Our Holy Father Pope Francis tells us that “If prayer isn’t courageous, it isn’t Christian,” and he reminds us that “if prayer does not gather the joys and sorrows, the hopes and the anxieties of humanity, it becomes a ‘decorative’ activity, a superficial, theatrical, solitary way of behaving”.
Speaking about people who pray, and referring specifically to the prayer of intercession, the Pope says –
“Wherever they are, they always keep the doors of their hearts wide open: an open door for those who pray without knowing how to pray; for those who do not pray at all but who carry within themselves a suffocating cry, a hidden invocation; for those who have erred and have lost the way… Whoever can knock on the door of someone who prays finds a compassionate heart which does not exclude anyone.”
In other words, prayer encompasses the entirety of human need – our own personal need and that of the world around us. And this world desperately needs people who pray. It has been said that the cloistered nuns living hidden lives in convents hold up the world by their prayers. The Old Testament tells us of cities which were saved because certain souls prayed, even though they were few in number. The Divine Mercy devotion echoes a similar message.
The prayer of intercession challenges us to go outside of ourselves and our personal needs. That might sound simple enough, but the reality can be very different – it is not always easy to pray for others. It is one thing to pray for those we love, but quite another to pray for those we do not like, or who offend us, or who have done terrible things; and yet all of these people need prayers, just as much as we ourselves do. This is one reason why prayer can be a challenge, why it takes that courage and conviction to which the Pope refers. It takes compassion to pray in a way that exlcudes no-one.
On the Cross, the Lord prayed in a way which excluded no-one, which encompassed even those who were crucifying Him in that moment – “Father, forgive them”. And standing by the Cross was His Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary. Through the mystical co-operation which united Her Immaculate Heart to Her Son’s Sacred Heart, She shared in His prayer, because Her will was perfectly atuned to His will in all things, even the prayer of that particular moment; it was a continuation of the ‘fiat’ She had uttered at the moment of the Annunciation.
The Blessed Virgin is a good example for us to imitate when it comes to the prayer of intercession, since She has a particular role in praying for every single one of us without exception, a role She fulfils perfectly.
And in order to imitate Her as best we can, there is no better prayer than that of the holy Rosary. It is Her own prayer, the one She asks of us over and over again.
Pope Francis talks of intercessory prayer needing to gather “the joys and sorrows, the hopes and the anxieties of humanity“ – and the Rosary encompasses all of this. It does so by placing before us “the joys and sorrows, the hopes and the anxieties” of the Holy Family, of the Lord and of His own Mother, as well as those of the early Church, just beginning its mission; meditation on the various Mysteries of the Rosary allows us to look at all those events, to learn lessons from them and to apply those lessons to ourselves and to our world in the present day. The Holy Father puts it this way –
“Prayer comes from our hearts and our voices and gives heart and voice to so many people do not know how to pray or who do not want to pray or for whom it is impossible to pray: we are the heart and the voice of these people, rising to Jesus, rising to the Father as intercessors. In the solitude of those who pray, whether the solitude lasts a long time or only a half hour, to pray, those who pray separate themselves from everything and from everyone to find everything and everyone in God. These people pray for the whole world, bearing its sorrows and sins on their shoulders. They pray for each and every person: they are like God’s “antennas” in this world. The one who prays sees the face of Christ in every poor person who knocks at the door, in every person who has lost the meaning of things.”
This should encourage us at those times when to pray takes a great act of the will, that we might be persevering, courageous and decisive in our prayer.
And this is very much the nature of the prayer of the Rosary – the greatest blessings come when praying the Rosary becomes a way of prayer, something we do over and over, offering it for the needs of the whole world. Perhaps this goes some way toward explaining why, at Lourdes, all of the appearances to St Bernadette commenced with the praying of the Rosary; and why, at Fatima, the Mother of God asked the children at every single appearance to “pray the Rosary every day”.
The Rosary is like a heavenly garden; it is not sufficient only to plant the seeds – after this, we must tend that garden, watering the plants which grow there and removing the weeds. It is only after doing this consistently and well that we can walk amongst the flowers and enjoy their fragrance.
This time of the year, with the celebration of Christmas only a couple of days away, is the perfect time to take up our beads and to learn anew how exquisite this form of meditative and intercessory prayer really is. It is the perfect time to mediatate on the ‘yes’ of the Mother of God, leading to the event we will celebrate very shortly – the birth of the Christ Child.
Perhaps by means of praying our beads at this time, some of those heavenly seeds will fall upon the garden of our soul.