“Don’t forget to call your mother!”I’m often prompted by my family, especially my mom, whenever I call home. In remembering to take the time and effort to do so, I strengthen our relationship through this simple sign of love and reaffirm my devotion to her and the rest of the family. No matter how my life is going at any particular time, it is an immense comfort and relief to be able to call upon her and share with her my struggles and shortcomings that I’m otherwise tempted to keep suppressed within myself. While not everyone is blessed to have such a grounding in their family life, they can always turn to their Heavenly Mother with petitions and struggles, in times of strength or trial. One of the most widely recognized ways of doing this is through the recitation of the most Holy Rosary, traditionally believed to have been devised by St. Dominic after experiencing a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
An optional devotion, the Rosary has nonetheless been instrumental for countless Catholics in the formation of their prayer lives and spirituality as a whole. It is wonderfully beautiful, not only as expressed in the many styles a Rosary is made in, but in the simple order of its composite prayers and the non-necessity of having to recite it in a specified space or time. Each decade of the Rosary invites us to reflect on and participate in a mystery in the ever-joined lives of Christ and His Mother--in the words of St. John Paul II, “it has all the depth of the Gospel message in its entirety.”
In a culture where having structure and taking one’s time are abnormal, the Rosary makes no sense. I’ve heard it said once that instead of moving us quickly from one end to another end without pause, the Rosary, by contrast, forces us to take our time in our contemplation before ultimately ending up where we started (at the beginning of the circle)! The repetition of each “Hail Mary”is a unique expression of love for our Mother. As Bishop Sheen noted in “The World’s First Love”:
The beautiful truth is that there is no repetition in, “I love you.”Because there is a new moment of time, another point in space, the words do not mean the same as they did at another time or space. Love is never monotonous in the uniformity of its expression. The mind is infinitely variable in its language, but the heart is not. The heart of a man, in the face of the woman he loves, is too poor to translate the infinity of his affection into a different word. So the heart takes one expression, “I love you,”and in saying it over and over again, it never repeats. It is the only real news in the universe. That is what we do when we say the Rosary, we are saying to God, the Trinity, to the Incarnate Saviour, to the Blessed Mother: “I love you, I love you, I love you.”Each time it means something different because, at each decade, our mind is moving to a new demonstration of the Saviour’s love.
Like many others, when I first began praying the Rosary, I was disheartened by its length and repetition and so did not fully grasp all of the spiritual benefits it offered. As I sought to deepen my prayer life, however, I gradually dedicated myself more fully into its recitation, and only then did I start to understand the weight of each word I uttered. In honoring Mary, we honor Christ; through Mary we receive God’s graces and our intercessions pass. Especially during October, the month of the Rosary, let us maintain this great weapon of the Faith in our spiritual battles, keeping it at our side--in our pockets--and praying it with devotion, patience, and humility always.
This summer, as I drive home, I must pass it. At the traffic light its siren call implores me to come closer. Near the parking lot its gravitational pull draws me in. Often, even several times a week, I succumb, make the right turn, get out of the car, and enter the used book store.
Today the Church celebrates my fellow book lover, Saint Dominic. Dominic lived in the early 13th century, when the Albigensian heresy was entrenched throughout Europe. After several lay preaching movements had failed to quell the heresy, and fell into error themselves, St. Dominic formed the Order of Preachers (the Dominicans), an order of priests dedicated to studying and intelligently preaching the Catholic faith. Their studies required books, and thus references to books abound in early Dominican writings: rules for the sharing and care of books, stories of the miraculous recovery of books dropped into a stream, and measures to ensure that all friars are provided with “books and other necessities of life”.
Yet, as I’ve discovered through my addiction to the used book store, books can also present temptations. I’d be content to hide behind my growing stack of books for a lifetime. Instead of being charitable, I’d read about charity. Instead of being ready to “account for the hope that is in” me, I’d lift canned arguments from Apologetics books as my hope fades, for hope cannot continue when faith in the person of Jesus Christ is replaced with the mere acceptance of a number of intellectual propositions.
“I want the Church to go out onto the streets, I want us to resist everything worldly, everything static, everything comfortable, everything to do with clericalism, everything that might make us closed in on ourselves”. This was Pope Francis’ challenge to World Youth Day pilgrims, but it is the same command that St. Dominic gave to his friars in 1217. The Pope had finally approved the order and the friars probably looked forward to long hours of study, but Dominic had other plans. Against their objections, he sent his friars throughout Europe to preach, saying, “We must sow the seed, not hoard it”.
That is the key to Dominic’s charism. His studies were not for his own pleasure, but rather, as the primitive Dominican Constitutions put it, “study ought to tend principally, ardently, and with the highest endeavor to the end that we might be useful to the souls of our neighbors”.
Saint Dominic loved books inasmuch as they helped him to love God and neighbor. In a world plagued by heresy, charity led Dominic use his books to instruct the ignorant, but when famine stuck, Dominic did not hesitate to sell his books to feed the poor, for he “could not bear to prize dead skins when living skins were starving and in need".
In this year of Faith, we must follow Dominic by deepening our knowledge of the faith. Yet, more importantly we must look to Dominic’s example of how to live it.
Matthew Rice is a Junior at the University of Maryland, College Park. He is studying Materials Science and Engineering.