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Rediscovering the Rosary
By James Rurak
Like a fisherman’s line, God uses the Rosary to lure the faithful.

Q U I C K S C A N

New Life, Old Tensions
In the Name of the Father
Life Ongoing
Angling for God
Willingness to Be Caught


PHOTO © ISTOCKPHOTO.COM/MARCEL PELLETIER

I set down my Rosary beads after my Confirmation in 1960. They symbolized an old faith I wanted to leave behind. That faith, though beautiful, seemed to be a roadblock to a new and deeper pathway to God.

The Polish parish where I memorized the Baltimore Catechism had a beautiful grotto behind it. It was an oasis in our aging Massachusetts city. On every temperate Sunday afternoon, the priest led a special procession from the sanctuary to Mary’s statue. Along the route, he led us in the Rosary. The priest announced each mystery, he recited the first half of each appropriate prayer and we’d answer by completing the prayer.

We finished by praying the final Glorious Mystery. At the end of the Rosary we’d fall silent and contemplate it as a whole. The procession often took on the beauty of a symphony or a ballet. It seemed we’d left our physical neighborhood and had gotten closer to God.

But as the Church embraced the joys and hopes of the world with Vatican II, the Rosary seemed mechanical, a prayer wrapped up in a long-gone system of indulgences and forgiveness by works, and everything else that made Catholic spirituality taste like bitter medicine to cure carnal desires and worldly ambitions.

I looked for a new way of being Catholic and found it in a combination of philosophical, theological and social activism. Instead of a way out from the world, prayer meant reflections on social and political actions taken as a group of believers.

In the ’70s, I taught theology in Texas where I joined a wonderful group of the faithful who were committed to improving the community and the world. We worked and prayed together, and I felt good about this new way of Catholic spirituality.

But as an only child, I also felt guilty living 2,000 miles from my aging parents. In the early ’80s, out of a sense of duty, I returned home. Fortunately, my fiancée had a sense of charity and adventure. We made our home and raised a family back East. But even as my social activism and worldly responsibilities increased, I rediscovered the Rosary.

New Life, Old Tensions

My folks seemed glad to have us living nearby, but many of the old tensions and divisions between us flared up. While they were happy that my wife and I soon had a child, we argued over the baby’s name. My father helped me build our new house, but he and his friends always criticized the design and workmanship, and so on.

These were typical father, mother and son issues, but they strained the relationship among all of us. We worked hard to gain our stride. Sometimes it seemed we’d all be better off with more distance between us.

Suddenly, my dad had brain cancer. I divided my time among my new family, working with my wife to make ends meet and helping my mom care for Dad.

My father prayed the Rosary as I drove him to his daily radiation therapy. The ride took us 40 miles to Boston. One day, perhaps either to break the silence or to ease my nerves, I asked if I could join him. Suddenly, it was like being back in the grotto procession!

My dad was the “priest,” announcing the mysteries and reciting the first half of each prayer. But this time it was different: The prayer drew us together. After we prayed it, even sometimes in the middle of it, we’d talk about our relationship—its joys and its sorrows.

I could feel with each revolution of the beads that my father was getting ready to die. And he was letting me into this part of his life. As we prayed the mysteries of the Rosary, we sorted through his suffering and our joys.

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One day we got news that Dad’s tumor had shrunk. We were overjoyed only to learn that this merely prolonged the agony. But we found in the Glorious Mysteries a hope that was already dawning before us.

As his disease progressed, his faculties waned. After a couple of weeks of therapy, his memory faded. By then, I’d relearned the order of the prayers of the Rosary and the mysteries of each day. So I led the prayer. Our roles were reversed. Then, his speech stopped. I prayed it all out loud. He’d finger the beads. We’d come full circle—except that now we were joined in prayer.

The Rosary we prayed together opened my eyes to the depth of my dad’s faith. He knew he was dying, but he wasn’t destroyed by death. He faced it triumphantly. We walked a road together, and I loved him for how he led me down it. In the time we spent praying together, God gave me a gift I most wanted but hadn’t even thought about: the gift of love, of love for my father.

I’d returned home out of a sense of duty to my aging parents. But I was transformed over time, through prayer, through sharing my father’s faith and hope.

This didn’t come from a single act of will on my part. It came from a shared recitation of the rhythmic Rosary prayers and daily mysteries. This thing we did together took us beyond what kept us apart. It opened a new space in which to learn and love.

After Dad died, I often prayed the Rosary while I was driving. I’d recall our rides together and I’d meditate on life ongoing. Often, I’d use the steering-wheel knobs to keep count of the prayers.

When my mom had a stroke, I helped take care of her. Each day we’d pray the Rosary. We were praying the Rosary when she died. Her passing came between the last Sorrowful Mystery (the Crucifixion) and the first Glorious Mystery (the Resurrection). The pace of our prayer reflected her steps toward death and glory.

What I learned from praying the Rosary with my mom and dad I still carry with me in my daily Rosary prayer. Spirituality is not just a reflection on actions that you take either as an individual or as a group. It also is a taking into your heart what God wants of you. But in order to let this happen, it takes time.

The regular recitation of the Rosary makes time for God. God fills that time with answers to questions I didn’t know I had asked. The Rosary allowed me to face things I could not change, and it created within me a place to accept those changes only God can make.

But the starting point for rediscovering the Rosary needn’t be a loved one’s terminal illness. It does, however, require a circumstance or willingness to devote time to the regular recitation of the Rosary prayers.

I love to fish—anytime, anywhere. You go to a beautiful spot. You seek out adventure and relaxation. You cast and cast and watch your lure. But you also let your attention roam. You take in the beauty of the water and the sky and the wildlife.

Suddenly, a fish strikes. Unless you have remained at least subliminally attentive, you miss the fish. Oftentimes, a whole day goes by without a strike. You change your lures. Sometimes it makes the difference, sometimes it doesn’t. But you stay at it because one thing’s for sure: You can’t catch a fish without having a line in the water.

The Rosary’s a lot like this. The prayers themselves are beautiful. They are like casting a line out. You seek an adventuresome prize, namely, a conversation with God.

Pope John Paul II calls the prayers the “warp” on which is woven “the contemplation of the mysteries [of redemption]” (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, Section 18). Just as casting your line into the water makes it possible to catch a fish, praying the Rosary creates a space to listen to God. But you can’t reel God in. At the same time, a tug from God may just change your footing!

But the parallel goes deeper. It has to do with time. If you spend a week fishing in the wilderness, a new thing happens. You don’t just fish. You experience the passage of time in a very different setting. Nature reshapes you and your expectations. Your senses of smell and taste increase. You enjoy the rainy days and the sunny ones. And you’re grateful for the whole of it.

What struck me most when I prayed the Rosary with my dad is how the mysteries of the Rosary key into the days of the week. They make a regular pattern with which you can align your own experiences with the mysteries of redemption.

Your mind and heart can wander, but they’re always drawn back and into the pattern of the mysteries. The Rosary lays down a regular pattern for prayer that extends over a week’s worth of time. And it is within that passage of time that the whole prayer unfolds.

In 2002, Pope John Paul II introduced an additional set of mysteries, namely, the Luminous.

In his words, they are not meant to supplant the traditional Rosary, but they complement it by giving it “fresh life” (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, Section 19). And, indeed, they do, especially for those who feel their weeklong prayer may need some new direction. Still in all, though the new option did rearrange the mysteries’ order during the week, they remain situated within a single week’s duration.

The week begins with the Glorious Mysteries on Sunday, then proceeds each following day to the Joyful, the Sorrowful, the Glorious, the Luminous, the Sorrowful, the Joyful and then the Glorious again. You can relate your own joys and sorrows to the glory of God.

In both the traditional and new formats, the Rosary combines a daily cycle of prayer with a temporal path that lasts a week. When you pray the cycle daily, you’re carried to a different spot each day. You’re at a different spot on the lake, on a different day of the week, but you’re still fishing.

And the answer to your casting, your prayers, may not be a fish. It may be the change wrought in you by spending the time in prayer—just like the way a week in the wilderness means more to you than any fish you may or may not have caught.

Thus it was when Dad and I shared his joys, sorrows and hopes. Thus it was when my mom passed away between the crucifixion and the Resurrection. But it also is with whatever experiences or concerns you bring to God. In the course of the week, by way of its rhythmic prayers and the weaving of the mysteries of redemption with your own joys, hopes and faith, the Rosary creates a space for God to work on you.

Just as the wilderness itself heightens your senses, helps you enjoy the sunny and the rainy days, so too the Rosary suspends you on a web that only God can move and shake.

In Scripture, God speaks through time and space. It takes 40 years to ready the Israelites for the Promised Land. Elijah hears the calm voice in a whirlwind after spending time in the wilderness. Jesus goes into the wilderness for 40 days before beginning his earthly ministry.

The Rosary provides for each of us a way to be shaped into a person who is eager and ready to hear God speak. What began as an angling for God becomes a desire and a willingness to be caught.

James Rurak is a freelance writer and retired college professor. Married for 26 years and the father of three, he is also an amateur carpenter and was elected mayor of his hometown—Haverhill, Massachusetts—four times.


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