+ In loving memory of my mom, Mrs. Luz O. Marfil-Gonzales, who passed away on 8 November 2014, two days after my birthday.
Evenings at home ended with the rosary. My mother would gather all of us in front of the family’s altar. Occasionally, she would show her anger to any one who was too lazy to pray. She had five children, so she would assign one decade to each one of us because Dad would usually doze off somewhere between the 2nd and the 3rd mysteries. As the eldest, I would take the first mystery, so I could join Dad when he dreamed. She would begin with the introductory prayers, and after the fifth mystery, end the rosary with a litany of the saints and a prayer for all the faithful departed.
I have learned to love the rosary because it invoked a beautiful and pleasant memory of my family. With the struggle of keeping awake in my younger days, my family has taught me how to pray “as the Church” and how to persevere in prayer. Prayer, as we were taught in catechism, was “both a gift of grace and a determined response on our part. It always presupposed effort” (CCC 2725).
The rosary is a perfect companion on any journey. It was not an accident that years past my teenage years, I would learn to put a rosary in my pocket and/or in my backpack when I entered the Jesuits. I would use it while sitting meditatively during Holy Hours, walking prayerfully after dinner, or traveling on long mission trips to central Bukidnon. Whether stationary or mobile, the rosary allowed me to put all of my focus on the only one that mattered: Jesus.
At a young age, memorizing the mysteries of the life of Jesus was easy. Thanks to repetition, the timeline of Jesus’ life had been planted. Without reading the Gospels, I already knew the “epitome of the Gospels” (Pius VI’s Marialis Cultus 42; Sacrosanctum Concilium 103). By reciting all the mysteries of the rosary, I already knew the story of Jesus — from beginning to end. That is why in medieval times, the Western Church recommended the rosary as a substitute for the Liturgy of the Hours.
And what more now that I do study, reflect and pray the Scriptures. With constant meditation on every single mystery, the habit has led me to “know Jesus more intimately, love Him more ardently, and follow Him more closely” (Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola). The mysteries have grown on me as I matured. Eventually, my relationship with Jesus has thrived and grown too, like best friends whose friendship would continue forever.
But there is something else. As Jesus became the foreground of my consciousness in praying the rosary, Mary would be at the background. With the foreground and the background, I had a complete picture. With the constant Hail Mary’s, like an Asian mantra, I became in communion with Mary, as she accompanied Jesus in His life. Today, I still consider the rosary as a pilgrimage, a deeper spiritual journey: I have been growing up with Mary and Jesus! This realization has been very striking. In both of my 30-Day Retreat in the novitiate (1989) and my tertianship (2011), my contemplation of the life of Jesus in the 2nd to the 4th week of the Spiritual Exercises has “placed me in prayer” like a brother to Jesus.
Being in communion with Mary is nothing new to our Catholic faith. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say:
“Because of Mary’s singular cooperation with the action of the Holy Spirit, the Church loves to pray in communion with the Virgin Mary, to magnify with her the great things the Lord has done for her and to entrust supplications and praises for her (CCC 2682).”
Eventually, praying the rosary has become a “communion” with Mary and my mom who has been my first teacher in the faith. And in a much deeper sense, the rosary is maternal to me: Both Mary and my mom have led me, not to their lives, but to Jesus. My favorite image of Mary, in any given title of hers, is the Madonna and Child. I always regard this image as two-fold: sometimes her fingers point to Jesus as she holds Him (many Marian icons are like this), and sometimes with her arms stretched toward me, she would hold Jesus like a mother giving her child to be kissed or even to be carried. In other words, the Madonna and Child images are invitations to be closer to Jesus! One of the graces St. Ignatius asks of each Jesuit is to “beg God the Father to place [you] with His Son.”
“Christian prayer tries above all to meditate on the mysteries of Christ, as in the rosary. This form of prayerful reflection is of great value, but Christian prayer should go further: to the knowledge of the love of the Lord Jesus, to union with Him” (CCC 2708).
Many people would use the rosary as they come to Mary with their greatest needs. I am like them. And I have been accustomed to dedicate every decade to a petition. Not that I come only when I have needs, but I come because I also carry not just my needs, but other people’s prayers as well. And aren’t we all needy?
At the end of the rosary is the Hail, Holy Queen. I love that prayer because it affirms that everyone has unending needs: we “send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.” And so, we petition her to “turn then [her] eyes of mercy towards us.” And we also ask her to “show to us the blessed fruit of [her] womb, Jesus.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church adds:
“The Church rightly honors the Blessed Virgin with special devotion. From the most ancient times the Blessed Virgin has been honored with the title of ‘Mother of God’, to whose protection the faithful fly in all their dangers and needs” (CCC, 971).
Another prayer, the Memorare, illustrates this flight to her all the more:
“Remember, O Most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known, that anyone who fled to your protection was left unaided… Mother of the Most Incarnate, despise not our petitions, but in your mercy, hear and answer us.”
In other words, by being orans (pray-ers) themselves, Mary and my mom have taught me to pray. Praying the rosary will never be devoid of my dual devotion to my two mothers, both have my deepest gratitude and love.
“Mary is the perfect Orans (pray-er), a figure of the Church. When we pray to her, we are adhering with her to the plan of the Father, who sends His Son to save all people. Like the beloved disciple, we welcome Jesus’ mother into our homes (John 19:27), for she has become the mother of all the living. We can pray with her and to her” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2679).
So, put a rosary in your pocket. It continues to help me focus on Jesus alone.