Sunday, July 15, 2012

Attention When Praying The Rosary

Q: Dear Dan, I used to pray the Rosary daily, but lately I have become frustrated with it and am confused about where my attention should be focused while praying it. One Hail Mary, I find myself meditating on how painful it must have been for Jesus to be scourged at the pillar, and what great love it took for him to tolerate that for our sake. However, during that prayer, I was not paying attention to the actual words of the Hail Mary or asking her to “pray for us sinners.” Another Hail Mary, I find myself paying attention to the words of the prayer, but not at all meditating on the mystery. Where is the “right” place for our attention to be focused when we pray the rosary? It doesn’t seem right to neglect the mystery. It also doesn’t seem right to cheaply say the words to the Hail Mary while thinking about something totally different, like the Scourging at the Pillar. Thank you.

A: Dear Friend, this is a great question. The simple answer is that your attention should be on God. Here’s what the Catechism says about our attention during vocal prayer (#2700):

Through his Word, God speaks to man. By words, mental or vocal, our prayer takes flesh. Yet it is most important that the heart should be present to him to whom we are speaking in prayer: “Whether or not our prayer is heard depends not on the number of words, but on the fervor of our souls.”

If your heart is in any way focused on or drawn to God, you are headed in the right direction.

To be more specific regarding the Rosary, Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae (well worth reading it its entirety) said:

Mary constantly sets before the faithful the “mysteries” of her Son, with the desire that the contemplation of those mysteries will release all their saving power. In the recitation of the Rosary, the Christian community enters into contact with the memories and the contemplative gaze of Mary.

So, when we pray the Rosary, we pray it with Mary, and through the eyes of Mary with our focus joining her focus – Jesus Himself.

Our first task with the Rosary is to join her in each scene (mystery) presented. As we join her, we ask for her help and prayers as we gaze upon Christ. To bring this reality closer to our hearts, we can imagine ourselves standing with Mary. We are both looking at Christ in agony in the garden. We whisper to her to pray for us as we realize what is happening to Christ, and for us. We repeat our requests to her as both of us continue to engage with the mystery.

Regardless of where we find ourselves after our initial efforts to focus our prayer on Christ, there are several principals that can help us maintain our peace when our minds seem to wander off:

Distractions are Normal: Our job is to gently, by an exercise of our will, reject the distraction and turn our attention back to God. If we spend our entire prayer time turning back to Him, we have done well.

Christ is the Key: Whenever our hearts are drawn to Christ in any way, we should follow that inclination. Sometimes, we should follow it even to quiet contemplation where we discontinue our vocalization of the prayer and simply gaze at Him. If we are not bound by religious duty to complete prayers in any specific way, we are free to set these formal prayers aside when they bring us to the very reason and highest purpose of our efforts in prayer – to adore Him.
In the end, it is important that you rest in Him and His work on your behalf. Yes, you should strive for increased devotion and attention to Him in prayer. However, when our fervent hearts find frustration, it is a good sign that our general focus regarding prayer is off track.

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You Are Worth More Than Many Sparrows

Today [July 14th] the Church celebrates the memorial of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American to be declared Blessed. In the reading selection for today, Jesus reminds His Apostles not to fear those who can kill the body, but rather, to fear the One who can destroy both body and soul. And so that we His Apostles would not be intimidated by such instruction, He then speaks immediately to the great love God holds for each of us.

Are not two sparrow sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:24-33)

Isn’t it true how often we need to be reminded of this great love our God has for us? This is a constant challenge, to grow in our knowledge of the depths of this love, its perfection, its infinite nature, its purity and genuineness, and the fact that we can do nothing to earn this love.

Part of what prevents me from realizing this love and appropriately responding to this love :

I am too focused on myself, or too focused on how I want things to be, or how I would prefer things to work out. Also, because of my self-indulgences, I do not give the needed space to look beyond the superficial desires that I have to properly understand the deep yearning within me for God, and too often settle for superficial gratifications, rather than persevering in pursuit of the lasting truths of God, in Christ, and the heavenly kingdom.

Or, as is often the case, my own sinfulness can make me doubt that God could love me always, infinitely, unconditionally.

Of course, these are the things we are to be ‘wise’ about… Be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves. (Matthew 10:16) The demon has many deceits to keep us doubting God’s love; many deceptions to prevent our perseverance in responding to God’ love.

I’m curious how often in the Gospels Jesus tells us: Do not be afraid. Courage, your sins are forgiven. Persevere. So again today, we are encouraged to grow in the knowledge of God’s love. We are instructed to be courageous in living our faith. The Lord again today patiently directs our own perseverance.

Know that God is always with you. Know that God is always faithful. As you grow in the many ways God reveals these truths to you in the silence of your heart, and the hidden moments of your day, proclaim them in and through your life.

Therefore, do not be afraid…Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. (Matthew 10:26-27)

Even Hollywood occasionally gets the God story right. At the end of the movie, All The Pretty Horses, Lacey asks John: “Do you think God watches over us?” To which, John answers: “I guess He does…reckon He’s got to…we wouldn’t make it a day otherwise.”

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Taylor Marshall's Testimony

Dr. Taylor Marshall was an Episcopal priest in Fort Worth, Texas before being received with his wife into the Catholic Church by Bishop Kevin Vann of Fort Worth on May 23, 2006.

Taylor received a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Dallas. He is a graduate of Texas A&M University (BA, Philosophy) Westminster Theological Seminary (MAR, Systematic Theology), Nashotah Theological House (Certificate in Anglican Studies), and the University of Dallas (MA, Philosophy).

Taylor and his wife live in Dallas, Texas with their six children. He blogs at:

Watch this video:

Why Is Rome - Not Jerusalem - The Center Of Catholicism ?

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