But — easier said than done!
So we’ll talk about that.
Now, I’m not going to try to convince you in this post that it’s a good idea to say the Rosary, which is a four-part meditation on the life of Our Lord, beginning with “He was conceived by the Holy Spirit” and ending with “Life Everlasting” from the Apostle’s Creed.
It’s as if you see every step of His Way — through the eyes of his mother.
But I don’t have time or space.
So a couple of quick thoughts before we get down to the nitty-gritty of how on earth to pull this off.
1. If I were Lord of the Universe, I think I would focus my words and gestures in my final moments before I offered myself up as a ransom for many– wouldn’t you? Here’s one of the very few things he says and does:
“Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother: ‘Woman, behold your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home” (Jn. 19:25-27).
Pope John Paul II says about this:
The Mother of Christ, who stands at the very center of this mystery-a mystery which embraces each individual and all humanity-is given as mother to every single individual and all mankind.
And that’s among the many reasons why the Church from this moment began a very deep devotion to Mary, continuing through the ages until today.
The point is that if we are realistic about the place of truth in human history, we will feel mighty powerless when we think about current events. What can we do? How can we rescue what we love? How can we fight for what is truly great and noble when it seems that a tide will swallow us up?
We can pray, and we can pray the Rosary.
3. So many of you have left me comments and sent me emails — especially when we post about an engagement or one of our weddings — asking me how to raise children to love purity. Of course on the one hand I have an opinion. On the other, I’m helpless and hopeless in the face of the desperate evil that our children face.
In Eugenio Corti’s fabulous novel about World War II, The Red Horse — which, if I could just come over to your house and read to you, I would, only it’s a thousand pages long and I have to write this post — one of the Italian officers muses on the chastity of his men, who come from the same small Catholic village he does.
He says something like (and I can’t find the exact quote, because I’d have to read the book again to find it) — “In the end, it’s the Rosaries our parents said that make us able to withstand the filth that’s around us…”
I did dog-ear one (one! what is wrong with me! why can’t I bring myself to mark up a book!) passage, in which a German priest is methodically sifting through the remains of some soldiers, after a battle, pulling
“pornographic photographs out of some pockets and Rosaries out of others….The priest handed every object, one by one, with a mechanical gesture to Pierello, who put it into a sack. The pornographic photographs were disconcerting to the young man (who was not accustomed to them), yet he was surprised even by the relative number of Rosary beads. He realized… the deep differences existing in the inner world of the German soldiers, who were outwardly the same…. At a certain point… he began to throw [the photos] away. The priest, after a moment’s astonishment, nodded his head with approval and, without saying a word, did not hand him any more.”
Eternal. External. Internal.
Those are the reasons to put everything in Mary’s hands. When we say the Rosary, we simply have a habit built in to our day to help us do this.
Wondering how to start? In “if I can do it, so can you” fashion, I will tell you.
1. Be very simple and childlike. Jesus gave Mary to us as our mother (see above). We will not offend her with our efforts, even if we find ourselves with the beads in one hand and yanking a child out from behind a sofa with the other. If you are feeling awkward, go re-read this post about praying with children.
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2. Let your husband lead the Rosary. If it doesn’t occur to him or come naturally, talk to him and ask him. Children learn to pray from their mothers, for the most part, but when the father leads the prayer, the children will take what they have learned with them into adulthood.
Of course, human nature being what it is, things don’t always work out this way. Don’t worry. Dad leading the Rosary often boils down to Mama saying, “Honey, should we say the Rosary in a few minutes?” Or else quietly carrying on as best she can. Or maybe it’s he who carries on… What you are trying to avoid is putting your dear husband in the position of being one of the pack that you are trying to round up for prayers.
The Chief wishes that we would just say the Rosary at a particular time, and avoid the whole question of rounding people up for it. I have certainly noticed that when I am late with supper, I can’t even pretend to aim for a time. The reality is that each one of us often has some reason to push supper back a bit or a lot — and sometimes it is he! So I try for serving supper earlier so that if there isn’t a time for the Rosary, there is at least something like a window.
3. If you don’t have the habit of saying the Rosary — of knowing the prayers themselves, please do me a huge favor and don’t try to institute all four sets of Mysteries with everyone on their knees.
Why not try this just for this week:
|Work your way from the bottom up.|
This is the first part — the little tail of the beads. For one week do this: your husband calls everyone together in a good spot (we sit or pace or, rarely, kneel, and to be honest, there are those who sometimes stretch out on the rug and yes, try not to be scandalized, pray while lying down). When the children are little, it’s helpful if your spot is not near their toy area. You can light a candle (up out of reach of baby), if you like, pass out Rosary beads (although you can use your fingers), mention your intentions for which you are praying and give enough time for everyone to do so, make the Sign of the Cross, and pray:
The Apostle’s Creed – (find this and the other prayers here.)
The Our Father
Three Hail Marys (for the virtues of faith, hope, and charity)
The Glory Be
Make the Sign of the Cross and be on your way after extinguishing the candle.
Do that for one week and you will be ready to say one decade of the Rosary the next week along with those prayers. So — the above, plus do this:
Announce the decade of the Rosary you are praying (let’s say it’s Monday — say, “The first Joyful Mystery, the Annunciation”), say an Our Father, 10 Hail Marys, and a Glory Be. Make the Sign of the Cross, and off you go! (Don’t forget to blow out the candle. I really don’t want comments about how you burned down your house because Auntie Leila said to light a candle.)
Do that for the next week as well. If things are going well, and do try not to continually ask yourselves if they are going well, but just notice afterwards how it went, do your one decade and then say the Hail Holy Queen.
On the fourth week, try saying the whole Rosary (5 decades), ending with the Hail Holy Queen.
4. One more thing: Confine your teaching and explaining to non-prayer times. Prayer is talking to God. Many adults thwart their own purposes by constantly addressing themselves to children in explanation, which naturally causes the children to think that prayer is meant to be talking to them.
You can see where that is going.
So by November you can be saying the whole Rosary with your family. Do you think that Our Lady will be upset if you don’t really get past a decade, or even the little tail? Really? Do you?
Anticipating your questions, let’s Ask Auntie Leila:
1. “My kids just won’t sit still.”
Your kids are very little, most likely, so that’s why we’re just starting with the tail of the Rosary. You know, when I became a Catholic at the age of 19 I had really never knelt at all. I physically could not kneel! It made me squirmy and I felt like I would pass out and my knees hurt and all I could think of was how uncomfortable I was and I actually kinda hated it.
But little by little I got used to it — my body got used to kneeling. In the year 2000 we went to Rome for the Jubilee year. One day I caught myself marveling at how actually comfortable kneeling on the marble floor of St. Peter’s was — for the whole Mass!
Lighting a candle, having a spot where you gather, allowing a moment to appreciate the wonder of addressing God, and, paradoxically, turning your attention away from the children towards something beyond — these all help. Build it up gradually.
Even a small child can sit still for the first bit, and you should ask them to firmly. Before you start, tell them that you expect them to stay with you for that part, and then when you give them the nod, they can choose to stay put or go off to play quietly (you can designate appropriate activities beforehand if you don’t want them chasing each other with toy machine guns during the prayer).
2. “They still misbehave.”
Re-read point #4 above and stop focusing on them.
Just as in other instances, you will have to stop what you are doing (one of you, while the other continues the prayer) and put a stop to the misbehavior if it’s really disruptive. That’s another reason to keep things short while they learn that you mean it. At first you will be sort of on edge, but soon you will realize that the best thing is to state your expectations firmly beforehand, ignore what you can during, and deal with what you must, also firmly. Auntie Leila is not above rewarding people for good behavior, but don’t mention it during the misbehavior or threaten.
I don’t consider a child up to the age of about seven, quietly playing on the floor (according to their development), a distraction — or someone wandering out to check on the coloring left on the table, or to go out of the room to sing a song.
In other words, are they disrupting to be that way, or because they lost their concentration? Big difference.
Be flexible and don’t stress out. In the end, when you stick with it, keep your standards, and don’t give too much importance to little children’s naughtiness once you’ve handled it, you will find that they pray very sweetly with you. It might take years, but it will happen.
3. “Some days we just can’t fit in the Rosary, or we have guests, or for some other reason we don’t say it. This makes me think we’re just not good at it.”
If you ran a convent I’d say you were messing up, but family life is not like that. There are times, especially with older children, that dinner gets extended because you are all having a great discussion or so much fun that the Rosary time gets skipped. That is just fine.
Saying the Rosary most days gives you the habit of doing it — takes it from something you make a decision about every time to something you just do. That’s important so that you can attend to what’s behind it, rather than the mechanics of it. What’s behind it is loving God enough to have a standing date with Him for this kind of meditation on His life, His will, and His mother’s loving care.
If you are attending Vespers at your church or praying the Liturgy of the Hours at home, entertaining guests who would be made uncomfortable (but it’s amazing how many appreciate praying too!), or what have you, don’t worry! You are free!
Don’t forget, you can pray the Rosary together on a hike, in the car, or when you are putting the children to bed, although I don’t really recommend doing that often, or they will be conditioned to fall asleep as soon as the Rosary starts!
I’ve noticed that children grow up saying, “We always did this or that” when I know for sure we did it, well, not always. But I think they are right. For all intents and purposes, if it’s a habit, you “always” do it!