As a young child I was very close to God. I spoke to Him in a very natural way and He spoke plainly to me. Although I have very few memories of my early childhood, I vividly remember how close I was to God. When early puberty approached, though, I began to slip away, drifting into the rebellious and angry years of my teens. As the flesh came more alive, my spirit submerged.
The culture of the time didn’t help, either. It was the late 1960s and early 1970s and rebelliousness and the flesh were celebrated as “virtues.” Somehow we thought ourselves more mature than our pathetic forebears, who were hopelessly “repressed.” There was the attitude among the young that we had come of age somehow. We collectively deluded ourselves, aided by the messages of rock music and the haze of drug use, that we were somehow “better.”
So it was the winter of my soul. The vivid faith of my childhood gave way to a kind of indifferent agnosticism. Though I never formally left Church (my mother would never had permitted that as long as I lived in under my parents’ roof), I no longer heard God or spoke to Him. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that when I was in high school I joined the youth choir of my parish church. This was not precipitated by a religious passion, but rather by a passion of another kind: there were pretty girls in the choir and I “sought their company,” shall we say. But God has a way of using beauty to draw us to the truth. Week after week, year after year, as we sang those old religious classics a buried faith began to awaken within me.
But what to do? How to pray? I heard that I was supposed to pray. But how? As a child it had been natural to talk with God. But now He seemed distant, aloof, and likely angry with me. And I’ll admit it, prayer seemed a little “goofy” to me, a high school senior still struggling to be “cool” in his own eyes and in the eyes of his friends. Not only that, but prayer was “boring.” It seemed an unfocused, unstructured, and “goofy” thing.
But I knew someone who did pray. My paternal grandmother, “Nana,” was a real prayer warrior. Every day she took out her beads and sat by the window to pray. I had seen my mother pray now and again, but she was more private about it. But Nana, who lived with us off and on in her last years, knew how to pray and you could see it every day.
Rosary Redivivus – In my parish church of the 1970s, the rosary was non-existent. Devotions and adoration were on the outs during that sterile time. Even the Crucifix was gone. But Nana had that “old-time religion” and I learned to appreciate it through her.
Ad Jesum per Mariam – There are some, non-Catholics especially, who think that talking of Mary or focusing on her in any way takes away from Christ. It is as though they consider it a zero-sum game, in which our hearts cannot love both Mary and Jesus. But my own experience was that Mary led me to Christ. I had struggled to know and worship Christ, but somehow a mother’s love felt more natural, safer, and more accessible to me. So I began there, where I could. Simply pole-vaulting right into a mature faith from where I was did not seem possible. So I began, as a little child again, holding my Mother’s hand. And gently, Mother Mary led me to Christ, her son. Through the rosary, that “Gospel on a string,” I became reacquainted with the basic gospel story.
The thing about Marian devotion is that it opens up a whole world. For with this devotion comes an open door into so many of the other traditions and devotions of the Church: Eucharistic adoration, litanies, traditional Marian hymns, lighting candles, modesty, pious demeanor, and so forth. So as Mary led me, she also reconnected me to many things that I only vaguely remembered. The suburban Catholicism of the 1970s had all but cast these things aside, and I had lost them as well. Now in my late teens, I was going up into the Church “attic” and bringing things down. Thus, little by little, Mother Mary was helping me to put things back in place. I remember my own mother being pleased to discover that I had taken some old religious statues, stashed away in a drawer in my room, and placed them out on my dresser once again. I also took down the crazy rock-and-roll posters, one by one, and replaced them with traditional art, including a picture of Mary.
Over time, praying the Rosary and talking to Mary began to feel natural. And, sure enough, little by little, I began to speak with God. It was when I was in the middle of college that I began to sense the call to the priesthood. I had become the choir director by that time and took a new job in a city parish: you guessed it, “St. Mary’s.” There, the sterility of suburban Catholicism had never taken hold. The candles burned brightly at the side altars. The beautiful windows, marble altars, statues, and traditional novenas were all on display in Mother Mary’s parish. The rest is history. Mary cemented the deal between me and her Son, Jesus. I became His priest and now I can’t stop talking about Him! He is my hero, my savior and Lord. And praying again to God has become more natural and more deeply spiritual for me.
It all began one day when I took Mary’s hand and let her lead me to Christ. And hasn’t that always been her role? She, by God’s grace, brought Christ to us, showed Him to us at Bethlehem, presented Him in the Temple, and ushered in His first miracle (even despite His reluctance). She said to the stewards that day at Cana, and to us now, “Do whatever he tells you.” The Gospel of John says, Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him (John 2:11). And so Mary’s intercession strengthened the faith of others in her Son. That has always been her role: to take us by the hand and lead us to Christ. Her rosary has been called the “Gospel on a string” because she bids us to reflect on the central mysteries of the Scripture as we pray.
19 Replies to “How the Rosary Led Me to Christ”
Monsignor, thank you so much for this blog. It has helped me so much to get focused and to start praying the Rosery. I like you are a very young age talk to Jesus love Jesus had A special relationship with Jesus. Luckily I never went through the rebellious stage in my teenage years I wanted to be a nun. unfortunately I have asthma and very bad and was not able to be a nun. but I’ve always had a love for Mary and that I’ve always struggled with the Rosary I don’t get it but for 2 years I wanted to change that. Your blog helped me tremendously thank you so much. I’ll be praying the rosary tonight before I go to bed. god bless you Monsignor Pope your work is helping so many people.
Ahh! The rosary, the weapon of Legionaries of the Legion of Mary of which I was a member in my teens. The ignorant me left the Church because of Jer 7:18. I was duped by the Church. No such thing as queen of heaven, until I realize this was the work of the evil one with his ability to prophesy. The evil one devised this, the queen of heaven is Nimrod’s mother, which Nimrod had instituted during his reign to build the Tower of Babel. Of course, there was no queen of heaven then because it was yet in the Old Testament. In these years of Our LORD, the Queen of Heaven is The Virgin Mary because she is The Living Tabernacle of GOD, The LORD JESUS CHRIST. Typology, reveals that just as David was King, his mother was the queen, JESUS is KING of Heaven, HIS Mother, The Blessed Virgin Mary is The Queen of Heaven. One of the obstacles answered that led me back to The One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Hehehe, the evil was clever but GOD’s Wisdom is far more brilliant. Now, not one prays the rosary but one couple, one family do and every now and then the Catena Legionis, ‘Who is She that cometh forth as morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, and terrible as an army set in battle array’! Once a Legionaire always a Legionaire. YHWH EL GIBOR!
My maternal grandmother was also exempliary in saying the rosary daily while sitting in her swan back rockingchair after the morning chores and in the evening before retiring for bed. She seldom was audible but you saw the concentration of her focus and the occasional lip sinking while she prayed her way around the sets of beads. I am not as diligent as she was but I still say the rosary to this day and have to attribute it to her. She gave me my first communion rosary back in 1958 with the date engraved on the back of the crucifix. One of the chain links wore through years ago but I still have it retired in the drawer with keepsakes. If there is anything I leaned from her it is my dependancy of faith in God through praying. I think it is a good time to take up where she left off.
As it happens, Msgr, your childhood experience of God and His intimacy with the young is probably very common. Over the last 20 years, a handful of psychologists (such as Justin Barrett) have found through their research that most children have a belief in God that is quite personal and also authoritative—this belief is found among children even in societies that are very secular. Young children’s believe in God seems independent of the belief of their parents—of course faith-filled parents reinforce the belief in God, but it appears that a large percentage of children with atheistic parents also believe in God . It is puberty that erodes belief. Research also suggests that children’s belief in God declines rapidly with the onset of puberty in modern societies. I suspect that a major factor contributing to the growth of atheism over the last 50 years are contraception and abortion, because these further sensualize sex, and strip sex of it’s creative God given purpose.
Yeah, I have come to find this is true. For example, it occurs to me that even at infant baptisms, the infant may be closer to God at that moment than any of us “knowing” adults. It is mysterious to be sure but I have spent my life trying to return to the intimacy I knew as a little child.
Your other comments are quite true as well!
“And said: Amen I say to you, unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, he is the greater in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3-4
Dominus vobiscum, Monsignor.
Beautiful; Mary led me to Christ too.
“Let’s say the rosary.” As a teenager, I dreaded hearing these words. They were always said by my dear Mother whenever we were on a family car trip of an hour or more. No escape or excuses were possible. When I was a little child, our family said the rosary after dinner, on our knees, and I loved it. But time passed and only my parents carried on this practice as the brothers and sisters grew older and had many activities. Yet, a car trip rekindled that closeness and the Rosary was part of it.
Some years after my Mother died, her blue rosary, with her name engraved on the Cross, was passed on to me. I sleep with it under my pillow, and when the worries and sorrows of this life keep me awake, I will hold it in my hands and pray. And I will fall asleep peacefully. My Mother told me years ago that she often fell asleep saying the Rosary and once asked a priest if this was something to be concerned about. His reply was beautiful …”If you fall asleep, the Angels will finish it for you.”
My closeness to Mary through the rosary is quite similar many who have written here. I too was very touched by seeing my grandmother saying silently the rosary everyday. Once Ì spent a day with her when I was 10 years old. I was quietly doing some embroidery in the afternoon and as usual she started praying her rosary in her rocking chair, sitting by the window. I began examening her, she was whispering very softly, often closed her eyes and seemed to be so sincere and content. I keep a very strong impression of this moment to this day. My rosary is not very far from me and I also keep it Under my pillow or sleep with it in my hand.
Thank you for this article.
This has been a very edifying post, Father. If anyone would like to, please pray for my son who has left the church. He grew up praying the rosary together each Sunday evening.
I had a similar experience of falling away from the faith in High School. I realized very recently that the opposite of “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God” is also true. Woe to the impure of heart, for they shall not see God. Impurity took hold of me in High School, and as I turned more and more into the darkness, the Light became harder and harder to see. By God’s mercy, that was not the end of the story. Now I pursue purity of heart because I want to see God more than anything that the world has to offer.
At seven I prayed for my mother’s health, she was having a serious heart operation the next day. This was in the early 50’s. I only knew Jesus and Mary at the time. I cried and prayed myself to sleep the night before her operation. The operation was a success. Thank You Mother Mary.
Wonderful story of conversion. A pity that so many people these days have not been shown the old and proven devotions of the Church. They literally work miracles.
The Rosary is great and dear to many Popes and Saints and apparitions of Mary, but the obsession over the Rosary which I see among some Catholics is disgusting and is the reason why Catholics are stereotyped as “Mary fanatics” and as always carrying Rosaries. Where is the same fervor for Perpetual Adoration, the Via Crucis, the Christmas and Easter processions, pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Eastern Catholic icons, religious dance (not the same as liturgical dance), and other chaplets – such as the Missionary Rosary? This obsession has born false promises (the alleged promises to Saint Dominic and other Saints), worldliness (desire to see miracles of the Sun), and fanaticism (thinking the Fatima apparitions are the greatest private revelation or thinking the Rosary is more important than the Eucharist). This obsession must be countered by healthy devotion to Mary: humility, religion, fortitude, kindness, solidarity, obedience, etc. – all of which the Christian Faith includes, along with every truth and virtue. Saint Mary lived by faith, we must too.
Perhaps you should consider what saints say about the rosary to be more important than what some Protestant heretic says….
If only all of us actually were fanatics about praying this great devotion, the world would be a better place.
A big Amen to that, Nate! GOD Bless you and your family.
As for you, Nick, a big thumbs down to what you are saying in which most probably you do not know the history of the Holy Rosary. Get deeper in your faith and you’ll probably get to pray the Holy Rosary everyday for the rest of your life. GOD Bless you and your family.
Nick, it is a very good thing for Catholics to carry rosaries because those who carry them are more likely to pray the Rosary, and, as Msgr. Pope pointed out above, many of us come closer to Christ through His Mother, the Blessed Virgin. We meditate on events in the life of Jesus while saying the prayers of the Rosary; that’s why it’s sometimes called “the Gospel on a string.”
You are mistaken in thinking that any Catholic of sound mind and basic knowledge of Catholic teachings would think the Rosary is more important than the Eucharist. There is no comparison between the greatest Sacrament and any sacramental or devotion. The “Gospel on a string” (rosary beads) is an excellent sacramental while the Rosary itself is a powerful devotion but it is not a Sacrament.
You are also mistaken in thinking that devotions such as Perpetual Adoration have disappeared; in fact they are returning, brought back by popular demand.
Dear Msgr. Charles Pope thank you for this beautiful article. May God bless you abundantly and our Blessed mother guard and guide you.
A beautiful post, thank you Msgr. I have a daughter who is handicapped and perpetually childlike. Her faith walk is so inspiring!For one being so mentally challenged she soars above the rest of us in her love of Jesus. She tells me at least once a day that she can’t wait for Jesus to come take her home. I also hear her occasionally talking out loud to Him in her room.There are more moments than I can count where I know from seeing that Jesus and her are truly heartfelt friends. It’s all so natural and so much a part of her daily experience. Even though her care can sometimes be overwhelming and different aspects of her handicaps try me on many levels I know that she is exactly what Jesus is talking about when he says we must become like little children. She may not remember daily skills we have long given up trying to teach her but she has memorized scriptural rosaries, litanies and pretty much every song we have even sung at church. God is good!
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