Recognizing our sorrowful mysteries

If I’m being perfectly honest, I’ve always struggled with praying the Rosary. I have something my dad and I jokingly call “Rosary anxiety,” which is when I forget bits and pieces of the Hail Mary or the Our Father at random.

Sometimes, as I feel the words slipping out of memory, I’ve even been known to freestyle the endings of my prayers in a desperate attempt to salvage my pride. Luckily though, my dad is the right person to mess up in front of — he understands that I know the prayers, and he understands that my intentions are good. However, he also knows that I am easily distracted and do poorly under pressure.

I think this problem comes in part from my chronic stage fright (which we can dissect later, as my entire job is speaking to people from a stage) and also in part because I have always found the Rosary a bit monotonous.

What kind of Catholic writer admits to finding the Rosary monotonous? Well, from wherever you’re reading this, hear me out.

In general, I struggle with repetition in all parts of my life. I’ve lived in six cities over the last three years, changed jobs countless times, and usually quit television shows after the second season. Commitment is not my forté, and repetition is a pillar of commitment.

However a few years back, I received a bit of advice that, while pretty common, was still very helpful. A friend encouraged me to picture myself in the scenes that the Rosary depicts. Suddenly, I wasn’t just another distracted kid in youth group. I was an onlooker at the temple where Mary found Jesus, a guest at the wedding at Cana, and even an abuser at the foot of the cross.

This method helped my Rosaries become less monotonous and more meditative. Unfortunately, it still left me victim to the constraints of my imagination. Usually, my attempts at picturing the mysteries of the Rosary couldn’t amount to much more than replayed scenes from “The Passion” on loop in my brain. And while that is a worthwhile technique in its own right, I’d like to offer another.

I would suggest that the Rosary is more than a meditative prayer; it is a paradigm through which we can examine the great mysteries of our own lives. I find this particularly comforting in times when I cannot even bring myself to articulate my emotions. Namely, in times of grief, it is deeply comforting to process my own pain through Christ’s suffering.

A few years ago, I lost a family member in a very painful way. The months that followed his passing were some of the darkest of my life. I found myself skipping Mass week after week and pretty much giving up on prayer all together. For a while, it looked as if my years of faith were coming to an end. I just couldn’t reconcile the idea that a good God would let something so terrible happen to someone so young.

After months of insisting on suffering alone, my salvation came in three parts: a best friend who didn’t give up on me, a series of confessions with some truly incredible priests, and the ability to relate Christ’s sorrowful mysteries to my own. My big moment of mercy came around the Tridium, as I followed Jesus on his journey to the cross.

As I listened and meditated on the fifth sorrowful mystery — Christ’s crucifixion — I finally began to understand my own sorrow. I saw myself in the loneliness Christ felt on the cross and in the helplessness his mother felt while watching him suffer and die. More than anything, I saw myself in his question to his father: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Through meditating on the Rosary, the answer I found was that God was allowing me to suffer in order to equip me with suffering’s antidote: hope. In a similar way to the Resurrection’s inability to exist without the Crucifixion, hope couldn’t exist without suffering. So when I came to terms with the sorrows not only in my Rosary but also in my life, I became one step closer to coming to terms with the hope in my life as well.

It can feel a little silly, comparing our sufferings to Christ’s, since our pains and sacrifices pale in comparison to what was given on the cross. But I would argue that to offer the mysteries and sorrows of our small lives onto Mary’s greatest weapon and one of God’s greatest gifts is an act of humble courage. Christ delights in small children recognizing themselves in his big story.

So try it, even if it gives you a little Rosary anxiety. Like I said, I usually embarrass myself when I’m praying in front of my dad, and if you try to pray the Rosary this way, you might embarrass yourself in front of your Father, too. Luckily though, he’s the right person to mess up in front of.

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