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A Rosary Story View Comments
By Brian Doyle

I’LL TELL YOU A STORY about one rosary and let it stand for so very many of these lovely, silent, haunting companions in our pockets and cars and purses and drawers and under pillows and wrapped around the hands of the dead.

This rosary was made 80 years ago by a boy in the woods of Oregon. He was a timber feller working so deep in the woods there were no roads, and the men and boys rode into camp on mules. He was 17 years old that summer and very lonely.

One evening he began to carve rosary beads from cedar splits otherwise destined for the fire. He tried to carve a bead a night sitting by the fire. With each bead he would try to remember the story of the bead as his mother had told him. There were the joyful mysteries of good news and visiting cousins and new babies and christenings and finding children whom you feared were lost utterly.

There were the sorrowful mysteries of men weeping in the dark and men beating men and men jeering and taunting men and men torturing men and men murdering men under the aegis of the law.

There were the glorious mysteries of life defeating death and light returning against epic darkness and epiphanies arriving when no doors or windows seemed open to admit them and love defeating death and the victory of that we know to be true against all evidence that it is not.

When he had cut a bead for each of these stories he was finished, for there were at that time no luminous mysteries on which to ponder and pray.

He threaded thin copper wire through each of the beads, setting the mysteries apart with a larger bead cut from yew, and he carved a cross from the shinbone of an elk. He thought about trying to carve a Christ also, but the thought of carving Christ made him uncomfortable. Anyway, he did not think he had the skill, and he did not want to ask one of the older men, some of whom were superb carvers, so he left the cross unadorned, as he said, and put the rosary in his pocket. He carried it with him every day the rest of his life.

The rosary went with him through Italy and North Africa in the war, and into the wheat fields of Oregon, and back into the woods where he again cut timber for a while, and then all through his travels as a journalist on every blessed muddy road from Canada to California, as he said, and through his brief, but very happy, years in retirement by the sea, where his rosary acquired a patina of salt from the mother of all oceans, as he said.

He had the rosary in his pocket the day he was on his knees in his garden and leaned forward and placed his face upon the earth and died, almost 70 years after he finished carving the rosary in the deep woods as a boy.

His wife carried the rosary in her pocket for the next two years until the morning she died in her bed, smiling at the prospect of seeing her husband by evening, as she told their son.

The son carried the rosary in his pocket for the next three days until the moment when he and I were walking out of the church, laughing at one of his father’s thousand salty stories of life in the woods and in the war and in the fields and on the road and by the sea, at which point the son handed it to me and said, “Dad wanted you to have it,” and hustled away to attend to his wife and children and brothers and nieces and nephews.

I wept. Sure, I did. You would weep, too. Sure you would.

I have the rosary in my pocket now. I hope to carry it every day the rest of my life, and jingle it absentmindedly, and pray it here and there when I have a moment in the sun, and place it ever so carefully and gently on a shelf every night before I go to bed, touching the elk-bone cross with a smile in memory of my friend George, until the morning of my own death, when I pray for a last few moments of grace in which to hand it to my son, and then close my eyes and go to see the One for whom it was made, who made us. Amen.



Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland, Oregon. His most recent book is Grace Notes(ACTA).

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Jacopone da Todi: Jacomo, or James, was born a noble member of the Benedetti family in the northern Italian city of Todi. He became a successful lawyer and married a pious, generous lady named Vanna. 
<p>His young wife took it upon herself to do penance for the worldly excesses of her husband. One day Vanna, at the insistence of Jacomo, attended a public tournament. She was sitting in the stands with the other noble ladies when the stands collapsed. Vanna was killed. Her shaken husband was even more disturbed when he realized that the penitential girdle she wore was for his sinfulness. On the spot, he vowed to radically change his life. </p><p>He divided his possessions among the poor and entered the Secular Franciscan Order (once known as the Third Order). Often dressed in penitential rags, he was mocked as a fool and called Jacopone, or "Crazy Jim," by his former associates. The name became dear to him. </p><p>After 10 years of such humiliation, Jacopone asked to be a member of the Order of Friars Minor(First Order). Because of his reputation, his request was initially refused. He composed a beautiful poem on the vanities of the world, an act that eventually led to his admission into the Order in 1278. He continued to lead a life of strict penance, declining to be ordained a priest. Meanwhile he was writing popular hymns in the vernacular. </p><p>Jacopone suddenly found himself a leader in a disturbing religious movement among the Franciscans. The Spirituals, as they were called, wanted a return to the strict poverty of Francis. They had on their side two cardinals of the Church and Pope Celestine V. These two cardinals, though, opposed Celestine’s successor, Boniface VIII. At the age of 68, Jacopone was excommunicated and imprisoned. Although he acknowledged his mistake, Jacopone was not absolved and released until Benedict XI became pope five years later. He had accepted his imprisonment as penance. He spent the final three years of his life more spiritual than ever, weeping "because Love is not loved." During this time he wrote the famous Latin hymn, <i>Stabat Mater</i>. </p><p>On Christmas Eve in 1306 Jacopone felt that his end was near. He was in a convent of the Poor Clares with his friend, Blessed John of La Verna. Like Francis, Jacopone welcomed "Sister Death" with one of his favorite songs. It is said that he finished the song and died as the priest intoned the Gloria from the midnight Mass at Christmas. From the time of his death, Brother Jacopone has been venerated as a saint.</p> American Catholic Blog By immersing our lives in the rhythm of the season, charity can flood our souls and fill us with the happiness for which we were created. We awake Christmas morning prepared to celebrate the birth of our Savior not as a memory but as a profound experience of God’s redemptive love.

 
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