Lawyers often work their tails off before making partner. Investment bankers leave their jackets over their chairs at night so their boss won’t think they slacked off and left work early. Software engineers often bring a sleeping bag to work and snooze under their desk or in an empty office when facing a large project deadline. There are very few careers where you start out at the top. And even in the ones where you do start with an elevated title, you still have to work hard to earn the trust and respect of your coworkers.
While many people understand that getting the most out of their careers, marriage, family, and friendships takes hard work, it doesn’t seem like they have a similar understanding when it comes to faith. They often believe that getting the most out of their religion is almost entirely God‘s responsibility, not theirs. For many people, their faith is nothing more than showing up to Mass on Sunday and that’s it. And I’m sure of that group many of them wonder why God feels so distant to them. But that’s like an employee of a company putting in the bare minimum of effort and then wondering why they don’t move up in the company or find their career fulfilling. God is always willing to bring you in close in His grace, but you have to make the effort to actually want to be in His grace.
Mary not only says that you can forge a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ, she promises it! She even lays out exactly how to truly be one of Jesus’ disciples. It’s not some mystery that only a chosen few are called to. Mary says pray the rosary faithfully and she promises it will create a deeper relationship with her and her son. That is something any one of us can do.
Pray the rosary, go to Mass, learn the faith, avoid sin. Those are the keys to feeling that love, hope, and compassion of Jesus. I know I’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating. He’s always there doling out the love and grace but you have to put yourself in the right mode to accept it. You have to tear down those walls of sin and pride to let Jesus into your heart. But tearing down those walls is not quick and easy. And our human frailty is always trying to erect new walls that block God from our souls.
When you do come up with a solid plan to routinely tear down those walls of sin, the payoff is huge. It’s one thing moving up the corporate ladder and feel invested in a company. But that pales in comparison to feeling that deep sense of peace and comfort that comes from embracing a life of discipleship and commitment to the Catholic faith. And there is nothing better than realizing in a way that you can’t logically comprehend or explain that Jesus Christ knows you as one of His own and loves you.
I may have misspoke earlier when I said it’s no mystery on how to get closer to Jesus Christ. It’s actually 20 mysteries… 20 rosary mysteries that is!
I shall deliver from purgatory those who have been devoted to the Rosary.
Ah Purgatory! After the high regard Catholics have for Mary, nothing seems more contentious than the existence and need for Purgatory. It brings up debates between Catholics and protestants and questions like, “Where is Purgatory mentioned in the bible?” Aside from the theological arguments whether Purgatory exists, there is just a general fear of it. I think many people don’t really care all that much about the theological underpinnings of Purgatory. Rather, many wish that it didn’t exist because they think it’s some sort of “Hell Lite.”
We need to frame Purgatory in the proper context — it is a level of existence between our earthly life and a heavenly one where we become purified and worthy of Heaven. We cast off the last layers of our earthly selves — the sin, the shortcomings, the weakness to temptation, the pressure and anxieties, and everything else that prevents us from fully embracing God‘s love. No matter how good any of us are, with the exception of the saints, most of us die tied down to worldly things in some way or another. Purgatory is like that final, cleansing bath that washes away that worldly “grime” we accumulated throughout our lives.
If we truly understood the majesty and beauty of what awaits us in Heaven, we would not only understand why we need Purgatory, but actually want to go to it. I think that when we die and we get the full sense of who God is, we would not even consider entering His kingdom any other way but in a state of perfection. Would you want to attend a wedding in your work clothes? Would you walk through someone’s immaculately clean home in muddy shoes? There are social situations in this life where we feel embarrassed if we arrive in a state not appropriate for the event. Similarly, I think when we get a taste of just how awesome God is at our final judgement, we won’t give a stay in Purgatory a second thought. The notion of entering His kingdom with any worldly blemishes will seem embarrassingly laughable.
But just because we understand the need for Purgatory doesn’t make it any easier to endure. But the suffering isn’t the type of suffering we encounter in Hell. Rather, we suffer because we know just how close we are to the infinite joy and peace of Heaven. We are like children on Christmas Eve that can’t wait for Christmas morning and open the presents under the tree. Every minute is just agony as time just seems to slow to a stop and it seems like Christmas day will never come. Likewise, every moment in Purgatory probably seems unbearable with the knowledge that we are so close to completing a long journey. We want Mary to act as our advocate so our time waiting in Purgatory will be brief.
Like many of her other promises, I think Mary reveals more of a result of praying the rosary than something that she actively applies. Those who are devoted to the rosary are less likely to commit sins which require a longer stay in Purgatory to clean. Those who pray the rosary already have a better understanding of just how great Heaven must be and try extra hard to live in a way where they will most quickly arrive in Heaven after their death. As I said in early articles, it’s not solely the act of praying the rosary itself that leads us to Heaven, but the wisdom and will to live in God’s grace that it helps implant in our souls. Mary is here to help those who want her help and ask for it through rosary prayer.
Ask for Mary’s help to quickly pass through Purgatory. Pick up a rosary and pray it today!
The rosary will make virtue and good works flourish, and will obtain for souls the most abundant divine mercies. It will draw the hearts of men from the love of the world and its vanities, and will lift them to the desire of eternal things. Oh, that souls would sanctify themselves by this means.
I used to play a lot of video games when I was younger. Even to this day I enjoy taking a five-minute break to play a quick arcade game. There is something called a “score multiplier” in many classic video games. What these do is increase your score the longer you do something good or difficult. For example, you may start to achieve a higher score in a racing game the longer you go without crashing. Or in the famous puzzle game Tetris you are awarded more points if you clear multiple rows at once rather than individually. Well, in life the rosary acts as our virtue and good works multiplier.
The more you pray the rosary, the more benefits your good works will have. For starters, you will be more likely to perform more good works because you are listening to God through rosary prayer and responding to His call. Secondly, your desire to live virtuously and do good works will be genuine and more likely to rub off on others. You won’t have to force people into praying and living virtuously. Rather, others will sense some sort of internal peace or happiness in you and subconsciously want to imitate you. They might turn to rosary prayer and focus on their faith and become that catalyst for someone else. You praying the rosary and living a virtuously may start a chain of influence on others to do the same. From one person, many good works can flourish.
Mary promises that the rosary will obtain for souls the most abundant divine mercies. We all make mistakes in life and commit sins. But not only will the rosary put you into a state where you commit fewer sins, you also receive abundant mercy for those sins you do commit. Are you off the hook completely? No. The rosary isn’t a magical “get out of jail free” prayer. But those who pray the rosary are more likely to understand the importance of divine mercy and ask God for it. And He’ll be more than happy to give it to those who ask.
I like that the rosary draws my heart away from worldly pursuits and keeps me focused on eternal things. I find it so easy to get caught up in the here and now that without regular rosary meditation I would neglect my spiritual needs. I think the rosary is similar to some sort of worldly detox treatment. We fill our hearts, minds, and souls with so much junk. It may be sin and vice (lust, drugs, greed, envy, etc.) but also benign or even good things (work, relationships, hobbies, etc.). But when we fill our hearts with all these worldly pursuits we too often leave no room for God’s grace. Mary promises that those who pray the rosary will find it easier to make room for God in their lives.
The best example I have about clearing my soul of “junk” was cutting back on TV. There were many television shows that I used to follow closely. I would be sure to tune in every week to watch Law and Order, CSI, Amazing Race, Next Iron Chef, and many others. But in a way they also weighed me down because I felt obligated to watch them out of a fear I might miss something important. But then I got busy with work, family, RosaryMeds articles, etc. and missed a few episodes. I had them recorded on my DVR but I just stopped caring about watching those missed episodes to catch up. Eventually, those shows that I watched religiously just fell off my radar and it didn’t bother me in the least.
Phasing out television reminds me of how the rosary affects our worldly wants and desires. After praying the rosary routinely, those things you thought you couldn’t live without suddenly don’t seem too important. You start to see them as the distractions they are and learn not to let the hustle and bustle of this life worry you too much. There really is nothing worldly that is so important that it needs to to be prioritized ahead of our spiritual needs. In other words, Mary promises us that rosary prayer will give perspective on what’s really important. It’s not wanting things you can buy on Black Friday, but the eternal happiness of Heaven.
Now that we are in Advent, take some time to pray the rosary every day. I think we need to have faith in this rosary promise especially because Christmas is a time where we need to have perspective, virtue, and good works. The 2nd reading from the first Sunday of Advent ties in well to this promise. If you forgot it or didn’t pay attention to it, read it below and think about how the rosary will help you rise above “works of darkness” and “desires of the flesh” and “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Brothers and sisters:
You know the time;
it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep.
For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed;
the night is advanced, the day is at hand.
Let us then throw off the works of darkness
and put on the armor of light;
let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day,
not in orgies and drunkenness,
not in promiscuity and lust,
not in rivalry and jealousy.
But put on the Lord Jesus Christ,
and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.
Those who shall persevere in the recitation of my Rosary will receive some signal grace.
I find signal graces one of the most fascinating and beneficial effects of rosary meditation. The reason why they are so fascinating to me is because the Catholic Church doesn’t really have an official definition for them. They aren’t mentioned by name in the Catechism and yet most people believe in them. A signal grace is a sign from God in response to your prayers. Often signal graces seem like coincidences. But as you will read, signal graces go beyond mere observable signs since they can have a profound effect on your life.
Many people associate a signal grace as a physical sign from God in response to one’s prayers. For example, someone may pray whether to accept a new job, get married, or start a family. He prays the rosary for God’s guidance. He might even make a decision but still has anxiety whether he made the correct one. But then he sees something — a bumper sticker on a car that says “Have Faith” or a new billboard for the company with whom he just accepted the job offer. Many people take these as signs that God heard them and is letting them know they are on the right track. Rosary meditation heightens one’s awareness to the small signs of God’s presence in our lives.
If seeing a rare bird, a billboard, a bumper sticker, or any other physical sign from God works for you then use them to increase your spirituality. But I think people often place too much energy looking for overt signs to the point where they aren’t experiencing signal graces, but looking for justifications. If you have a big, life-changing decision then it’s only natural to look for any sign that you are making the right choice. I think signal graces manifest themselves as a more internal and almost intangible feeling and not something external. In my experience, a signal grace is more of a sense of peace or confidence that comes when you allow God to help you make the right choice. It is such a subtle feeling that I can’t even begin to describe it with my clumsy prose. But that subtlety also highlights the importance of rosary meditation because without that heightened sense of awareness of God’s influence in your life, you may not notice it through the “noise” of daily life.
A signal grace isn’t something only observed or felt after making a decision. It’s not like God is some game show host who tells you whether you’ve answered the question correctly. A signal grace also guides you when you are making important decisions. When you consider taking an easy way out of a difficult situation by doing something not in accordance with God’s Will, signal graces gently push you back to following God’s path. For example, have you ever not felt like attending Mass on Sunday or a holy day of obligation but something pushed you to go anyway? Thank signal graces. Ever thought about committing some sin and then, at the last moment, realized that you better not? Thank signal graces. Have you ever felt tired and didn’t want to pray or meditate but something just pushed you that bit to say them anyway? Yep, those are signal graces at work. And the more you pray the rosary the more God can influence you through His signal graces.
The key to recognizing signal graces is perseverance in praying the rosary. Persevere is an interesting choice of words in Mary’s promise. It means “to continue in a course of action even in the face of difficulty.” Mary’s promise implies that praying the rosary won’t always be easy or the benefits of it won’t be immediate. You have to think of praying the rosary and recognizing signal graces like mastering any skill. It takes time and hard work to really become tuned to the nuances of a craft. Great athletes develop an intuitive sense of the game after years of intense practice and experience. A master artist knows how to take an image in his head and paint it on a canvas but only after many years of studying and practice. A doctor must perform many surgeries under the guidance of mentors to gain the muscle memory needed for delicate operations. Rosary prayer is very similar. At first it’s all mechanics with seemingly little benefits. But when you persevere with rosary meditation your heart, mind, and soul become better tuned to the subtle ways God speaks to you.
God is always trying to guide us. But have you taken the steps to hear what He has to say? Boost your spiritual antenna through rosary meditation.
“Praying the rosary hasn’t made me rich. Praying the rosary hasn’t made me famous. Praying the rosary hasn’t given me a promotion at work. So why do I pray the rosary? Praying the rosary regularly gives me perspective. I start to see things the way God wants me to see them. I don’t obsess over the little things in this world that aren’t important to my eternal salvation. Praying the rosary helps me focus on what is truly important – my relationship with God. It hasn’t made my problems go away, but it has given me the strength to endure and overcome them just as Jesus Christ did in the sorrowful mysteries.”
I actually had a difficult time answering why I pray the rosary. It’s not that I don’t like or believe in the power of the rosary, but it is difficult to put its value into words. The rosary is a divine gift from God. And coming from God, who is outside our human understanding, makes explaining the rosary hard to capture in words. But at the same time, it is important to occasionally ask, “why?”
Asking ourselves why we pray the rosary forces us to evaluate the role it plays in our lives. Do we just pray it out of habit or routine without understanding why? Do you mistake it for some magical chant? Do we pray the rosary because someone told us to? The rosary isn’t a prayer we should take for granted. When we know why we should pray the rosary, we become that much more motivated to want to pray it. My “ah-ha!” moment with the rosary came on my pilgrimage to Medjugorje. I felt this peace come over me as if God was tell me, “It’s going to be okay… I got you.” Ever since then the rosary has provided me an oasis of peace in my busy, tiring, and hectic life.
The rosary is much like an uncut and unpolished gem. To the unobservant, it just looks like a rock. To those who take the time to dig deeper, they will find something of great value. On this feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, ask yourself, “why?” And when you do find an answer, please leave a comment. You never know if your insight might provide a spark for others to discover a greater value in rosary prayer.
Lately I have contemplatedprayers, intentions, and how God answers our requests for help. On the Catholic Answers forums, I see so many people angry or saddened because they feel so distant from God and they wonder if He isn’t hearing their prayers. I understand how easy it is to feel discouraged when the news headlines are filled with stories of violent crimes, wars, and civil unrest not to mention the unreported hardships we all face about our jobs, family, finances, relationships, etc. You look at all the problems in this world and it is easy to conclude that God just doesn’t care. However, what I think happens more often is that we fixate on a specific solution and completely miss how God actually answers our prayers.
Here’s an example of God answering prayers in unexpected ways taken from my own experiences. Like many people, I pray in a general sense that I may be stronger in the seven virtues of chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility. But how do I know God hears me and answers my requests to be a better person? After all, nothing really seems to change in my day-to-day life that indicates that I’m stronger in any of those areas. I don’t wake up and say, “Thanks God! I feel more diligent today!” So how does God answer my prayers?
I remember all the days and nights I spend with my 1.5 year old son. I play with him when I come home from work although I’m tired and just want to relax in front of the television. I try to read his favorite books to him for the hundredth time with the same excitement as the first time. It’s exhausting work at times. But then it hits me. All those times when I pulled out a little more energy to be there for my family, I was demonstrating acts of patience, kindness, and charity. I asked God for strength and He answered by giving me an opportunity to exercise virtue.
Next, let’s look at a story that made the news rounds lately. There is a picture circulating around the internet of a wife carrying her double-amputee husband on her back. Jesse Cottle lost both his legs after stepping on an IED while serving in the Marines in Afghanistan. In rehab, he met his wife, Kelly. In an interview on Good Morning America, Jesse said that he wouldn’t change anything that happened to him because if he hadn’t lost his legs to that IED, he never would have met the love of his life.
I’m not sure whether Jesse is an overtly praying man, but I’m sure he must have had some very low moments after his injury and asked God to somehow improve his situation. But God just didn’t miraculously grow Jesse’s legs back or change the IED blast so he didn’t lose them in the first place. I’m sure many of us in Jesse’s situation would look for those specific answers from God if we were in that situation. And we would probably be saddened when God didn’t physical heal us. But God often answers prayers in unexpected, but better ways. Sure, God could have physically healed Jesse. But then Jesse never would have met Kelly in rehab. While what happened to Jesse was tragic, God brought about a greater good by touching the hearts of two people, instead of healing the legs of one.
What rosary mystery doesn’t involve God working in some unexpected way? The whole New Testament is the account of Jesus saying and doing unexpected things. Sometimes He did the unexpected to great fanfare like performing miracles. And other times Jesus’ unexpected nature upset people, especially the scribes and pharisees when He challenged their practices and authority. When you pray the rosary, meditate that God’s ways aren’t always our ways. When it comes to God, expect the unexpected. For example:
The Annunciation (First Joyful Mystery): God chose an unwed teenager to be the Mother of God. Mary may have been physically poor, but God raised her up to be rich in spirit.
The Proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven (Third Luminous Mystery): When Jesus proclaimed that He was the Word made flesh, people chased him out of town. How many times do we get upset when God shows Himself in unexpected ways in our lives?
The Crucifixion (Fifth Sorrowful Mystery): Jesus died and redeemed us all. People challenged Him by saying that if He was really the Son of God, He could save himself. But Jesus knew that it was far more important to save our souls than save His body.
Remember, God’s ways are not our ways. But that should be a reason to rejoice, not for disappointment. God sees the big picture. So shouldn’t we rejoice that someone who sees and knows everything is looking out for us? Do you have any stories to tell of how God answered your prayers in unexpected, but ultimately better ways? Leave a comment.