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
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
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
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,
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.
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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