On the School of Mary
(Exod.17:8-13; 2Tim.3:14-4:2; Lk.18:1-8)
St John Vianney used to describe prayer as ‘union with God’. He said it’s like two candles (one for God, the other for the soul) that have melted into each other.
Prayer can also be described as our heartfelt search for the source of all life and love. When we find that source and absorb all it has to offer, then we ourselves become a source of new life and love for others. In this way, prayer both refreshes and sustains us.
We can see this in our first reading from Exodus. The Israelites are being attacked and they’re fighting to defend themselves. Meanwhile, Moses is on a hilltop, praying hard. He’s standing with his hands held high, looking towards heaven (that’s how the ancients prayed). As long as Moses keeps his arms up, the Israelites are safe, but when he drops them, the enemy gains ground. The message to us is simple: Keep praying!
Jesus’ message is similar in his Parable of the Unjust Judge in Luke’s Gospel. ‘Keep praying!’ he says, ‘Never lose heart!’
Now, October is the month of the Holy Rosary, the ancient prayer that focuses so beautifully on the life of Jesus Christ. When the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared at Fatima in 1917, she asked us all to pray the Rosary every day. [i]
Many people do just that, but sadly, others choose not to. They think the Rosary is not about Jesus. But that’s a misunderstanding.
In 2002, St John Paul II said that praying the Rosary is like sitting in the ‘school of Mary’, learning about her son Jesus. ‘Through the Rosary,’ he said, we ‘contemplate the beauty of the face of Christ’ and we ‘experience the depths of his love’.
‘The centre of our faith is Christ,’ he said. Mary does not detract from him. She is the one who leads us to Christ, the final goal of our life. [ii]
Today, the Rosary is still one of the most powerful and effective tools for Christian prayer and meditation. The prayer is addressed to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and the meditation focuses on all the major events in Jesus’ life, from his birth to his Passion.
Edward Sri, in his book Praying the Rosary Like Never Before, says that we pray the Rosary with Mary and not to Mary. And he describes the Rosary as ‘a portable chapel we can keep in our pocket and pull out anytime, anyplace. Whether we have a sudden, urgent situation to present to God in prayer or we just want to fill some of our day with thoughts of God, all we need to do is pull out the beads and turn to the Lord in prayer.’ [iii]
The word ‘Rosary’ means a ‘crown of roses’. The ancient Greeks and Romans used to place crowns of roses on statues of their gods as gifts of love.
The first Christians continued this tradition. When Christian women went to their deaths in the Roman Colosseum, they wore crowns of roses symbolising their joy and love for God. At night, the other Christians gathered these crowns, and for each rose recited a prayer or psalm for the eternal rest of the martyr’s soul.
Thereafter the Church encouraged everyone to use their Rosaries to recite the 150 psalms. God loves the psalms, they believed, because they include all of Jesus’ life and ministry. Most Christians were illiterate, however, and couldn’t read the psalms, so they said 150 Hail Marys instead.
That’s why the Rosary is sometimes called the Psalter of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen said the Rosary is almost like words with music. A lady once complained to him, ‘I think the Rosary is monotonous and I don’t think God likes us to say monotonous prayers.’
Sheen asked who the man was with her. ‘He’s my fiancé,’ she replied.
‘Do you love him?’ he asked.
‘Yes,’ she said.
‘How does he know?’
‘I told him: “I love you”,’ she said.
‘When did you tell him?’
‘Did you ever tell him before?’
‘Yes,’ she said, ‘I told him the night before.’
‘Don’t you think he tires of it? Isn’t it a bit monotonous?’ asked Sheen. [iv]
He made his point. These simple words mean something different each time we say them.
Every time we pray the Rosary, we are in effect saying ‘I love you’ to the Holy Trinity and to Mary. And the meaning changes as we contemplate the different aspects of Jesus’ life.
So, now is a good time to join the school of Mary.
Now is a good time to pray the Rosary.
[i] Pope Francis, Angelus Address, 4 October 2017
[ii] Pope St John Paul II, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, 2002. https://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/apost_letters/2002/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_20021016_rosarium-virginis-mariae.html
[iii] Edward Sri, Praying the Rosary like Never Before: Encounter the Wonder of Heaven and Earth, Servant: Cincinatti. 2017:178.
[iv] Fulton Sheen, Your Life is Worth Living. Image: New York. 2019:402-403.