Let me begin by thanking so many of you who have reached out with prayers and good wishes as I continue my recuperation from heart surgery, which I wrote about last month. I am happy to report that all is going according to plan, and I hope to be able to return to Catholic Charities full time in the next one to two months.
I continue trying to make the best of this forced downtime, to use the quiet to draw closer to God through prayer, reflection, and reading. October has traditionally been dedicated to the holy rosary, so it’s appropriate that this powerful prayer has again become special to me here in 2020.
As a little boy growing up in Bethesda, I remember well praying the rosary as a family during October. Mom hung a picture of each child next to a step on the staircase heading upstairs. My oldest sister Jean was at the top, and my youngest sister Brenda at the bottom. We would kneel child-by-child at our own step and pray the rosary on a regular basis.
When I was around 12 years old, we started praying a decade of the rosary every night when we finished dinner. In a big family like ours with 13 children, Dad would start with the Our Father, and each of us would usually say one Hail Mary as we went around the table. This become our regular closing prayer at the meal.
You don’t forget those things. They become of your spiritual DNA, of how you try to pray and become closer to God. I wasn’t perfect about it. Honestly, there were many times that I couldn’t wait to get away from the table and back to the tennis court, swimming pool, homework, or some other activity. I now look back and realize how important those prayer forms were, and how grateful I am to have grown up in a family that emphasized them.
The rosary was also a part of my seminary days at Mount St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg, Maryland. We called it Mary’s Mountain, 60 miles north of Washington, where so many of our priests were trained. The National Shrine Grotto just above the seminary, which is modeled after Lourdes, included mosaics of the mysteries of the rosary. It was a place of prayer and union for all of us.
I am happy that the rosary is again back in my experience of prayer in a special way. I must admit that it’s not a prayer I’ve used every single day, but at times in my life, it’s become quite important. When it’s a daily part of my prayer, all the better.
For years, I’ve prayed the rosary while driving to work. Where did I learn that? My father. He did it as well, and wouldn’t turn the radio on until he had finished his rosary. There are distractions, of course, but distracted prayer is better than no prayer.
I started spending more time praying the rosary early in the pandemic, even before my recent surgery. I started taking evening walks, which I would end by coming into St. Bartholomew’s and saying the rosary as I walked around the church. Doing this reminded me once again of how important the mysteries are as a way to reflect on the Lord’s love for us.
As you know, there are four sets of mysteries – the Joyful, Sorrowful, Glorious, and Luminous mysteries. I find my meditations often lead me to what I do every day, trying my best to take care of those who are struggling and in need. You may find the same. Let me share a little of what I might reflect upon with the Sorrowful mysteries as one example.
The Agony in the Garden: Who is suffering their own agony? Those who are sick. Those struggling with drugs, alcohol addiction, or mental illness. Those in physical pain. Those isolated in nursing homes. All who find life difficult right now. They are living the agony in the garden.
The Scourging at the Pillar: I think of people who are being scourged today in places close by and far away. They may be scourged through the struggle of being an immigrant or a refugee. They may be caught up in the scourge of human trafficking, or forced to leave their homes for safety. They may be scourged by COVID-19. This one decade of the rosary gives me a chance to think about so many people and groups of people experiencing painful difficulties.
The Crowning of the Thorns: Some have thorny issues in their lives that can be crushing. It might be an elderly parent who is sick, and they can’t see them as much as they wish. It might be a child whose emotional or psychological problems are debilitating. In this time of pandemic, it might be someone whose job has been taken away, and they’re crowned every day with the difficulty of taking care of themselves and their loved ones.
The Carrying of the Cross: Every one of us has a cross to carry – or I should say crosses to carry. These are moments, events, or even people in our lives who add burden and struggle. It can be like carrying a weight, a weight not just on a road to Calvary but a weight of helping and taking care of others with real problems. For some today, it might be the cross of racism. For others, it might be the cross of immigration. For still another, the cross of political unrest. These are heavy issues in our lives that many of us must deal with regularly.
The Crucifixion and Death: As a priest, I have experienced the death of many, many people, including my own family and friends. I am aware that the cross of death can come quickly and unexpectedly, or it can come after years of suffering and pain, through cancer, heart disease, strokes, and many other ways. We pray for those who have died and those who are dying, knowing that Jesus himself died so they, too, will receive the gift of resurrection.
I encourage you to personalize the rosary by thinking of those in your life when meditating on the mysteries. In the Sorrowful mysteries, we may think of someone we know who is suffering. In the Joyful mysteries, we may think of someone we know who is about to give birth or recently had a child. In the Glorious mysteries, whom do we know that is rejoicing in the gift of the Holy Spirit in his or her life?
I share my own reminder of the power of the rosary with you in the hopes that it may remind you of the same. St. Francis de Sales, one of my father’s favorite saints, said, “The greatest method of praying is to pray the rosary.”
May the rosary and all our prayers help us grow daily in our love for God and each other.
(Msgr. Enzler is the president and CEO of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington.)