By Santiago Rodriguez, S.J.
Editor’s note: Catholic devotions: why do they matter, what are they made of, what are they are not. In a strong and prescriptive phrase in his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola wrote “we ought to praise not only the building and adornment of churches, but also the images and veneration of them according to what they represent.” He seemed to press the point even further, writing “we should show our esteem for the relics of the saints by venerating them and praying to the saints. We should praise visits to Station Churches, pilgrimages, indulgences, jubilees, crusade insults, and the lighting of candles in churches.” For some, these devotions are the spiritual life-blood of the believing Church; for others they may seem simplistic or quaint. But in the spirit of our founder, we, too, seek to explore and understand the powerful role of devotions in the Church today.
The Rosary is a meditation on all important moments of salvation history.
– Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
Mom lives far. Strike that. Mom lives very far. It has been almost a year since I last saw her and I have missed her more than one could imagine. I am very grateful for life, the way she loves me, and the goodness in her life. There was a point in my life when I did not see that. We struggled to communicate. We didn't always see eye to eye. Heck, we got mad at each other, too. But over the years, we mostly enjoyed each other’s company and loved each other very much.
Like all mothers, mine is a worrier. At times, she was overprotective and, therefore, blames her grey hairs on us (just kidding Mom, you have no grey hairs – you dye them). All the good and crazy things that Mom does stem from her deep love for my brothers and me. She has always been our fiercest advocate and bodyguard. Hands down, Mom is my biggest cheerleader. She is always excited for me in all that I do. To her, everything is an opportunity that I am going to naturally excel at. She cheers me on in such a great manner that I never feel pressured.
When I do something stupid – which happens regularly – she finds a loving way to let me know. It is not always gentle, but it is always out of love. I remember a night about seven years ago when she kept me up for hours begging me not to make the greatest mistake of my life. In retrospect, it would have been a horrible mistake, and my life would be completely different today. Mom saved the day. Her love transformed me. Through her eyes, I was able to see myself in a new way.
That night forever altered my life. It also changed the way I relate to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the way I pray the Rosary. Just like it happened that night when I saw my life in my mother’s eyes, every time I pray the Rosary I contemplate Jesus’ life in the eyes of Mama Mary. Whether I am rushing through the prayers or I am taking my time to meditate on the mysteries, the Rosary leads my heart to the Heart of Jesus, for it is a meditation on the greatest love story the world has ever known.
I know many people are wary of praying to Mary, but we all have to call our mothers once in a while. If Mom does not hear from me every couple of weeks, I hear about it. Besides, the Rosary is not just a prayer to Mary. It is praying with Mary, to Jesus. As St. John Paul II used to say, the Rosary is Marian in character, but is at heart a Christocentric prayer. Jesus is at the heart of the Rosary, just as he is at the heart of every Hail Mary.
As a son of Loyola, I love the Rosary because it is a contemplative prayer. It is an invitation to contemplate the life of Jesus. Without this contemplation, the Rosary loses its power – it becomes a mechanical repetition of formulas. It would be as meaningless as repeating the second law of thermodynamics or Einstein’s theory of relativity.
When we pray the Rosary, we pray for the grace that St. Ignatius Loyola often desired: “Mary, show me your Son; Jesus, show me your mother.” As we pray the Rosary, we contemplate Christ with Mary. She lived with her eyes fixed on Christ and she invites us to do the same. As the first disciple, she treasured his every word: “She kept these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19). She desires that we learn from her son, that we imitate him. The essential thing is not just learning what Christ taught, but learning him.
Our vocation as Christians is to have a personal encounter with Jesus, to learn the Christ. As St. John Paul II wrote in Rosarium Virginis Mariae, “With the Rosary, the Christian people sits at the school of Mary and is led to contemplate the beauty on the face of Christ and to experience the depths of his love” (1). We were born to know Jesus in a heartfelt way. We are called to orient our hearts toward the mystery of Jesus, and the supreme teacher of Christ is Mary.
Let us not be afraid to share in intimacy with the Father as we pray every Our Father. Let us rejoice in the history of salvation as we pray with the Archangel Gabriel’s salutation to Mary. Let us raise our minds and hearts to the Triune God and give him glory.
Like every pilgrimage, our devotion to the Rosary begins with a single step. If you don’t know how to pray the Rosary or if you have not prayed it in a while, there are many good resources on the web. It is more than alright to start small. Begin contemplating one mystery and offering one decade of the Rosary. Fix your eyes on Jesus and hold the hand of Mary. For when you hold the hand of a woman who loves you, your world is forever transformed.