Overwhelmed is the latest non-specific, “catch-all” word for many individuals who are either unable or unwilling to specify what’s really bothering them. There are varying degrees of “overwhelmed” and various environments where it occurs. “I’m overwhelmed at work”, at school, financially, relationally, spiritually, politically, etc. I’m behind in every project I’m working on.” Many of us hate our job, our boss, or parts of our life in general. My employer eliminated or “re-imagined” my job and laid me off and now “I can’t think straight, I’m completely overwhelmed.” “I’m not stupid. Why can’t I think my way out of this horrid situation?” Some folks take “overwhelmed” to an even higher level by incorporating an addiction, chronic depression, or criminal activity. Social media has many folks in a stranglehold. The mainstream media is in full-on firehose mode in reporting the most negative and fearful news events to keep their ratings up along with the viewing publics stress levels. The Co-vid pandemic and the “shut-downs that accompanied it was overwhelming for many. Medical occurrences can have traumatic effects on people and families, causing serious stress and pressure that leads one to becoming overwhelmed. The loss of a loved one, a family member, a close friend or mentor can be taxing on one’s sanity. If you’re at the end of your rope and you believe you’ve tried everything in your power to fix what needs fixing and nothing has worked, keep reading and hopefully I can succeed in getting you to try praying the Rosary as a test drive for something new and different to calm your fears, doubts and uncertainties.
One of the things never taught in school, is that life isn’t always fair, not for humans and definitely not for animals. Every living thing is somewhere in the “food chain”. Even those at the top eventually run out of time, strength and energy and fall prey to death and become worm food. The “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust” reading comes out every Ash Wednesday, to remind us of our short stay on earth. Life is not easy. As we grow older, we inherit more responsibilities; job duties, marriage, kids, disabilities, older parents, taxes, home and car maintenance problems, natural disasters, to name a few. Some become vulnerable to quick fixes and temptations to remedy the situation, but more often make it worse. Age sets in, energy levels wane, work piles up and just like that we are overwhelmed with what seems like no warning. If you toss a frog into a pot of hot water, it will immediately jump out, but if you place the frog in cool water and gradually turn up the heat, one degree at a time, you will cook him to death.
Overwhelmed can be the new cop-out for some, where they can conversationally side-step an uncomfortable brush with political correctness or an awkward cancel culture topic. It’s an arm’s length cover-all statement telling people you converse with, “don’t ask”. It’s Pandoras Box. I’m just plain overwhelmed.” Overwhelmed Christians often turn to prayer. Casual Christians usually wait for a major downturn in their luck and tee up the “foxhole” prayer scenario. The bombs are going off all around and instincts tell them prayer is the only thing left to survive. When our backs are to the wall and our minds are racing, to the point we can’t think straight, we deem ourselves “overwhelmed”. That’s when our prayers are desperate sounding, emotional, deal-cutting sessions with God. The style of mentally shouting, “GOD, if you help me get out of this mess, I’ll do….this, that or the other…for the Little Sisters of the Poor”, won’t get you anywhere. Ranting, “GOD! If you give me what I want now, I’ll give You something back later” is no better. Do you suppose it’s possible that Jesus may have been overwhelmed in the Garden of Gethsemane to the point of sweating blood as he meditated on all the events coming in His Passion, being scourged at the pillar, humiliated with the crown of thorns or while He carried the cross to Calvary? How overwhelmed was Mary when she observed the worst possible treatment of her Sons Passion?
Worry is the unproductive use of imagination. It gathers and accelerates all the fears to the now, even though the thing we fear hasn’t happened, yet. By worrying, you’re using your God-given imagination to create events that haven’t even occurred, yet you perceive will soon affect your life in a bad way. Meditation (or more specific to this test drive, contemplating the Mysteries of the Holy Rosary) can be a more productive use of imagination and can distract one from all the worries. You have control over what you meditate about just as you have control to fear, loathe or hate. You choose to worry. It doesn’t happen by itself. It will not strip tomorrow of its burdens; it will strip today of its joy. Essentially, you are paying a debt that you don’t owe, by worrying. If you’re too overwhelmed and too busy to find twenty minutes for a Rosary, try doing it during that time period that you’re already laying awake in the middle of the night. If you don’t want to get up and find the beads, use your ten fingers. Instead of thinking about what you need to accomplish in the up and coming day, while you’re staring at the ceiling, move all the worry aside and pray. Why not make “you”, the first miracle you witness?
Many years ago, I worked in a sales organization that provided a “Dilbert” cartoon style cubical for each salesperson, in a large room called “the bull pen”. The noise was deafening, as we all tried to talk over one another with our telephone sales presentations. After non-stop complaining to the boss, he finally hired a company to install, what was commercially termed “white noise”. The idea was to throw out a constant noise from speakers, installed in the ceiling, that would buffer or drown out voices. It was difficult to adjust to, at first, because the noise created an environment that made us feel like we were working inside the belly of a 747 jet liner. A few people resigned because it gave them headaches. I had a similar experience with a college roommate who developed a habit in Viet Nam of using a two-foot square, rattle-trap, floor model fan to drown out the noise from the military base and now college in order to sleep. After he graduated from college, it took me several months to get a full night’s sleep without listening to that roaring, rattling, whirring contraption. Meditating a Rosary can be the white noise of prayer, if you let it.
As I advanced my career as a straight commission salesman, there were peak pay periods and valley pay periods that turned into a few good years, but mostly not so good years. Being more of a “grasshopper” kind of guy, than an “ant”, as purported in Aesop’s Fable, I got deeper and deeper into life’s black hole of “overwhelmnitude”. The pressure to meet the monthly goal, set by my handlers was consuming me. After a couple of big market corrections, I didn’t notice that my prayer format had evolved into the “foxhole” style of whining and deal cutting. Internal survival mechanisms took over, more sales calls, more lists, more lunches and meetings. I was too busy getting deeper in debt without increasing my monthly intake. The noise in my head was deafening.
It was right around then when God, ambushed me with the Rosary, but before I go into detail, I’d like to give some family history. Try to identify with it by remembering yours and then I’ll tie it all back together, as you read on. My family lineage consists of multi generations of Catholics. I’m half German and half Irish. I have a cousin on each side that immersed themselves into our family trees. The Irish cousin spent three years in Ireland and traced our heritage back to the late six hundreds. On the German side we can go back to the seventeen hundreds. Both sides were run out of Europe for being Catholic and found it necessary to cross the big pond to Ellis Island, where they would start anew. Continuing my Catholic legacy has become a priority since my Rosary journey began late in my life.
The older relatives were all real big on praying the Rosary. My grandpa, on the German side, had chronic asthma with multiple co-morbidities. He lived a hard life, homesteading a farm thirty miles northwest of Minneapolis in Otsego Township with ten kids. He worked hard, played hard and drank hard. He even spent ninety days in the St. Cloud, MN State Penitentiary for owning and operating a whisky still, during Prohibition. After he retired and moved to town in the 1960’s, his new, sedentary lifestyle eventually caught up to him. Over a two-year period, about every other month, dad would get a call from a relative suggesting Grandpa might not make it through the night. We, along with all of dad’s siblings, would throw all the kids into the station wagons and head for Grandma and Grandpa’s apartment, across the street from the original 1888 St. Stephen’s Catholic Church in Anoka, MN. (Nobody used babysitters back then.) Once inside, everyone would huddle around Grandpa’s bed and pray the Rosary. As a child, it was kind of creepy to hear the low drone of Hail Mary’s in a dim lit room like Tibetan Monks chanting. Grandpa finally died, but the relatives believed the Rosaries kept him alive for those two years of last rites being administered to him.
Rosaries are not chains of “worry beads”, as some would have you believe. Nor are they good luck charms you carry around in your pocket, like a rabbit’s foot. It is a gift from the Blessed Virgin Mary. We don’t pray it to her. We pray it with her. You will never pray alone if you use a Rosary. The Vatican has accounted for thousands of documented miracles that are a direct connection to the Rosary. It is the all-time most powerful prayer form we can use.
Some view the Rosary as superstitious or primitive, but there was a real reason it came to us. In the year 1208, the blessed Virgin appeared to St. Dominic, in the Chapel of Notre Dame and instructed him how to make and use the Rosary as a meditation prayer. She then inspired him to teach the whole world how to pray the Rosary. His mother compared him to a hound running through a field of dry grass with a torch in its mouth. Most of the Dominican depictions and statues of St. Dominic accompany him with a dog at his feet holding a lit torch in its mouth. He taught all the Parish Priests throughout Europe the Rosary instruction and they evangelized all of Europe with an explosion of growth within the Catholic Church at a time when the Vatican was in turmoil. Other ordinary Catholic Priests, like St. Francis and St. Ignatius and many others created new Catholic sects that also grew like wildfire because of the Rosary.
If you recall your high school European AP History class, the entire continent was in chaos. The “Crusades” were in full swing. With the Moors charging North across Spain from Morocco and the marauding hordes from the Middle East, the French, English and Scots in a seaming never-ending war, Barbarians to the north from Prussia and Germany were trying to kill and conquer all in their path and all the raiding nations were taking over the land, raping and pillaging their way through the continent. If that wasn’t enough, the Bubonic (Black) plague had already killed one third of Europe’s populace. Europe was engulfed in total self-destruction.
Mary’s introduction and use of the Rosary, to Brother Dominic, was a game changing event. It gave a boost to the virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity. It brought focus to the overwhelmed and predominantly illiterate Christians who could not read the Bible but could learn simple rote prayers to follow along the beads of the Rosary. When highly outnumbered Christian forces faced large armies, they prayed the Rosary and were victorious. The sick and dying were also healed with the use of the Rosary. There are too many miracles associated with the Rosary to account for during that era and even more since then. I thought a little personal background would help.
GRAMMA’S ROSARY CATHEDRAL
Long after Grandpa died, Grandma continued with her daily Rosary regimen. Her eight-plex apartment was the lower unit, closest to the old St. Stephen’s Catholic Church, built in 1888, the same year Grandpa was born, in heart of Anoka, MN. Grandma found comfort in looking out the window at the steeple and attended six a.m. Mass every day. Six of the ten sibling families lived in Anoka, so we grand kids could ride our bikes over to Grandma’s place whenever we felt like it. The ground level picture window allowed for us to look in and see if Grandma was in “the chair”. We also had clear view of the kitchen for any sign of cookies, usually found on the counter. If Grandma was in “the chair”, we patiently sat on the cement steps of the front stoop until she got up. Whoever was on point, watched for movement in her thumbing the beads just to make sure she wasn’t sleeping.
The chair was a funny little parlor chair with no arm rests and an arched round, spring loaded seat pad that required weight greater than a 4th grader to depress to a comfortable position. Most of us just slid off of it or listed to the side, when we tried to make it work. It was perfect for a Grandma. Next to it was a funny little round table with a small drawer, covered with a lace doily. A swinging elf knick-knack and a lamp adorned the waxed surface. Grandma kept Rosaries and school photo’s of all of her grand kids in the drawer. With forty seven grand kids, there wasn’t much room for anything else.
When Grandma was in “the chair”, she was deep in a Rosary trance and we grand kids knew we should wait to knock on her door until she was finished. One day I asked her why she closed her eyes and prayed the Rosary every day, all by herself. I don’t ever recall seeing a bigger smile than the one she flashed that very moment. She explained that we never pray the Rosary all by ourselves. The Blessed Virgin always joins us and so do other Saints and Angels, when we invite them. Grandma shared a secret about her special church. When she closed her eyes, she imagined being in a big Cathedral where all her invited guests in Heaven came to pray with her and the Blessed Virgin. The altar was the most ornate of its kind, with the Holy Trinity and all the Apostles, alive and intertwined in its magnificence. The first few pews were filled with all the Angels and Saints that she asked to attend and the next few rows were filled with all her old friends and neighbors that had passed away. Cradled in her arms and seated on her lap was the infant that was still-born and buried on the farm 70 years earlier in her life. The next few rows were filled with Popes, Cardinals and various religious clergy who dedicated their lives to the Church. The balance of the congregation was her general invite to all souls in Heaven who were looking for something to do at that moment in time. It was a really big Cathedral, packed to the rafters with as many intercessors as she could drum up, maybe as the Bible says, “hosting a cloud of angels and saints”. In the Apostles Creed, towards the end of the prayer, a brief mention of “the communion of Saints” covers all the folks you believe to be in Heaven to join you in your own personal Rosary. Coincidentally, I don’t ever recall seeing Gramma as being visibly overwhelmed.
I never really thought about the Rosary again until many years later. Thanksgiving weekend in November of 1997, I read an interesting article in the Sunday sports page about Alfred Ebner, a ninety-four-year-old deer hunter from Elk River, MN., who shot two nice bucks opening mourning while praying the Rosary on his deer stand. It just so happened that I inherited Grandpa’s photo album which contained pictures of Alfred’s first deer in 1919 when he was just 16. Alfred’s older brothers were good friends with my Grandpa and they all hunted together in a tent camp near MacGregor, MN .(the north-central part of the state). Alfred started one of the state’s oldest bait stores in Elk River as a young man and his Ebner grand and great grandchildren still run that business. Grandpa hunted, fished and trapped with Alfred’s older brother, Erich. The two men had a double wedding with Grandma and her sister in Hampton, MN.
Besides a passion for the “great outdoors”, one of the legacies my Dad and my Grandpa passed on to me is an affinity for playing practical jokes on friends and family members. I called dad and we proceeded to craft a homemade Rosary out of a blaze orange plastic lanyard and miniature deer charms I found at the craft store. The Our Fathers are buck deer, the Faith, Hope and Love beads are doe and the decades are all identical little spotted fawns. Our intentions were to have the Ebner Bait Store hang it up around a framed reprint of the news article of their great grandpa boasting it to be the only Rosary that guarantees you’ll see deer every time you pray it.
Unfortunately, Alfred died, unexpectedly in his sleep, about the time I finished the official deer hunters Rosary. Hesitantly, I brought it to the wake, but left it in the car. After seeing all the hunting and fishing pictures going back over one hundred years, I retrieved it from the car and at the request of Ron Ebner, his seventy-two-year-old son and grade school classmate with my dad, set it on one of the easels that held a collage of outdoor photos of Alfred enjoying the riches of nature. Ron proceeded to tell me a story about how Alfred was diagnosed with cancer in 1952 (I got goose bumps hearing the year I was born in). As a young, devout Catholic and now a diagnosed “short timer” with nine kids, Alfred prayed to God and every patron saint he could think of and promised to pray the Rosary every day in exchange for a productive, healthy and long life with his family. Both God and Alfred kept their promises.
THE WHISPER OF GOD
In the Book One of Kings in the Old Testament, about halfway through, there are passages that Elijah refers to really loud events; the RUSH of high wind, the RUMBLE of an earthquake and the ROAR of a large forest fire, but none being so loud as the whisper of GOD! It was a very quiet ride home, that night. God whispered, but I was contemplating whether the funny little plastic deer Rosary was a little too sacrilegious. God whispered as I thought what an incredible string of Rosaries Alfred kept going, as I did the math in my head and arrived at over 30,000 times that Alfred thumbed the beads. It’s too bad the Rosary isn’t “my thing”. God whispered and I finally heard, but I wasn’t even sure I remembered how to go about praying one, as I made a shoddy attempt at an Apostles Creed combining the long and short versions, a few extra beliefs of my own and what seemed like lyrics recorded by both Gladys Knight and Johnny Mathis from the song, “I Believe”.
That night, while tossing and turning in bed, I remembered my mom made all of us kids laminated Rosary bookmarks one year as part of our Christmas gifts, illustrating the sacred mysteries, the prayers and directions of how to pray the Rosary. We all politely thanked her and put them away somewhere. The next morning, I rifled through drawers and boxes and to my surprise, found it in a cigar box with my first Holy Communion children’s missal, a black Rosary (boys got black and girls got white ones) and my Confirmation scapula. As I read over both sides of the bookmark, I wondered how long it takes to say a Rosary. It didn’t seem like too tall of an order. What a shame it would be to let Alfred’s string come to an end of what I was taught to believe, the most powerful prayer meditation available to mankind.
I prayed to God and asked Alfred, Grandma, Grandpa and anyone who could hear me in heaven to intercede if possible and I pledged to try to keep the chain going for a while. The story doesn’t end here, it begins here. Now I didn’t have this pseudo-Saul/St. Paul, fall off the horse, transformation back into Catholicism kind of thing. I didn’t see the Light or hear the booming voice from heaven. I was too OVERWHELMED! What I did know was this; what I was currently doing for prayer, wasn’t working.
THE QUIET PLACE
So my daily Rosary journey began in November of 1997. Not being the most rigorous schedule, my day began around 7:00 a.m., long after my wife had left for her job, when I’d grope for the remote on the bed stand and turn on Good Morning America for the day’s headlines. After a quick shower and shave, a local evangelist used to show up on the television with an infomercial called “The Winners Minute” every morning at exactly 7:20 a.m. It was a mini sermon about something current drawing parallels to something in scripture and a great way for viewers to start their day. Call it Divine Providence or coincidence, but that “turning point” morning he asked his television viewers about where the quiet place you go in your heart when you pray in this noisy world and to find time each and every day to go to your quiet place and do just that, pray.
Without a doubt, my most favorite quiet place is up in northern Minnesota hunting or fishing, watching the sun rise, listening to songbirds and red squirrels chattering. Well, there’s two weeks every year covered. What am I going to do about the other fifty? My eyes refocused on my unshaven face, my thinning hair and my bulk of middle age in the mirror as I get a massive dose of reality.
Let’s face it, most Christians could argue that they don’t pray enough in the course of a day. In my newfound quest for guilt free religion, I admit I dropped the ball in this department, but I don’t consider myself that different from everybody else. Mornings were a little hectic getting the kids ready for school and the drive to work would be too tough without the humorous radio show hosts to listen to. Evenings are impossible; every night there’s something different going on with the kids (dance, swimming, soccer, basketball, religious education, girl scouts, etc.) not to mention all the really good prime time television shows I wanted to watch. Whenever I try to pray in bed, I invariably fall asleep the second my head hits the pillow. Praying at work is out of the question because the phone never stops ringing. We could always lengthen the current dinner prayers at the risk of creating children too much like ourselves. I had all these Christian beliefs and good intentions, but it didn’t appear that I made room to pray or even prayed very much at all.
Recalling the last few times I prayed, it was in the car after one of those “bring you to your knees” kind of days at work where I question everything I do and feel. You know, those “off” days we all have where nothing seems to go right, where I doubt myself the most. My job; how the heck did I end up in this field when I studied for something completely different in college. My finances, how can I burn through so much money and have so little to show for it, my empty promises to myself for family vacations that never seem to get taken or new cars that never seem to get purchased, days where I catch myself starring into the abyss of life and wondering what my destiny is, etc. I’m told a lot of people in this age group torture themselves like this. If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride.
To avoid being prescribed to prozac or lithium, I’d often gravitate to prayer, usually on the way home from work. Typically, I shut off the radio and pray for guidance, for self-direction, for tolerance, for “a sign” to lead me to make changes in my life or just plain begging, whining and deal cutting with God. For whatever reason, something a Young Life councilor preached in 1971 comes to mind; when ever my problems get too big to handle; Jesus promised he would take those problems too big to handle from us if we completely give them up to Him. More often than not, this “hand off” to Jesus was enough to survive a few weeks before it surfaced again. So there it was, my “quiet place”, my twenty minutes a day for the Rosary…the drive home from work. I threw Moms Rosary book mark in the car for a reference and continued Alfred’s string the very next day after work.
As a middle-aged adult, seeking spirituality instead of retribution, the words to the prayers and meditations took on a lot more meaning then they did as a child. Certain parallels to feelings and events seemed to fit better with the prayers this time around. My willingness to pray the Rosary opened up insight and deep thoughts, unlike when it was used as a penance. I discovered my indifferent feelings as a young adult towards the superstitious sounding Rosary (a prayer I previously thought for senior citizens only) were unfounded and plagued with misnomers. Hearing the Rosary in a large group or on a radio show, pray along is a far cry from jumping in and actually praying one all by yourself in your “quiet place”. Another bolt out of the blue is, the Rosary is more of a meditation than a prayer. While you meditate about each sacred mystery the ten Hail Mary’s, effortless to remember, provide a background for your thoughts and hinder your mind from wandering. In the past, when I prayed conversationally from my heart, I tended to daydream and pray at the same time and meander off track as something I talked to God about reminded me of something else totally unrelated. The steady decades of Hail Mary’s almost act as a mantra filtering the distractions while I concentrate on the mystery at hand. Every time I pray the Rosary I get touched with new contemplations to think about over the same mysteries.
A few years ago, I was building a deer stand in the woods of northern Minnesota. I had to carry a twelve-foot-long cedar log, six inches in diameter, up the trail to use as a post. I almost blew a blood vessel struggling under its weight. While catching a breather I wondered how heavy a cross would be if it were strong enough to support me and long enough to be buried into the ground so it wouldn’t tip over after they hung me on it. Being cut from a green tree would make it much heavier than a dry one. Figuring my wingspan of roughly six feet, the cross piece would have to be eight feet wide allowing room to nail me to it without splitting the ends out. The length would need at least three feet in the ground, three more feet to the bottom of me for elevation, six feet to cover my length and two feet above me to allow room for the sign INRI, for a grand total of fourteen feet long. Hey, the sins of the world are many, this is a seriously heavy cross and it requires an uphill three-mile march through town. I’m not sure I could even tip it up on its side let alone carry it.
I received lots of contemplations out of that whole thought process, plus I got to spend time in my favorite place on the planet. My everyday aches and pains and agonies, my questionable suffrages and self-persecutions don’t hold a candle to His, but they’re not supposed to. Maybe we’re supposed to experience some suffering so we can identify with His suffering for our sins. God probably created outlets in my brain for me to contemplate all my petty human stuff so I can have a small piece of common ground to make sense of all the events surrounding His Son’s birth, death, and resurrection. Contemplating His and Mary’s life without sin, their total faith and trust in God, their unending, unconditional love for every soul, is even bigger than that to meditate on. Accepting my own imperfections makes it easier to find tolerance in the world around me.
If you think of some of your most favorite works of landscape art, quite often, the artist will choose to paint a beautiful setting in the wilderness, across a body of calm water, where both the landscape and its mirror image reflection on the water, are portrayed. Bev Doolittle is a prime example of that technique in many of her best paintings. Ansel Adams, the famous wilderness photographer, also used reflected images in many of his award-winning shots in National Parks. Many of the great architects like to design reflecting pools into their complex structures, the most famous of which is between the Lincoln Memorial and the US Capital building in Washington DC.
The campus of Notre Dame has a famous reflection pool at the base of a fourteen-story mosaic on the side of the library, facing the football stadium. Millions of tiles create a backdrop of angels, saints, apostles and religious figures floating behind a twelve-story image of Jesus with outstretched arms. Everyone calls it “Touchdown Jesus”. It is said that that the Notre Dame kicker can look through the goal posts and out through the tunnel entrance to the stadium and see Jesus signifying that the kick is good, with his raised, outstretched arms. At the start of every game, the football team captains always take the coin toss position on the field where they are finishing the fourth quarter towards the image of Touchdown Jesus, under the belief that it will give their kicker inspiration.
Many of the great Prophets, Prognosticators, Philosophers, Professors, Poets, etc., all liked to head off to somewhere in nature and reflect on a wide variety of contemplations to further their understanding of the subject at hand. Christ turned to many different wilderness settings, like the desert, Mount of Olives, Gethsemane, the Sea of Galilee, and other pristine places, to pray. My favorite Biblical quote comes from Hosea, “the wilderness will lead you back to me where I will speak to you”, comes to mind. As I mentioned earlier, where is your wilderness? I will play an important role for you in the future.
Once I was walking the dog around an inner-city wildlife area on a designated tar walking/bike path. We came to a small wooden bridge, spanning a widening in a drainage creek and, for some unknown reason I stopped and glanced over the rail at the flat smooth water below. Out ahead, my eye caught movement and focused on the water reflection of two geese flying by while my peripheral vision saw them in the air. My eyes trained back down on the reflections of the clouds moving and floating past the tree tops, then down to where the marsh grass and their reflection met, as the creek turned and disappeared into the landscape about a hundred yards away. I glanced down at my own reflection and detected movement below the surface. My visual focus intensified on the wavering motion of underwater grass, bowing with the gentle current. I saw a crayfish crawl over some rocks and gravel, magnified by the glass-like water surface. Upon further intensity, an underwater boatman bug oared around some tiny bits of debris, highlighted by the sun’s rays. No longer aware of the surface reflections, I gazed as deep as my eyes would allow, searching for the complete picture of all that was happening four feet, below the surface, into the pool.
Reflection is an interesting word in the context of a prayer form. It reminded me of contemplating the Mysteries of the Rosary. The initial visual of any given Mystery, as it is written or depicted by the rosary guide books, is a lot like the surface reflection on the pool. When you narrow the focus on any particular Rosary Mystery, you begin to contemplate or reflect on its significances to you, to the Catholic Faith, to mankind, to theology, to life, etc. When praying the Rosary, ask yourself, “how does it pertain to me, what does it mean, why is it a Mystery?” Not all of them are obvious. If you look below the surface of the mental picture, God or any of the intercessors that you may have invited in, will give you insights and thought of clarification to make for a better Rosary meditation.
That was a roundabout way of getting back to the theme of this written epistle about how overwhelmed I was, how God ambushed me with the Rosary and how you might test drive the Rosary to temper your own overwhelmed situation. Today, I continue with the daily regimen of meditating on the Rosary. Like grandma, I’m at peace for about a half an hour with my “white noise” of prayer. One hundred years ago, back on the old homestead in rural Otsego Township, grandpa built two small grottos out of stones. They each had separate arched cubbies that housed ornate, plaster-of-Paris, painted statues; one of Mary and one of Jesus, both displaying their Sacred Hearts. The mini stone grottos bracketed rose bushes and were slightly angled to face toward a cement bench. Grandma planted a flower bed at the base and across in front of the whole arrangement. That was her second most favorite place to pray the Rosary.
I don’t have a grotto, but I ended up with grandma’s two statues, after she passed, and display them in my basement home office on a small corner shelf along with some other family memorabilia, my First Holy Communion Children’s Missal and old rosaries. The display gives me hundreds of Catholic family memories. Because I live in the city, I can’t go to the wilderness to pray. However, when I pray the Rosary, I imagine that I’m in a favorite quiet place from my memory banks. Similar to grandma’s cathedral or grotto, I view nature’s vista’s as cathedral’s or, better yet, as my own Garden of Gethsemane. The reason I bring this up is, blood is thicker than water. Many people who have detailed knowledge of their Catholic family history can add meaning to their own Rosary journey by using family heritage. Those that don’t, still have favorite nature spots to put them in the right prayer location.
Some of those favorite memory places may vary from docks to deer stands, from mountain tops to Caribbean beaches, from breathtaking ocean sunsets to sunrises, but I like to call it my meditation inside a meditation. I use those visuals to create the right mental setting for praying and maybe even block out some additional “white noise” to mental traffic. By imagining that I’m at one of these memorable places, before I begin the Rosary, it transcends me to a better place to pray then behind the wheel of the car or in a busy, noisy room or an echo chamber of a church.
Most modern-day, two working spouse households rely on split-duty assignments to haul kids to events, attend meetings and meet social obligations. With the aid of technology, we can make ourselves even busier with 4-G phones and electronic ipads to create more meetings and work flow. We can’t head out to our designated grottos and gardens to pray. So, we too, have to transcend to our favorite spots by using our imagination when we earmark time to pray a Rosary. Even though it’s conjured up in our mind, it’s still wilderness. Maybe even go to the photo gallery in your phone and find a good scenic photo you have saved and use it to transcend there mentally.
WHERE IS YOUR GARDEN
Many of the Profits, the Saints, the apostles and Jesus, Himself, went into the wilderness to pray and contemplate. Where is your Garden of Gethsemane, your wilderness, your Mount of Olives? The Rosary opened the door to a part of my brain that I hadn’t been using. It created a peaceful, quiet ride home every night and provides avenues to better relationships, clearer and more productive thinking and wisdom or knowledge that was there all along asleep in my brain. If you’re not sure you’re ready for the Rosary, but you’re willing to experiment with the concept of meditation, try walking before you run. On the way home from work some night, pick an event in Christ’s life to contemplate on and really dig deep into your imagination for all your senses. i.e. Christ’s birth in Bethlehem; was it a stable or a cave? What animals or people were present? What were the sounds and smells? The star overhead, details etc. If you want something more stressful, imagine you were in the crowd as Jesus carried the cross to Mount Calvary. How loud were the shouts, the cracks of the whip to Jesus’ flesh? How quiet did it get when the sky went dark, as Jesus exhausted His last breath? How scared were Mary and Joseph when their twelve-year-old son was lost in the biggest city of that time? Then repeat the Lord’s Prayer or the Hail Mary or the dinner prayer or whatever other simple prayer that comes to mind, and pray it all the way to your driveway. When you’ve finished, analyze whether or not you feel more relaxed. Don’t forget to turn off the radio. You’ll find your brain is capable of thinking about several things at the same time.
The Rosary consists of the repetition of three basic “rote prayers”; the Lord’s Prayer and the Glory Be, which bracket ten Hail Mary’s called decades. Each decade requires one to contemplate a specific Mystery while reciting the prayers in a mantra like fashion. With five Mysteries in each of four different themed New Testament, Biblical era’s, surrounding Christ’s birth, life, death and resurrection. It’s helpful to use as much of your imagination as possible to visualize the sights, sounds and emotions of each individual Mystery.
Begin the Rosary with the Sign of the Cross and the Apostles Creed and while reciting it, think about what you’re saying. I call it, “the take inventory prayer.” Concentrate on what you believe in. Before you go on a trip, a trek, a vacation, you make a list of what to pack. Contemplating the Mysteries of the Rosary is like a journey through your imagination, even though much of the scenery is what God wants you to see. It’s helpful to refresh your core beliefs before you start prayer and meditation by going over the list of you do actually believe in. If you were the author of the Creed, could you make it any simpler? Can you think of anything else to add? It covers it all. What a magnificent prayer this is:
THE APOSTLES CREED
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilot, was crucified, died and was buried. He descended into hell; the third day He arose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, seated at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting, Amen.
The reference to “the communion of saints” strongly suggests that there’s large number of holy people willing to pray along with you if you petition their help; a host of angels and saints. Grip the steering wheel tightly for this prayer and imagine the little Crucifix on the end of the Rosary in the palm of your hand. Sometimes I break with tradition and pray the long version from mass because it’s more detailed. (I’m still working on “consubstantial”.) If you feel the need to ask St. Christopher to protect you while you drive, feel free to do so. If you feel unsafe or uncomfortable driving and praying at the same time, it would be best you find a different “quiet place” other than the car. It should go without saying, but just to be on the safe side, don’t attempt to read the prayers while you drive, recite them from memory as best as you can. If you forget the words, make up new ones until you can reference your prayer guide. I’ve yet to be struck dead for improvising when I forget. Remember, there are other drivers on the road, many of which would love an opportunity to annihilate you or gesture wildly at you over something petty.
THE WARM UP
Before you take a trip in the car, it’s wise to fill up the tank, check the oil, the tire pressure and, generally, make sure everything looks and sounds good. The first part of the Rosary is a brief warm up to get the words and mood right before the big meditations ahead. Just above the crucifix is the first bead. It is “The Apostle’s Creed” bead. Next are three more beads, referred to as the “Faith, Hope and Charity” beads. Recite a Hail Mary while thumbing each of these beads and think about:
Faith……if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can get to heaven….is the Biblical visual I grab for this short meditation.
Hope…..if you can recall a childhood Christmas, past where you hoped as hard as you ever hoped for the toy or gift you wanted more than anything in the world, then do so on this bead. Christ didn’t have hope, He was Hope.
Charity…Love is a better word for this bead. I try to recite John 3:16 before I pray this last, warm-up Hail Mary, preceding the main decades of ten beads.
THE GLORY BE
The last lone bead, below the main part of the Rosary, is for the Glory Be prayer. Think of the Holy Trinity whenever you tee this prayer up. Each decade of Hail Mary’s is started with the Lord’s Prayer, followed by the ten Hail Mary’s and finished with, “Glory Be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, Amen.” It’s like a re-set button for an electronic devise or the “clear all” button a calculator. It’s time to start a new calculation, a new meditation. It’s more of an acknowledgement of “God in three persons, Holy Trinity”, as the song refrain echoes in your brain.
THE HAIL MARY PRAYER
When reciting a Hail Mary, the first half of the most well know Catholic “rote” prayer, there are a couple of quotes right out of the first chapter of Luke, beginning with the visit to Mary from the Arch Angel, Gabriel. He announces, “Hail, Mary, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women”. A little further into the first chapter of Luke, Mary Visits Elizabeth, her pregnant cousin who is carrying John, the Baptist, in her womb. Upon seeing Mary and feeling the presence of the Savior, Elizabeth’s child stirs inside her and she exclaims, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. The second half of the prayer is a petition to Mary, asking her to, “pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” It’s pretty simple. When prayed over and over again, ten times for each Rosary Mystery, in a mantra like fashion, it becomes the “white noise” you need to block out the other noises.
If you’ve ever lost a close relative, a mentor or anyone who inspires you to perceive them holy enough to be in heaven, it’s not uncommon for you to ask them to put in a good word to God. Often referred to as “The Man upstairs”, in foxhole prayer format, we plead for help from anyone, up there, who can hear me. All the saints (before they were saints) were one of those, so called intercessors. They were asked by us mere mortals to intercede, pray, draw God’s attention to and make something miraculous happen. After so many documented miracles, those souls then became “beatified” by the Vatican and later canonized into sainthood. Without knowing exactly how many, I’m going to suggest that a very large number of those “saint making” miracles involved the use of the Rosary as the prayer form during the intercession, by those asking for the miracle.
MYSTERIES FOR THE OVERWHELMED
Remember, the Rosary is not a race. You want to shoot for quality not quantity. Yammering through one in speed-talk might register as a Rosary, but you get what you pay for, as they say. It usually takes a half an hour for an average paced, good quality meditation. If anything, lengthen it by stating each Sacred Mystery in as full detail as possible. Pretend you are actually there, in the Mystery, at the time it occurs. Instead of blurting out, “the Annunciation” and start in with a string of Hail Mary’s, try to imagine you are actually there and create or re-live the description mentioned earlier, like;
“Angel Gabriel appeared to the fifteen-year-old, Blessed Virgin Mary in Nazareth and startled her with the original phrase, “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee”. He then followed with news of that she will bear the Son of God; to which she recites the wonderful words of the “Magnificat”, a beautiful Bible passage, referencing that she is the “hand maiden of the Lord” and asking, “may it be done to me according to Your Word”. She continues her journey to visit Elizabeth, her elderly cousin, also miraculously with child because of her advanced age, and is greeted with, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb”, as her own child, John the Baptist, stirs within her.
Here’s another example;
Instead of stating, “the Transfiguration” vs. secretly visualizing yourself observing Jesus and his Apostles from the brush, “as Jesus prayed on Mount Tabor with Peter, James and John, His entire body turned to light. He then began talking to Moses and Elijah. Then a bright cloud appeared and Gods booming voice was heard, “THIS IS MY BELOVED SON, OF WHOM I AM WELL PLEASED. LISTEN TO HIM”. The disciples fell to the ground in fear.
Let’s take a shot at making some Sorrowful Sacred Mystery sample descriptions geared to the “overwhelmed”. The benefits should be clear. By using your imagination and memory recall of what you perceive each total Mystery to be, in as much detail as possible, you will pave the way for a better meditation of that specific decade of Hail Mary’s. Immerse yourself into the scenery, become part of the jeering crowd, touch His garment as He passes by, imagine the sounds of the whip or the hammer that drives the nails into Christ’s hands and feet.
THE SORROWFUL MYSTERIES
- Retching on the ground in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed so hard that he sweated blood and shed tears of blood as He asked God if this cup should pass and spare Him of all the impending agony coming His way the next day. HE WAS OVERWHELMED
- Shackled to a post like an animal, Jesus was flogged until there was barely any visible unbruised flesh left on His bloody body. The pain was beyond anyone’s imagination, yet the crowd jeered and cheered for more. HE WAS OVERWHELMED
- Humiliated, spat and urinated on, kicked and punched, cloaked in a make-believe royal robe and holding a make believe royal scepter, Jesus was crowned with a woven wreath of thorns. They were pressed deeply onto His scull until the blood ran down all sides of His head and He was mocked and called King of the Jews. HE WAS OVERWHELMED
- Barely able to support His own weight, Jesus was sentenced in a bogus trial to be crucified by His own people. He lugged a heavy cross, weighing more than all the sins of the world, through the streets of Jerusalem and up to the top of mount Calvary as an angry crowd chided Him the entire way. HE WAS OVERWHELMED
- With forgiveness in His heart, Jesus was savagely nailed to the cross and hung there until His last breath. Pierced like a piece of meat. HE WAS OVERWHELMED
THE OVERWHELMED’S APPEAL TO MARY
At the end of the Rosary, we recite the Hail Holy Queen prayer/petition, but it’s almost more of an acknowledgement than a prayer. We transform ourselves (by imagination) to see Mary’s face and greet her with the same salutation as Angel Gabriel, ‘Hail, Holy Queen!” She’s no longer an innocent, sinless young woman. She’s been assumed, miraculously, into heaven, body and soul and crowned the Queen of Heaven and Earth. (Here’s where we lose many of the Protestants.) She is the great intercessor to all lost causes, mainly us. This recitation is more of an appeal or petition then a prayer. Read it carefully, word by word:
The Hail Holy Queen
Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope. To you do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To you do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this Valley of Tears. Turn then, most gracious ADVOCATE, your eyes of mercy toward us and after this exile; show unto us the blessed fruit of your womb, Jesus. Oh clement, Oh loving, Oh sweet Virgin Mary, pray for us, Holy Mother of God, that we may be worthy of the promises of Christ.
“Hey! Mary, can you hear me? I’m overwhelmed! I can’t think very clearly, right now. I need you to put in a good word to the man upstairs.” If you are homeless, Jesus was born, homeless in a stable. If you’ve been physically beaten, Jesus was beaten more severely at the pillar. If you’ve been unfairly judged, Jesus unfair trial trumps yours. If you’ve ever agonized about anything, Jesus agony is greater. If you were ever humiliated, Jesus humility was greater. If you’ve ever carried a heavy burden, Jesus carried a heavier one. If you feel insignificant, Jesus was raised in a small, no-name town and made fun of as “Jesus the Nazarean”. Jesus was baptized and so were you. Ultimately, if you are overwhelmed, so was Jesus. These commonalities you have with the man, Jesus can bring you closer to a better relationship with God. There is no suffering you’ve experienced that doesn’t have a parallel to Jesus, even if it’s much less dramatic. It’s so we can identify with Him.
What could I possibly have in common with Jesus? Find common ground with Christ by meditating a Rosary. Re-read or recall John 3:16, God sent Jesus to us to be like us, so we can all identify with Him in all the ways He means for us to do so. All we have to do is believe. The Rosary meditations create an opportunity for us to find common ground with our Savior. By using our imagination to meditate on each of the Sacred Mysteries, the Holy Trinity and Mary will intercede and help you with visuals and flashes of brilliance to help you have a better Rosary.
THE FINISHING PRAYER
Most prayer leaders of the Rosary, finish it with one last prayer. It’s a good summary of what may have just happened in your mind. It lumps everything together and closes out the journey. Let’s face it, when we’re done with our vacation, we usually don’t pack everything with as much care as when we were first starting out. We still take inventory, but we are apt to cut corners and stuff everything in the suitcase, knowing we’re just going to unpack again when we get home. The thoughts that come are like saying, “ well that was nice, we’ll have to do that again, soon.” Not as heartfelt and detailed as the Apostle’s Creed, but a nice summary:
Oh God, whose only begotten Son, by His Life, Death and Resurrection, has purchased for us the rewards of eternal life. Grant, we beseech thee, that by meditating on the Mysteries of the most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we may both imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise, through the same Christ, our Lord. Amen
Meditate? Imitate what they contain? Obtain what they promise? Hey God, help me use my imagination in a productive fashion by thinking, by remembering, by reflecting on all the stuff we just covered in the Rosary over last thirty minutes. Let’s carry some of it with us and do this again real soon and please help some of it stick with me until then. Help me accept Christ to come into my heart and guide me through my tough times (or his or her tough times, if you’re praying for someone else). Rather than an appeal, it’s more of an acknowledgement that you believe that meditating on the Rosary, can help your cause. It’s great finish.
NOW IT’S YOUR TURN
That’s easy for you to say. When am I going to have time to pray a Rosary? I’m overwhelmed because there aren’t enough hours in the day. I lay awake, many nights, trying to solve problems and take advantage of uninterrupted thought process. So, there you have it. During that 2 a.m., your wide awake time period, relax and meditate a Rosary. You probably will fall asleep before you finish, but it’s a start of a good habit practice. The beads are nice, but you can use your fingers to keep track, without rummaging through the drawers and waking the whole household. Maybe it makes more sense to hook different fingers on the steering wheel, as you’re stuck in traffic.
The good news about being overwhelmed is you’re alive. Maybe even for some, it’s like being trapped inside a mine behind a cave-in. You might feel doomed, breathing can be laborious, your mind races into a panic or anxiety attack. You question how can I escape? The only way out is to remove one stone at a time. Like various burdens, some are heavier than others and may require more effort or leverage. Each meditation might be focused on different burdens that cause you to be overwhelmed. It may take a day, a week or a month to move a burden, but the effort will bear fruit. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
Your perception of what overwhelms you can change by meditating on the Rosary. Isolating a worry, a health issue, a cause for concern, with the Rosary can drown out sorrows long enough to soften them. If anything, it could help slow down your racing thoughts to see them more clearly. Why not try wearing away one malady at a time. Eventually you may get God given insights to overcome them. If you make a commitment to praying the Rosary, regularly, you’ll figure out that your life has improved. Maybe then, it will be time to pray for someone who is worse off than you. Feel free to share this with other overwhelmed individuals. By helping someone in need, sometimes you end up being the benefactor.
It wouldn’t hurt to supplement your Rosary journey with a daily paragraph out of either or both testaments of the Bible. God touches your heart, as you read, and you naturally apply it to you own life experiences. Try to imagine you are physically present in the scene of the readings as an observer or participant. Every single person who reads the Gospel, get different messages or images from the exact same passages, hence the phrase, “the Word of God”. Ask God, “what do You want me to hear today?”
THE OTHER MYSTERIES OF THE ROSARY
Officially, from the Vatican, there are four sets of five Mysteries, each with their own theme. They are:
THE JOYFUL MYSTERIES:
- Angel Gabriel appears to the Blessed Virgin and announces the Birth of Christ
- Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth and shares the news of her pregnancy
- Jesus is born in a manger in Bethlehem
- Baby Jesus is presented in the Temple of Israel to holy man Simeon and the high priestess Anna
- Twelve year old child Jesus is found preaching in the Temple after being lost for 3 days
THE LUMINOUS MYSTERIES:
- Jesus is baptized in the River Jordan by John the Baptist
- Jesus changes the water into wine at the wedding in Cana
- Over a three year period, Jesus manifests Himself into the Gospel with His teachings
- Jesus is transfigured into light on Mount Tabor with Prophets of the Old Testament
- Jesus manifests Himself into the Eucharist, the living body and blood to share with the world
THE GLORIOUS MYSTERIES:
- Jesus is resurrected from the tomb
- Jesus ascends into heaven
- The Holy Spirit descends down upon the Apostles
- The Blessed Virgin Mary is assumed, body and soul, into Heaven
- The Blessed Virgin Mary is crowned Queen of Heaven and earth
THE SORROWFUL MYSTERIES: were covered in the main portion of this writing for “the overwhelmed”.
All of these official Mysteries give opportunity to each person who reflects on them to feel Gods personal message, to receive images God wants us to have, to seek and find common ground with Jesus. There are millions of vivid scenarios, sights and sounds to perceive. There are easy to understand events and there are very complicated, hard to understand things with multiple meanings, hence the term, “Mysteries.” Each person gets something different than the next because the Rosary is personal. The Franciscan Order introduced a different Rosary with seven decades of beads and recommend we meditate either the Seven Sorrows or the Seven Joys of Mary. There are others, as well.
This may be presumptuous, but there may be certain teachings, verses, miracles or hard to understand “mysteries” inside of your own faith journey. Although the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to St. Dominick in 1208 with instruction to pray and teach the Rosary with three sets of Mysteries, Pope John Paul II and all the Cardinals in the Holy See, added the Luminous Mysteries in 2008 and filled in a large time gap in the life of Christ between His childhood and his Passion. By meditating on the things that confuse you, with the use of the Rosary, you may clear up a few cob webs. Eventually, Providence will nudge you back to the original design of the Sacred Mysteries. An overwhelmed you, is not healthy. In the long run, it’s not about you. It’s about The Holy Trinity, the Word of God and the life of Christ.
Life, in general, can be a mystery. Being overwhelmed is a mystery. How did this happen? How did I let this get so out of hand? Your ongoing struggle is 24/7 and you attack it one day at a time. The Rosary is twenty minutes at a time. There may be days where it’s the only twenty minutes of sanity in your day. Your sanity journey can begin right now. It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s a process. It’s a mystery that will take time to understand, twenty minutes at a time. Test it out. Make minor changes in your life. Begin by reading the Word of God, a little bit at a time. Most Catholic churches hand out pocket sized booklets that have a daily Gospel reading with accompanying thoughts or reflections from credible sources or well know writers. Stop in any parish house and ask for one. When you decide to meditate on a Rosary, come right out and ask God, “what is it You want me to see and hear over the next few minutes Lord?” Do you have a quiet place? Where is your Garden of Gethsemane? A Cathedral? You may have to transcend there by way of your imagination, but do so. If God was a personal friend, how would you talk to Him? Now, talk to Him. If you believe you have a special friend or relative in heaven, ask them to pray along with you. Ask for all the help that is available and begin now. Choose to be less overwhelmed. Simplify your life through prayer and meditation.