In the Catholic Church, the month of October is dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary. Many great saints and holy men and women have had a deep devotion to Mary and been especially committed to praying the Rosary. Fulton Sheen was one of them and indeed prayed the Rosary. In his book, The World’s First Love, he wrote that “the power of the rosary is beyond description.” In fact, Sheen thought the Rosary should be considered the greatest of the sacramentals. Sheen recommended that married couples pray the Rosary every day to strengthen their marriage. When he was head of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, Sheen would constantly pray the Rosary with his staff. In fact, he developed the World Missionary Rosary which consisted of different colored decades, representing the different continents and serving as a reminder to pray for people in various countries. He offers us five reasons why we should pray the Rosary:
1. Growth in the Knowledge of God
In The World’s First Love, he wrote, “If you wish to convert anyone to the fullness of the knowledge of Our Lord and of his Mystical Body, then teach him the rosary.” The Rosary offers a meditative prayer on the mysteries of Christ’s life as experienced in the Gospels. It invites us to better know and love Christ by entering into meditations on his birth, daily life, Passion, death, and Resurrection.
2. Increase in Concentration
The Rosary provides us not only with the gift of meditative prayer but also an opportunity for vocal prayer. Sheen wrote, “Concentration is impossible when the mind is troubled; thoughts run helter-skelter; a thousand and one images flood across the mind; distracted and wayward, the spiritual seems a long way off. The rosary is the best therapy for these distraught, unhappy, fearful, and frustrated souls, precisely because it involves the simultaneous use of three powers: the physical, the vocal, and the spiritual, and in that order.” By using all the faculties given to us in conjunction, one can begin to concentrate, and what better to concentrate on than the life of Christ? In our current culture, the mind is flooded and bombarded with images and sound, whether these be posts on social media or ads at stores. With the Rosary, stepping away from these distractions means we can focus more clearly on God.
3. Overcome Worries and Anxieties
Very few people live free from anxieties and worries. Sheen wrote: “No normal mind yet has been overcome by worries or fears who was faithful to the rosary. You will be surprised how you can climb out of your worries, bead by bead, up to the very throne of the Heart of Love itself.” (Here, Sheen is not saying that prayer is the sole way to fix everything, especially for those who may suffer from addictions or mental illnesses, though prayer may be a great aid in these matters.) Through the Rosary, Jesus can speak into our hearts, saying the words he spoke to Martha: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary” (Luke 10:41). Many commentators on Scripture note that Martha reflects the active life while Mary reflects the contemplative life. Both are important and good, but sometimes one must step out of the active life for a brief period and focus more on God in order to continue. The Rosary helps us to do this; it helps us to focus, like Mary, on the “good portion” who is Christ.
4. Outward and Inward Sign of Our Love of God
For Sheen, repetition emphasized a point and was not simply done mindlessly. He wrote, “The mind is infinitely variable in its language, but the heart is not. The heart of a man, in the face of a 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. That is what we do when we say the Rosary—we are saying to God, the Trinity, to the Incarnate Savior, to the Blessed Mother: ‘I love you, I love you, I love you.’” How often do we tell God that we love him? Are we repeatedly asking Him to do things for us, give us advice, tell us what we are to do? As good as our requests and questions may be, the Rosary acts as an outward and inward way of both showing and telling God that we love him. While intercessory prayer is good and indeed necessary, contemplative prayer (where we simply tell God that we love Him) is a higher form of prayer which the Rosary can lead us to.
5. It Helps us to Sanctify the Entire Day
St. Paul exhorts us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). St. Paul is calling us to constantly sanctify every moment of our days. Sheen wrote that the Rosary could help us do this: “All the idle moments of one’s life can be sanctified, thanks to the Rosary. As we walk the streets, we pray with the Rosary hidden in our hand or in our pocket. . . . All these moments can be sanctified and made to serve inner peace, thanks to a prayer that enables one to pray at all times and under all circumstances.” It only takes a few minutes to pray a single decade of the Rosary. We can say a decade while we drive to work, as we walk in the hallway to our next class, as we vacuum the carpet, as we wait in line to get a coffee, etc. Through the Rosary, we can sanctify not only the best moments of our day, but also the idle and seemingly mundane ones as well.
On a personal level, I have found Sheen’s advice for praying the Rosary to be greatly beneficial in the spiritual life. For those of us who already pray it, Sheen’s advice may help to deepen our understanding of, and the way we enter into, praying the Rosary. Hopefully, Sheen’s advice may inspire those of us who are not in the habit of praying the Rosary to begin, especially during this month of October which is dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary.