October is the month of the Rosary, and as the Church celebrates Our Lady of the Rosary today, I find myself reflecting on how this prayer has shaped my life of faith. Inevitably, my mind returns to my childhood, to praying the Rosary with my family.
When I was eight, I was the only girl in a family of four (there are six of us now). My mom was pregnant with my sister, and my dad was traveling for work almost constantly. During this time, my mother gathered us children together every night to pray the Rosary. We prayed for my dad’s job security, for his safety and ours. We prayed for the health of our mother and unborn sister, and for our extended family. We prayed for success in school and for good friends. In short, we offered up the profundities and mundanities of domestic life, and in praying the Rosary, we placed ourselves under the maternal gaze of Mary. With hindsight, I’ve realized how chaotic those few years were, yet I recall them with tenderness, for with grace, I’ve realized that family prayer was the crucible that forged us together.
Lest you get the wrong idea, let me clarify. Our nightly Rosary was a far cry from a Norman Rockwell-esque vision of tranquility. Here’s what usually happened. First: The Great Debate about whose bedroom we would use for prayer, a crucial issue since it decided whether you got to lie down in your own bed or not. Second: figuring out where everyone was going to sit/kneel, which occasioned a brief but intense land grab for comfortable real estate. Finally: determining who got the cool glow-in-the-dark rosary and who got the not-quite-as-cool non-glowing rosaries.
All of this transpired in about three minutes.
Inevitably, my mother would call us to order with an “All right, we’re starting!” and begin “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” Our recitation (and our behavior) was far from perfect. Without fail, someone would say either too many Hail Marys (an unforgivable error) or too few (a welcome mistake). Someone’s knee or elbow would encroach on neighboring territory, causing a silent turf war; someone would get the giggles. Mostly, we’d just get bored and count down the beads until we could finally go to sleep.
Welcome to the Rosary in a real family, in the real world. It’s messy, chaotic, discombobulated, but so is family life. In prayer, we lift up our lives to God as they are, not as we would have them be. And turning to God even and especially when life was at its most chaotic transfigured our chaos into the very way by which God drew us closer to himself and one another.
In his 2015 address for the Meeting with Families in Cuba, Pope Francis referred to the family as “a school of humanity.” Even as he acknowledged that “the perfect family does not exist,” he affirmed that the family is where we learn to love, to be human. In praying the Rosary together, my family attended this “school of humanity.” We weren’t perfect, our prayer wasn’t perfect, yet we learned to forgive one another’s imperfections while acknowledging our own. We learned to be a better family.
I still struggle with the Rosary as much as I did when I was eight. My mind wanders. I fall asleep. Yet, despite these struggles, I keep returning to it. Because every time I pick up my beads, I remember fondly those chaotic nights, and I realize again the truth of the well-worn adage that “the family that prays together, stays together,” a phrase my mother repeated often (usually when her children were griping under our breath about having to pray the Rosary—no perfect families, remember?), and which informed Pope St. John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae:
The Holy Rosary . . . has shown itself particularly effective as a prayer which brings the family together. . . . The family that recites the Rosary together reproduces something of the atmosphere of the household of Nazareth: its members place Jesus at the center, . . . they place their needs and their plans in his hands, they draw from him the hope and the strength to go on. (RVM, §41)
Having grown up in such a family, I can attest to the truth of this passage. To this day, I’m incredibly close to my parents and siblings, and I firmly believe that the strength of our familial bond is due to the life of prayer that we cultivated together (sometimes willingly, sometimes very unwillingly). The chaos of family prayer makes for vivid and hilarious memories later in life, but more importantly, it makes for stronger families.
If you are blessed with the gift of children, do your family a favor. Tonight, before bedtime, gather together, dust off the rosary beads, and start with just one decade. Embrace the mistakes, persevere through the messiness. Practice this life of prayer, then practice some more, and years from now, through God’s grace and Mary’s intercession, you will hopefully see your children’s children formed in the inexhaustible mysteries of God’s unfathomable love that form the very heart of the Rosary.
Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us.
Editorial Note: A version of this post originally appeared on October 7, 2015 on Oblation, former blog of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy.