Monday, February 1, 2010

Rosary reply

Dear Sister,

Your experience with the Rosary, prompts me to jot down a few thoughts that have been revolving in my head for some years. Ever since hearing the story of Fatima, the Rosary has been my life-line. For more than sixty years I have prayed the Rosary as many as three times a day. However I have never become obsessive about it. If I’m tired or unwell, I am content to simply rest in the Lord. I never liked the idea: You must. That kind of thing tends to become musty!

The late Fr.Conleth Kearns whose wisdom we all treasure, told me about St. Catherine of Siena. When moved to do so, she would drop her Paternoster beads and just rest in the Spirit. When the time came she would resume the bidding of her beads. I felt welcome to the club, as indeed I welcome you likewise.

Once when researching the history of the Rosary, in San Clemente, I came across an ancient and rare book entitled: Le Triple Rosaire, where the author, Pere Bernard of Toulouse referred to the three stages of attention in prayer:
To the words,

to the thoughts and

to the presence or the person.

Something of the kind happens in ordinary conversation: When we are with strangers, words seem necessary and we are careful about how we choose them. With friends or colleagues we exchange thoughts of business or pleasure. But with the Beloved our heart, it is enough to sit in silence. Being totally present to each other is what matters.

On visiting the Carmel where Sr. Elizabeth of the Trinity lived, I was told by some of her community, that the saint could not cope with the Rosary, as it did not sit well with her contemplative spirit. I believe that the Little Flower also found it a difficult prayer to manage. So, dear Sr. you are indeed in high company! Only,-- I would invite you to take the pressure off. It is not that you can’t think or concentrate or even meditate. It is that you are gone beyond those stages. Listen to Pere Bernard: "When summoned to the royal court, do not dally along the corridors and antechambers looking at pictures of King, but walk calmly on into his presence."

Much of this wisdom has come back to me, since getting involved with the John Main meditation Group here in Tallaght. Here, they instruct us to put aside all words, all images, all thoughts—even holy ones. We are to just sit still and silently interiorly recite the prayer word.

This enlightenment came to me at the time I was taken off the Apostolate of the Rosary which had filled out over fifty years of my life. I was feeling bereft and bereaved, as indeed many must feel at a time of upheaval in life. I felt as if on the scrap-heap. As Bernadette of Lourdes remarked when the visions were over and she found herself in Nevers, it was “as if she were a broom now finished with and left behind the door.”

I found it hard to concentrate and could not get beyond the first words of the Our Father:
Thy name, thy kingdom, thy will. My own name mattered no more.My kingdom was over. My will had been thwarted. That is how it was, and perhaps how it was meant to be for so that I might have my own dark night experience. I could appreciate the lot of so many who were undergoing change or becoming redundant. The very pronoun— Thy was all I could manage and yet it was all that mattered now. For the past six years, it has become my prayer word, my mantra!

I have rediscovered the Rosary, as Pere Bernard taught it. I take up the beads each morning and pray the first Joyful mystery, slowly and almost silently, leaving myself open to the Lord’s Annunciation for this day. I do indeed say the Our Father and the ten Hail Marys, but they take a long time. All the while I linger in love over those words that are now engraved in my heart: Thy name, Thy kingdom, Thy will. I never venture out without my beads—heaven and the history of my heart locked together in my pocket. When the time is right, I pray the other mysteries. But deep down there is only one mystery -- the mystery of the Divine presence.

Looking again to the John Main experience, I observe that following the example of their mentor, there is usually a teaching at the beginning of each session, when direction is given. At the end of the formal instruction, one is told to put even these sacred thoughts aside and enter into the apophatic stillness. If one takes this model on board, it would seem that in the Rosary, it might be wise, to at first pause and ponder the particular mystery of the Divine Humanity. Then pick up the beads and use the vocal prayers as a kind mantra, while resting in the void and not trying to think of the detail of mystery being celebrated. Certainly it is not so much a thinking in the head as a lingering in the heart.

In many of the Eastern forms of prayer, meditation is accompanied with the use of beads. For myself, when I meditate morning and evening as suggested by John Main, I hold the beads in my hand or around the neck. The very sense of touch gives an added dimension of presence to the person. It is something to hold on to, and in the full Christian sense, it is someone to hold on to.

Dear Sr. I hope I have not wearied you with all that I have set down here. Those who like to get prayers said, who in a sense have the lust for getting finished are in one camp and those who want just to linger in love are in another. It is like the distinction between those who go in for spiritual exercise and those who simply opt to sit in the sun and get well. There are the two spiritualities and perhaps we need a dose of both medicines.

I have enclosed the Brochure of Retreats in Tallaght, as Fr. Donagh O’Shea, the Director has invited me to conduct a Summer Retreat around the ideas floated to you in this letter. If you can help out with any of your own insights they will be most welcome. It is your
query that has already prompted me to set something on paper.

1 comment:

Fr. Christopher said...

Father - Thank you for your spirit-inspired comments. I have struggled for years with my own dark night of discursive meditation and praying the rosary. ON days when I didn't have the strength to pray all 20 mysteries with intense meditation, I felt like such a failure, and these thoughts would inundate my mind. Having "to get it all done" has/had become an obsession for me! Then I came across the writings of Father Bernard, and his mention of the rosary of union brought joy to my heart. I had been doing everything on my own strength and had made an idol out of prayer. My focus has been the prayer of God ( the rosary), instead of the God of prayer. If you have any further advice, please write to me at