The rosary — spiritual medicine

Pope Francis, in one of his Sunday audiences not too long after his being elected as pope, held up a white medicine box with a drawing of the human heart upon it containing a rosary.

The pope expressed to the gathered crowd, “I want to recommend some medicine for all of you. It’s a spiritual medicine. Don’t forget to take it. It’s good for your heart, for your soul, for your whole life.”

This is certainly good advice in this time of the coronavirus pandemic. The pope recently issued a letter for May in which he encouraged the praying of the rosary. He expressed, “It is traditional in this month to pray the rosary at home with the family. The restrictions of the pandemic have made us come to appreciate all the more this ‘family’ aspect, also from a spiritual point of view. For this reason, I want to encourage everyone to rediscover the beauty of praying the rosary at home in the month of May. This can be done either as a group or individually.”

The rosary as we know it today, dates back to St. Dominic to whom, tradition holds, it was recommended by Our Lady in a vision. The custom of saying a number of Our Fathers and Hail Marys, by keeping count on beads, goes back to the practice of the laity who imitated the praying of the one hundred and fifty Psalms by monks in the Divine Office. Hence evolved the 15 decades of the rosary to which St. John Paul II added another five.

The rosary has been a powerful prayer precisely because it is a prayer of the people. Its beauty is that it follows a natural rhythm and can be prayed by anyone at almost any time and in any place. The praying of the rosary reminds us of the words of St. Paul, “The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings” (Rom 8:26).

Some may find it difficult to pray the rosary precisely because of too much concentration on their own meditations and not on letting the Holy Spirit intercede within them. One should not become discouraged, and is actually in good company if this is on this case. In her autobiography, “Story of a Soul,” St. Therese of Lisieux expressed how she sometimes found it difficult to pray the rosary. She wrote, “… the recitation of the rosary is more difficult for me than wearing an instrument of penance. I feel I have said this so poorly! I force myself in vain to meditate on the mysteries of the rosary; I don’t succeed in fixing my mind on them. For a long time, I was desolate about this lack of devotion…. Now I am less desolate; … Sometimes when my mind is in such aridity that it is impossible to draw forth one single thought to unite me with God, I very slowly recite an ‘Our Father’ and then the angelic salutation; then these prayers give me great delight.”

During May as we continue to face the challenges of the pandemic before us, let us turn to Mary. Let us open ourselves through the rosary so that the Holy Spirit can pray in us. As Pope Francis expressed, “Contemplating the face of Christ with the heart of Mary, our Mother will make us even more united as a spiritual family and will help us overcome this time of trial.”