Discover more from Catholic Frontier
The Rosary: a practical pilgrimage with Mary into Christ
On the floor of the Cathedral of Chartres lies an ancient labyrinth. Many cathedrals have them. Perhaps you've walked one. They continue to be popular garden elements. Most of us may have had fun with corn mazes.
But in the past, a labyrinth stood for something more important. Its twists and turns reflect the journey of life.
We start at the beginning, and circle through the various quadrants, now and then getting close to the center, only to be swept out to the margins, tracing every possible step, until we rest in the heart of it all. This is how our relationship with God works.
Looking down on it, we see that it looks like a great flower, perhaps a great rose. It's not like a prismatic rose window that paints the Catechism with light around you.
You must not look at labyrinths. You must walk through them.
And for many who couldn't make pilgrimage to holy places, the labyrinth in their local cathedral was one option. It takes time, it takes focus. It's a Via Dolorosa, a path of silence and introspection and prayer.
Meditative labyrinth walking is rooted in pre-Christian thought. Like many things, such as haloes and rosaries.
That's why we see Buddhists calmly pressing their beads.
But Christianity does what it always does. It celebrates a good thing wherever it is found. We do more than 'baptize' it. We wrestle with the good in the thing or the symbol, and pull it into focus.
Prayer beads become rosaries. Labyrinths become pilgrimages. Sun disks become haloes, a symbol of God-life.
The Rosary is our inner pilgrimage that we can pick up and pray and enter into wherever we are.
And like with a pilgrimage, it has a clear purpose. Its extremely practical.
To change you. To change me.
Change into something better.
The Rosary is a 'meditation garland'
Prayer beads, or 'meditation garlands,' have been around for thousands of years among the Asians and ancient world. The closest that Judaism has to 'prayer beads' are the carefully knotted fringes to their tallit, a ritual 'poncho'. Each twist and knot has meaning.
As Christianity meets and befriends other cultures, our faith forefathers saw a good purpose in the prayer beads.
These meditation garlands are a form of mental training. In the same way that lifting a weight 50 times increases muscle mass and capacity, bringing the full capacity of our mind to bear on a single set of ideas can change us.
Imagine saying 'I love you' to a person 50 times a day.
Odds are, in time, you will actually begin to love them.
This is how human nature works. We live out things, act out truths, dramatize our beliefs, before we actually understand them. We are fantastic mimics, copying behavior we admire.
We become that we which we love.
So our forefathers in faith realized the wisdom of reflecting on the daily lived moments of Christ's life. And to do it through the eyes of Mary.
Photo CC Fr Lawrence Lew | Flickr
According to legend, St Dominic, founder of the Dominican Order, was gifted the insight from Mary to celebrate this devotion, and officially promote it to the world. It's time had finally come, after hundreds of years of growth and silence in monastic cells.
Now everyone has a template for pacing the inner temple.
Spending short bursts of concentrated focus can help us take a truth more seriously. And focusing carefully on the life and meaning of Christ Jesus and his Mother is the the best source of focus.
If we all must change for our best selves, there's no one better to copy than Christ, and to do it through Mary's heart.
Pacing the inner labyrinth
This is the beauty and genius of the Rosary. It is a moment to enter our own inner pilgrimage. To walk the lines of an inner labyrinth.
Because if you're like me, and probably every human out there, then we get distracted. Our minds flit from thought to thought. We get disappointed with ourselves, frustrated, tired at the effort.
That's perfectly normal.
My 8 year old girl starts her school day off with a half page of handwriting. She often rebels against it.
Which is funny, because she will write and draw sheets and sheets of her own creations. She makes up her own stories and comics constantly. But when it comes to handwriting, forcing her focus to copy a book into a set of neat characters, she struggles.
Her intent to focus makes the letters wonky. Spacing breaks down. Lines go everywhere. That's what attention does. It makes us aware.
But with time, she gets better. Writing is smoother. Letters rounder, smaller, and neater. She is maturing. And she is learning to get beyond the 'right now' experience of the writing and see what she's writing about.
That's what the Rosary does.
We wouldn't yell at a 5 year old's well meant, indecipherable scrawls. Mother Mary doesn't yell at our flailing and exhausted efforts to get another decade done. We shouldn't yell at ourselves like we're pathetic, and it's all unnecessary.
Think of it as a labyrinth.
They're actually funny things.
There's the beginning of the adventure, the little rush of hope as we head down the main stretch and get close to the center. And then suddenly, we're blindsided by a turn, and find ourselves way out on the edge. It's like a game.
The point of the game is to realize that all of it is God. Not just the center. Everything.
Praying our rosary is like that. When we find we've lost focus, slipped into sleep, or become frustrated, the best answer is to smile. "Oh, here I am on the fringe again. Let's keep going, and try again."
Recompose, reset, refocus.
A minute later, you'll find yourself back on the edge, thinking about dinner and dishes and that douche from yesterday.
It's ok. Keep walking.
Press a new bead.
The prayer of the Rosary
As we meditate on the life of Christ, we are focusing the most powerful and creative thing in creation - the human soul. We are focusing it on him.
After some practice, we get beyond the basic movements and drill practices, and begin to understand what it's all about.
And that's when something magical happens.
This inner labyrinth, this meditation garland, this personal pilgrimage, isn't walked alone.
The very fact that you're praying at all means Christ has prompted you, invited you, and is fueling you. Mental prayer is really telepathy. Not stones tossed into a void. A conversation that dispels time and space.
Following the life of Christ teaches us to move below the surface.
We find that the Joyful Mysteries are full of sorrow.
The Sorrowful Mysteries are full of joy.
The Luminous Mysteries help us see the daily living out of the Kingdom, the closeness of Heaven.
The Glorious Mysteries remind us that all of creation is holy, and that joy and growth are flip sides to the same coin of holiness.
The Rosary matters because we matter
When reading the Book of Genesis, we can reflect on the first chapter on several levels.
But one important level is what matters here. It's the role we play in Creation.
Each 'day' of creation is more than a duration of time. It's a layer of creative activity. Each 'day' is a new layer that builds on the last, like a cake, or a house, like concentric rings in a maze, like the strata of a pyramid.
On the 6th day, Humanity is introduced, and on the 7th, God steps back from all this activity. Humanity is left in center stage, so to speak. God rests, so that we can step forward and take action now. He has prepped the Kingdom. Now we build it.
Genesis is not just a mythic account of the past. It was meant to account for reality around us today. Why we experience everything the way it is. Why God has 'pulled back' from direct action. Why he gives us the breathing room to fail and fall and get back up again.
We have a role to play.
We have a critical role to play. We are made in the image and likeness of God. What does God do? He brings order out of chaos.
We do the same. We are constantly fighting the inching of chaos around us. Everything likes to break down and shift and edge away, whether things or relationships or plans.
We are order-makers. We impress our will on our environments. We make arks, and gardens, and cities, copying how God made creation.
The Rosary is our blueprint to the best-lived life, a life built on more than food and blind trust and complete power. These were the temptations in the desert.
They are our constant temptations all the time. We have to ask for the grace to see how we live on every Word of God, not just his bread. How we must not live blind, unreflective lives and assume God will catch us at the end, but be clear headed and hot hearted and mature. How we must find a way to serve and support, not dominate.
Christ won through those temptations. If we sit with Mary, we can see she did too.
It was not an easy road for either of them. It was the hardest road.
And now that they live in eternity, they have an infinity of one-on-one time with every human in every era.
The Rosary calls us to be fully present to all of creation. Warts, haloes, and all.
And by regularly walking the inner pilgrimage, becoming comfortable with focus, we slowly begin to change.
We begin to see God is present in every part of life. Not just the good and happy parts. But especially in the empty, hollowed out horror parts.
And we get the strength to keep walking one more step. One more bead. One more turn.
“Pilgrimage is a symbol of life”, says Pope Francis. “It makes us think of life as walking, as a path. If a person does not walk, but instead stays still, this is not useful; it accomplishes nothing.
"Think of water: when water is not in the river, it does not course, but instead it remains still and stagnates. A soul that does not walk in life doing good, doing many things that one must do for society, to assist others, or who does not walk through life seeking God and inspiration from the Holy Spirit, is a soul that finishes in mediocrity and in spiritual poverty.
"Please: do not stand still in life!”
Comment your favorite mystery, and share what the Rosary means to you!