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by Matthew Kelly
Rediscover the Rosary
by Fr. Bob Sherry
There is something magical about the holiday season. Maybe it’s the lights, the sounds, the smells . . . but the world just feels different. And there is something about it that brings people back to the Church. I can’t wait to see what God is going to do this Christmas. Can you?
Last week, after I finished filming this year’s Best Advent Ever program, I went back to my office and found a big stack of mail waiting for me. Sitting on top of the stack was a letter from a man in Maryland. Let’s call him Sean.
Sean wrote how he had received my book Resisting Happiness at Mass last Christmas. The book went untouched for almost a year. During a sleepless night, he decided to read it. That book guided him back to God and the Church.
As an author, you don’t get the immediate feedback you do as a speaker. You spend months, even years, writing something, and then you publish it, praying that God will use it in powerful ways. Hearing from people like Sean is incredibly humbling. But it is also no accident.
Nine years ago we stumbled upon the idea of passing out books at Christmas Mass as a way to re-engage disengaged Catholics. We have partnered with more than 5,000 parishes over those nine years through the Dynamic Catholic Book Program. And every year, we get calls, emails, and letters from people who have come back to church as a result.
This year’s featured title is Perfectly Yourself. It’s about discovering God’s dream for us, and it’s probably my best-written book. I invite you to order a copy for yourself or for a friend.
I also invite you to do something big and bold this Christmas: give everyone in your parish a copy of Perfectly Yourself for just $1 (plus 50 cents shipping) per copy. Books really do change our lives, and I suspect you and I will be amazed by what God can do in your parish when you give everyone a copy of a great Catholic book as they arrive for Christmas Mass.
May God bless you and all those you love,
The Rosary works. There is just something about it that settles our hearts and minds. It puts things in perspective and allows us to see them as they really are.
— From Rediscover the Rosary by Matthew Kelly
I’m a practical man. Anyone who really knows me will tell you this. I like things that work. I’ve nothing against theories, but I prefer ideas that actually work. People helping other people inspire me. Organizations that add tremendous value to communities inspire me. There’s something fabulous about things that work.
We know this best when things stop working. It is amazing how a phone or computer that stops working can turn our lives upside down. We have a habit of appreciating things most when they are gone. When I was really sick, I resolved that I would never take my health for granted again, but of course I do.
And we have this great expectation that things will just work. Sure, there are things that are broken in our country and culture, but even the broken stuff works pretty well. Are health care and education broken? Absolutely, but let’s not take for granted the incredible good these systems are doing despite their brokenness. Is our political system in need of a good overhaul? Probably, but we still have remarkable order considering how broken it all seems at this time.
Visit any not so advanced country and you will very quickly realize that there are lots of places in this world where a great many things just don’t work. You will most likely leave wondering: How do people live in these places?
Perhaps that is why I have a bias toward the practical, a massive bias toward things that actually work. The point is: I like things that work. I love things that work.
People often ask me questions about the Rosary. Do you pray the Rosary? Why? How often? Did you pray it as a child with your family? Does the Rosary really matter? How much? Do Catholics worship Mary? Why do we pray to her?
There are a thousand variations on these questions, but there are three things I always like to tell people in any conversation about the Rosary:
The Rosary works. There is just something about it that settles our hearts and minds. It puts things in perspective and allows us to see them as they really are. It reaches deep down into our souls and puts us at ease, creating a peace that is rare and beautiful.
How many things can you do that will achieve what I just described? Go back and read that short paragraph one more time. When I say “rare and beautiful,” I am not just using words. I very much mean what I say. And it has been my experience that the only people who do not value that kind of peace are those who have never tasted it. If that is you, I am so excited for you. The Rosary is going to change your life.
But here is my challenge: Don’t take my word for it. Try it for yourself. Develop a habit of praying the Rosary.
I don’t expect that you will pray the Rosary once and say to yourself, “Matthew was absolutely right. Praying the Rosary really works. My heart and mind are settled. Everything is in perspective now! I can see clearly what matters most and what matters least. My soul is at ease, and I have this untouchable deep and abiding peace.”
No, it requires a habit. It may be something you pray every Wednesday night. That’s how I got started. It may be something you pray on the first Saturday of each month. It may be something you feel called to do every day. We will speak about how often to pray the Rosary, and the seasons of our spiritual lives, a little later. All I want to establish here is that to really experience the tremendous fruits of the Rosary, it has been my experience that you need to establish it as a spiritual habit in your life.
We live hectic lives in a chaotic world. All this can lead to a confusion that fogs the mind, unsettles the soul, and leads to poor decisions. Amid all this chaos and confusion, our souls yearn for peace and clarity. Are you at peace? I’m not. Right now, sitting here writing these lines, but also in my life at the moment, I don’t have that peace. I’ve had a bad day. We all do from time to time. It’s been a rough week. The wheels just seem to have fallen off in three or four situations, all at the same time. And it’s been a long month. I had to add a couple of trips unexpectedly to my schedule, my wife is seven months pregnant, one of my businesses is in transition, Dynamic Catholic continues to explode in a fabulous way but there are challenges with that, I haven’t been exercising, and I catch myself cutting corners in my prayer life.
So, no, I am not really at peace right at the moment. I have fallen into what seems to be a perennial problem for me: overcommitment. When life gets like this I know that some of the things I am busying myself with God doesn’t want me doing. Each time it happens I have to humble myself and go back and say to God, “Tell me again what you want me doing right now.” This is always a good time to pray the Rosary and allow God to fill me again with peace and clarity.
All prayer is an attempt to speak to and listen to God. But listening is so much more difficult than we think. It requires patience and awareness. Listening to other people is hard enough, but listening to God takes the challenge to a whole new level.
Most people think they are better at listening to others than they are. Research suggests that the average person listens with only 25 percent efficiency. That’s a lot we are missing. If I’m an average listener, that means I miss 75 percent of what my wife tells me. It’s astounding, really. If you have an adult child and you are an average listener, over the course of a lifetime you’ve missed three-quarters of what your son or daughter has been trying to say to you. Even if you are twice as good at listening than the average listener, you’ve still missed half of what your child has been trying to share with you. No wonder we have misunderstandings and disagreements.
If you want to be a better listener, I could tell you: Be empathetic, eliminate distractions so that you are present, remember that you are not perfect, ask questions to gain further insight, don’t run from being uncomfortable, don’t change the subject, try not to be judgmental, don’t interrupt, and pause before responding. But what it all comes down to is getting out of your own way.
Why are most people such poor listeners? What is the key to becoming a great listener? The answers to both of these questions are linked.
We get in the way. We think about ourselves, rather than thinking about the person speaking. We get absorbed in how what is being said relates to us, rather than trying to work out how it relates to the person we are listening to. When we are preoccupied with ourselves, we cannot hear what others are trying to say to us. When we are able to set our own needs aside and focus on the other person, our listening skills increase exponentially.
Listening to others is difficult; listening to God is even harder. Many things get in the way of hearing other people, and many things get in the way of hearing God. Our thoughts, feelings, experiences, fears, and ambitions all create noise and distractions that can prevent us from hearing the voice of God clearly in our lives.
Every spiritual exercise is designed to help us hear the voice of God more clearly. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the Rosary helps us hear God’s voice with greater clarity. But in order to hear the voice of God clearly, we need to allow him to bring a new order to our lives. God loves order.
We may live hectic lives in a chaotic and confusing world, but we still yearn for peace and order. There is a natural order to things, and it is in that order that we find peace. Our lives can become disordered very easily. Our ancient Catholic spirituality is constantly inviting us to establish the deep roots of order in our lives.
When I walk into Mass on Sunday, I know God is going to try to rearrange my priorities. The question is, will I let him? Every Sunday when I listen to the Gospel, I realize, “I have to change my life,” or “I am still a long way from the person God wants me to be,” or “There is still a lot of work for me to do.” What I have realized over time is that God is constantly trying to rearrange our priorities.
When you fall in love with someone, your priorities change. Love rearranges our priorities. How much do you love? One way to measure that is by exploring how willing you are to rearrange your priorities. God wants to rearrange our priorities and put things in order. If we let him do this, we will be happier than we ever thought possible in this lifetime, and finally then we will come to know the peace that all men and women yearn for, but that so few ever really find.
But God will not force these priorities upon us. He invites us to choose them. So much of life comes down to the decisions we make. Since I spent five years of my life working on DECISION POINT: The Dynamic Catholic Confirmation Experience, decision making has been one of the central themes in my presentations. I am absolutely convinced that God wants us to become phenomenal decision makers. It is an essential life skill that greatly increases our chances of having a vibrant spiritual life and living an authentic life. Life is choices; we are constantly making them. Our lives are a collection of our choices and decisions.
I am equally convinced that it is almost impossible to overstate the importance of listening as a life skill and a spiritual discipline. A few weeks ago, a high school student asked me, “If you were me, what two skills would you work on improving?” I responded, “Decision making and listening.” These two skills intersect with every single aspect of daily life.
The Rosary will focus you. It will calm your heart, mind, and spirit so you can hear the voice of God. It will open your heart so you can recognize him at work in your life. It will lead you to make better decisions, become a better listener, and get clear about what matters most and what matters least, and it will fill your life with peace and order.
If all of this is true, why doesn’t everyone pray the Rosary a lot more? The reasons are many and simple. First off, we do have a tendency toward selfishness, and we are attracted to things that are not good for us. At times we are in love with everything that is good and right, ordered and just; at other times we crave things that create obvious disorder in our lives. We are conflicted.
In my upcoming book Rediscover the Saints, I write about how the saints have always been with us, around us at every time in our lives. Whether we recognized them or not, they were there. In the same way, I think the Rosary has always been with us and around us. You may have seen your grandmother praying it when you were a child, or you may have noticed that a friend’s father had the beads hanging from the rearview mirror in his car. Maybe you prayed the Rosary with your family growing up, and maybe you saw it used as a necklace by a movie star or in a taxi. It was there.
I don’t know if my journey with the Rosary has been more interesting or less interesting than anyone else’s. My parents raised me as a Catholic, but we never prayed the Rosary together as a family. I have a very strong memory of my fourth-grade teacher giving every student in the class a rosary, and telling us a story about the powerful role it had played in her life. I don’t remember the details, but I know I was moved, and thirty years later, I still have that rosary.
My fifth-grade teacher, Mr. Greck, used to pray the Rosary every day in the chapel during lunchtime. Every morning we would hear the announcement, “The Rosary will be prayed in the school chapel at 1:00 p.m. today. All are welcome.” Every day he would personally invite the class to come. Nobody would go. Sometimes if you got detention, he would make you go. It was open to the whole school—twelve hundred boys, all the teachers, and the administration staff. There were usually only five or six people there. I know because I got detention a few times. Mr. Greck was a bit different. We didn’t understand him at the time because he had different priorities. He wanted to prepare us to be men living for God in the world, but we wouldn’t listen.
Many years later I asked him why he had prayed the Rosary every day and invited the whole school to come for years and years, and kept doing it even though nobody really came. He told me a story about his son, who had been very sick as a child. He begged God to heal him. He begged Mary to ask God to heal him. He took his son to Lourdes and begged for his healing, and his son was healed. Cured. Illness gone. Miraculous, incredible. Unbelievable stuff. He told me he was just saying thank you. The older I get, the more I think that my fifth-grade teacher, John Xavier Greck, might have been a saint.
It wasn’t until I was about fifteen that I ever prayed the Rosary in earnest. Around that time I was in a youth group at our parish, and we went on a retreat and prayed the Rosary. Like most teenagers, I was restless during that time in my life. But praying the Rosary had a peaceful impact on me. I vividly remember being surprised by that at the time.
A few months later one of my best friends invited me to a prayer group. I had never heard of a prayer group. But he was a very good friend of mine, so as often happens, friendship became the bridge toward the next stage of my spiritual growth. The prayer group met every Wednesday night, praying the Rosary, reading from the Bible, and discussing the reading. I went the first time because I didn’t really want to say no to my friend. I went the second time because I discovered a girl I really liked was in the prayer group. God will use whatever he has to use to get our attention.
I don’t know how it happened, or even exactly when it happened, but it was around that time that I started praying the Rosary every day on my own. Looking back it is baffling to me. When I think about the average fifteen-year-old, and who I was as a teenager, I simply have no explanation for how this came about and continued. But it did.
By the time I first started traveling and speaking, in the early 1990s, I was nineteen, and I was praying three Rosaries a day—all fifteen mysteries. (The Luminous Mysteries did not come about until 2002.) In some ways it was a wonderful period in my life. All I did, really, was read, write, pray, and speak. It was a time of intense silence, solitude, and reflection.
I have been speaking and writing for twenty-five years now. Doesn’t life go by in the blink of an eye? People often say to me, “I loved your first book.” I ask, “What did you like about it?” It very quickly becomes clear that they are not talking about my first book. Many people think my first book was A Call to Joy, because it was the first to be published by a major publisher. Even more believe that my first book was The Rhythm of Life, because it was my first certified best seller. My first book was actually a small one, Prayer & the Rosary. How did a nineteen-year-old sit down and write a book about prayer? I don’t know. And why? I don’t know. After twenty-five years I have stopped trying to understand it all. Acceptance is more peaceful.
There are different seasons in our lives. There are different seasons in our spiritual journeys. Over these past three decades, the Rosary has played varying roles in my life and in my spirituality, but it has always had a place. There have been times when I have prayed it less because I felt called to explore other forms of prayer, and there have been times when I have prayed it less because I was lazy or just didn’t want to. But when I have had the desire, discipline, or grace to pray the Rosary, it has always borne fruit.
When I am tempted to set the Rosary aside, I am always reminded that many of the people I would like to be more like in this world pray it. So many of the saints and the ordinary people who have nourished my spiritual life are faithfully devoted to it.
There is just something about the Rosary. It’s a very powerful way to pray. In some ways I can explain it, and I have tried to the best of my ability in these pages. In other ways I cannot explain it; there is a certain mystery to it that each person has to experience for himself or herself.
It just works. When I pray the Rosary, I am a better person. It makes me a better son, brother, husband, father, employer, neighbor, citizen, and a better member of the human family. It brings an incredible peace; it teaches us to slow down, calm down, let go, surrender, and listen. The Rosary teaches us how to just be, and that is not a small or insignificant lesson. In some ways it is the perfect prayer for busy people in a busy, noisy, confused world.
A few Sundays ago the responsorial psalm had us all pray: “I shall live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.” In my homily that day I asked for a show of hands of people who hoped to “live in the house of the Lord all the days of their lives.” Just about all hands were raised. How about yours?
In the rhythm of nature’s life, the leaves now fall and the sun is seen less. These give us signs of the ending of it all. For some this is scary, while others anxiously await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
During these earthly days of living, we strive to become the-best-version-of-ourselves so that we merit to dwell in the Lord’s house for eternity. But we are also aware that we waste a lot of precious time resisting happiness during our life's pilgrimage. Fortunately many of us have rediscovered Catholicism through a better rhythm of life, and we strive to become perfectly ourselves as we build better families and personal lives. We strive to live the four signs of a dynamic Catholic.
Wisdom suggests that we should not put off until tomorrow what we can do today. Carpe diem. We all know deep down that is a good practice. Like the recent earthquakes, fires, and hurricanes taught so many, death can come like a thief in the night. When Jesus said “Repent!” he meant NOW. He did not say “Repent sometime in the future.”
November is a great month to express gratitude. Let’s declare this a month of giving thanks. Every day, make a list of five things for which you are grateful. Giving thanks will automatically prompt us to acknowledge our blessings and value the gifts God has entrusted to our stewardship. Giving thanks to God will remind us that we live in the palm of God’s hand and that we are here to do God’s will and live in the house of the Lord for all eternity.
I was in high school. I was invincible. My friends and I had all the time in the world and our whole lives ahead of us. Then came September 11, 2001. For millions of people, including my friends and me, life would never be the same. After the terrible events of that day, Peter, a close friend of mine, enlisted in the army. When he went off to boot camp and I went off to my freshman year at Truman State University, I would write to Peter about how bad dorm food was and he would write back about how bad basic training food was. In most instances, Peter had it worse, yet his spirit was always alive because he was pledging his life to service he believed in. We kept in touch as the time passed, and eventually he was sent over to Iraq.
On December 13, 2005, I received news that Peter and three others had died when an improvised explosive device detonated near their Humvee. He was two months away from the end of his tour of duty. Until that day, it had never crossed my mind that Peter would not return home safely. At twenty-one years old, I grappled with death and wondered more than ever about the afterlife.
At the Catholic Newman Center at Truman, I kept my routine of attending Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament for an hour each Thursday afternoon. I typically used those afternoons to reflect and journal, pray the Rosary, or read a religious book. After Peter passed, I simply sat in Adoration. The room was silent, but as I stared at the Eucharist and let all my questions and frustrations pour out, the noise in my head was deafening.
A few weeks after Peter’s death, I went into Adoration and knelt directly in front of the Blessed Sacrament. In that movement of surrender, I felt more connected to God and able to “speak” to Peter through the Eucharist. I picked up my Rosary again and every prayer with Mother Mary felt different. I had a new perspective, determined to live a life that would make Peter proud. One day, as I was praying the third decade of the Rosary, the realization dropped on me in a massive wave of emotion: I wanted to live my life to make God proud—and my guide in the journey was Jesus Christ.
It’s been over a decade since Peter’s passing. I still find great comfort in the Rosary. As I look for new ways to deepen this powerful prayer, Matthew Kelly’s newest book, Rediscover the Rosary, has been a great companion.
“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for a friend.” –John 15:13
My deepest gratitude and appreciation to Peter and all the servicemen and women who sacrificed their lives for us, their friends.
Want to share your story? Write us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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