cropped-rosary.jpg A Journey Begins

By Cliff Garvey

Saint John XXIII once said: “The Rosary is a magnificent and universal prayer for the needs of the Church, the nations, and the entire world.” Decades later, Pope Francis said: “The Rosary is spiritual medicine.” Now more than ever, it seems, our sick and suffering world needs medicine. Now more than ever, we need spiritual medicine like the Holy Rosary. These reflections will not serve as a tutorial on how to pray the Rosary. They will not make the case that praying the Rosary will lead to personal happiness; dissolve the divisions that separate us; cure what ails us; or bring about world peace.

Instead, these moments of reflection will concentrate on our personal journeys with the Rosary; and with Mary, Our Blessed Mother, who always leads us closer to her Son, who is our Crucified and Risen Lord. The first two reflections will focus on personal journeys with Our Lady. The third and fourth reflections will focus on the Church’s ongoing experience with the Blessed Mother and the Holy Rosary. For the fifth and final reflection, we will seek to transcend these troubled and turbulent times by turning to the Franciscan Rosary; by praying with the Seven Joys in the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Let us begin by thinking and praying about our personal relationships with Mary, with Jesus, with the community of believers that we call the Church. Ask God for the grace to recall those moments when we felt closest to the Lord, to the Blessed Mother, to our brothers and sisters in faith. Ask for the grace to remember those men and women, past and present, who helped us along the way; taught us to pray; and walked with us in spirit and love during times of gladness and thanksgiving, during times of sadness and suffering.

We are all familiar with the old saying: “We plan and God laughs.” This timeless bit of folk wisdom reminds us that God is in charge; that His will be done — not yours and certainly not mine. For too many years, I struggled with having a devotion to Our Blessed Mother. I was reluctant to grow close to her, reluctant to ask her to pray for me, reluctant to ask her to pray for anyone or anything.

Looking back, I confess two reasons for this reluctance: fear and pride. Fear that growing closer to the Blessed Mother would somehow draw me away from her Son. Stupid me. Fear that growing closer to her would lead toward a more devotional spirituality — the kind that one might get from watching too much religious television. Stupid me, again. Fear that repeating “pray for us, sinners” over and over again might lead to unexpected consequences. Stupid me, again and again. And pride that somehow I am in charge of my own spiritual life. Pride that somehow I am in command of picking and choosing how best to pray; how best to grow in faith, hope, and love; how best to grow closer to our Crucified and Risen Lord. Stupid me, again and again and again. We plan and God laughs.

Small seeds are planted in the soul. By God’s grace, these seeds germinate and grow. New life begins. Miracles happen. Two decades ago, I was invited to take part in a weekend retreat in New Hampshire. It was winter in the White Mountains. Deep snow. Fierce winds. Biting cold. Amazing grace. The priest celebrated Mass in a small chapel. I remember his powerful homily about how the Church really began with the Blessed Mother and the Beloved Disciple praying at the foot of the Cross. They are two devastated and devoted disciples; alone in their grief but forever faithful. This image of discipleship can inspire a lifetime of prayer, devotion, and reflection; and it still keeps me awake some nights.

A few years later, I was asked to serve as a director of faith formation at a large suburban parish just north of Boston. Before beginning my first year, a group of volunteers helped me clear out our parish center. We literally emptied it of many decades of debris: unnecessary files and paperwork; old and out-of-date catechetical materials; along with the kind of rubbish that seems to accumulate mysteriously in classrooms and offices when people aren’t looking. Over the course of a single summer, we filled four two-ton dumpsters!

One late summer day, while cleaning out one last closet, we found a treasure. It was a nearly forgotten, hand-carved, very simple wood statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Someone had carved it with great care and love; gave it to the parish; and it found its way into a dusty corner, then into a closet in a room with peeling paint. In this rough image, Mary is at prayer. She holds only her rosary. Here is the young girl who heard and responded to the voice of an angel. Here is the young mother who swaddled the newborn Son of God. Here is the first disciple at the foot of the Cross. Here is the wise woman who rejoices at the sight of the Risen Lord.

This statue was given to me by our pastor when I moved on to another parish. Ever since finding it, it has informed and inspired my devotion to the Mother of God. It reminds me again and again of her life of discipleship, her simplicity, and her joy — a joy that is deepened, but never lessened, by the sorrow and suffering of the Cross.

Not long after finding the statue, I met Dorothea. When I met Dot, she was eighty years old. Over the years, she became one of our program’s best and most reliable volunteers. Fifteen years later, at ninety-five years young, Dot remains one of my best friends. She is equal parts friend and confidant, mother and grandmother, and nagging spouse. Almost immediately, Dot and I began to talk about all things spiritual. When we were stuffing envelopes, processing registration forms, or just having coffee together, our conversations always turned toward prayer and spirituality. As an instrument of grace and as a co-conspirator with Jesus, Mary, and the Holy Spirit, Dot ruined my life. Rather, she ruined my plans to avoid a deep and lasting relationship with the Blessed Mother. Dot encouraged. She pleaded. She badgered. She nagged. She grumbled. One time, she became truly, famously, furiously angry at my reluctance to pray the Rosary. That was a day to remember!

Ultimately, Dot did what friends do for friends they love. She did what mothers do for their children. She would not let it go. She wanted the best for me; and she would not let it go until she knew that I had found it. She would not let me go until she knew that I had found and accepted and embraced the Blessed Mother’s place in my life. It would be still some time before I turned readily to Our Lady for guidance and support; before I appreciated her love for me, her love for all of us — no matter who we are, no matter where we’re from, no matter what we’ve done in this life. It would be years before I truly understood in my heart that praying with the Blessed Mother leads us to Jesus, not away from Jesus.

Pope Benedict XVI once said: “With the Rosary, we allow ourselves to be guided by Mary, model of faith, in meditating on the mysteries of Christ; and day after day, we are helped to take in the Gospel, so that it shapes our whole lives.” Pope Benedict and Dorothea have much in common: age, wisdom, and deepest devotion. As for me, seeds were planted at the core of my being. Seeds were planted in the form of a homily, a statue, and a good friend’s good counsel. Such seeds are planted in the soul. By God’s grace, they germinate and grow. New life begins. Miracles happen.

Think and pray again about your own personal relationship with Mary, with Jesus, and with the Church. Recall those moments when you felt closest to the Lord, to the Blessed Mother, and to our brothers and sister in faith. Remember those who helped you along the way, taught you to pray, walked with you in spirit and love during the good times and the not-so-good times of this one life that you are blessed to live. With the Blessed Mother, find your place at the foot of the Cross. Give praise. Give thanks. Ask her to pray for you, for us, and for our sick and suffering world.

Hail Mary,
full of grace,
the Lord is with you.
Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit
of your womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us, sinners,
now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Glory to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen. Saint Francis of Assisi, pray for us! Saint Clare of Assisi, pray for us! Our Lady of Angels, pray for us! Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us!

About the Author & Presenter

Cliff Garvey is co-founder of the Assisi Project. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Maine, Saint John Seminary College, and the Catholic  University of America. Cliff is a spiritual director, retreat leader, writer, and university lecturer. He also serves as Associate Minister of the Catholic Community of Gloucester & Rockport in Massachusetts where his ministry focuses on adult faith formation.

Thank you for listening to the Living Rosary, Day 1: A Journey Begins. This audio recording is produced by the Assisi Project, Inc. For more information about the Assisi Project and our programs and ministries for adults of all ages and backgrounds, please contact Cliff at Copyright 2020. All Rights Reserved. May the Lord give you peace!


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Founded in 2007, the Assisi Project is a Fellowship of Franciscans in Spirit with friends and followers throughout the world. We are dedicated to helping Christian believers of all ages more faithfully live the Gospel of Christ in the spirit of Saint Francis and Saint Clare of Assisi. The Assisi Project is a non-profit, tax exempt charitable organization. All are welcome to support our ministry via PayPal or AmazonSmile (links below); or by sending a tax-deductible donation to the Assisi Project, Post Office Box 3158, Gloucester, Massachusetts 01931-3158. For more information about the Assisi Project and our upcoming opportunities for formation, prayer, and pilgrimage, please contact Cliff Garvey at May the Lord give you peace!

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