Praying the Rosary: It’s a Journey

“Be Sure to Fight Well”

When I was a teenager, I tried to start a habit of praying a daily rosary. It failed quickly; every time my mind wandered from the words I was saying, I made myself start over, thinking if I didn’t concentrate on every word, I was doing it wrong. Needless to say, it was an unsustainable practice.

As an adult, I learned more about the mysteries and meditating on them, and then my husband (boyfriend at the time) told me something that changed my approach to contemplative prayer: It’s OK if your mind wanders. Just bring it back and continue.

Recently, while I was reading “The Secret of the Rosary,” St. Louis de Montfort told me the same thing:

“Be of good heart even if your imagination has been bothering you throughout your Rosary, filling your mind with all kinds of distracting thoughts—as long as you really tried hard to get rid of them as soon as they came. Always remember that the best Rosary is the one with the most merit, and there is more merit in praying when it is hard than when it is easy. Prayer is all the harder when it is (naturally speaking) distasteful to the soul and is filled with those annoying little ants and flies running about in your imagination, against your will, and scarcely allowing you the time to enjoy a little peace and appreciate the beauty of what you are saying.

“Even if you have to fight distractions all through your whole Rosary be sure to fight well, arms in hand: that is to say, do not stop saying your Rosary even if it is hard to say and you have absolutely no sensible devotion. It is a terrible battle, I know, but one that is profitable to the faithful soul. If you put down your arms, that is, if you give up the Rosary, you will be admitting defeat and then, having won, the devil will leave you alone.”

With this encouragement in mind, I can cut myself some slack when my mind wanders during my rosary; as long as it doesn’t keep me from praying and trying to meditate, it’s OK. Practice makes perfect, and I know my focus will improve over time. (More experienced moms, please tell me this is true even for scatterbrained mothers!)

Praying the Rosary as a Mother

A month or so after my daughter was born, I started praying the rosary again during her first nap of the day. It was hard at first; I’d have preferred to nap or read or write—to do something productive or something restful. But I figured I would need all the spiritual help I could get to be the mother I need to be, and who better to help than the Mother of God? I set a reminder on my phone in a list of daily to-dos. It felt a little weird to check a box after praying the rosary—shouldn’t prayer be spontaneous, a “surge of the heart,” as St. Thérèse says? Yes, sometimes; but I needed that reminder to build the habit. At some point, I realized that I didn’t need the reminder or the reinforcement of checking a box—most days, I was praying the rosary because I wanted to.

My daughter started teething last week, and my previously happy baby, as delighted to be put down for a nap as she was to see me when she woke up, suddenly needs quite a bit of rocking and cuddling before she will fall asleep. At first, that first nap of the day was especially frustrating to me, knowing my rosary was waiting for me. I was often tempted to skip the rosary to get on with everything I needed and wanted to do while she was asleep. One morning this week, I was holding her Chews Life rosary decade, which she’d been gnawing on, and I decided to start praying my morning rosary with my daughter in my arms. While it took more than the five decades to put her to sleep, the repetition of the Hail Marys seemed to comfort her—and me. While holding my baby, the joyful mysteries remind me of the joys of motherhood. The sorrowful mysteries prompt me to “offer it up” (and put my own sufferings into perspective!). The glorious mysteries inspire me to see God’s glory from the eyes of a child. The luminous mysteries … well, I’m still struggling with a couple of them. I’ll get there.

For a while, prayer was easier as a mom. My daughter napped so well that I had more time than I’ve ever had to pray. But holiness doesn’t come the easy way. Your vocation is your way to heaven not because it makes your life easier but because it challenges you to carry a cross (and gives you the grace, if you cooperate with it, to do so). Someday, when my daughter interrupts the rosary with more than a cry, to ask me questions or to tell me that she’s bored, it will be even more difficult to pray. But day by day, bead by bead, the rosary bringing me closer to Jesus and his mother—and I’m bringing my daughter there with me.

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