Of Interrupted Rosaries and Guardian Angels

Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.
~ St. Basil (
CCC 336).

When I’m driving to work, I have a choice. I can either turn on the radio and listen to my friends on NPR go blah, blah, blah about whatever – or I can pray a rosary. I confess I don’t always choose to pray, and sometimes I feel justified in that if there’s something hot in the news I want to get the latest on – especially if it pertains to my local community or the Church.

Usually, however, I have no excuse, and so ideally I’ll leave the radio off and grab my beads. Or sometimes, if I put it on automatically, I might catch sight of that little statue of the Blessed Mother on my dashboard and think twice. She’s not judging me or scolding; she’s just inviting me and waiting: How about spending a little time with Mom? Headlines and movie reviews can wait.

Here’s the problem, though: The trip from home to the college where I teach nursing is precisely four decades long. If you pray the rosary in your car, you’ll get what I mean immediately. You have your regular routes down to a prayerful science and you know how many decades (or full rosaries in the case of longer trips) each one “takes.” For me, it doesn’t seem to matter when I commence – in the driveway, after the first turn – or how I adjust my list of intentions at the beginning, I’m always pulling into the parking lot behind my office just as I’m about to begin the fifth decade.

If I arrive with time to spare, there’s no problem. I just park, turn off the ignition, and finish up. Of course, it might seem strange to my coworkers who are also pulling in, or students walking by on their way to class. But if it’s still dark outside (like when I get there for 7 a.m. labs), then I can find a spot out of the way and stay out of sight.

Usually, however, I’m on the fly and I only have minutes to spare before I’m supposed to be someplace. In such cases I could probably rely on my guardian angel to complete the prayers – like when we depend on our angels to finish our bedtime rosaries when we fall asleep. I’ll never forget hearing about that pious practice in my heady post-conversion Catholic Worker days. A friend of mine mentioned it as an inspiring tradition her mother passed on to her, and I haughtily dismissed it. “If you start a rosary, you should finish it – period,” I think I told her, probably imagining that Dorothy Day, a rigorous spiritual warrior and my hero, would’ve insisted on the same. Ah, how times have changed – and how I have mellowed. I regret not only my rude response, but also the belligerent pride that lay behind it.

Now, of course, I depend on my guardian angel for all kinds of things, including his assistance with my sloppy and incomplete prayer. The whole sleep-rosary-angel connection might be pure legend, but it’s a legend I hope has roots in reality.

Even so, I feel funny about not finishing the rosary myself – like one day last week when I got to campus well before the Hail Holy Queen. I made a quick sign of the cross, draped the beads around my dashboard Mother, and hightailed it to class, sheepishly making a mental note to pray the last decade on the way home – although, truthfully, I usually forget. (Sorry, Mom!)

When I got to the lab, my colleague, Lisa, was just about to start her presentation on head-to-toe assessment – a staple of the nursing profession and a truly vital skill. Beginning with observation, and then by means of touching (“palpation”) and listening (“auscultation”), nurses review their patients’ body systems, literally top to bottom (or, “feet” in this context). The head-to-toe provides the nurse a snapshot of her patient’s overall condition, and it allows her to pick up on anything new, abnormal, or unexpected. Nurses perform this standard assessment in some form or another whenever we take charge of new patients, no matter how briefly, and it’s always performed systematically – although “not always at the same time,” as Lisa explained to our beginning students.

“‘Not always at the same time’ – just like my rosary,” I thought to myself. “You might start with listening to lung sounds and the heart,” Lisa continued, “and then the patient has to leave for an x-ray or some other test. As long as he’s stable, that’s OK, because you can just finish with the other body systems when he gets back.”

Thus, the head-to-toe assessment done in stages has a moral unity, even when there are significant time gaps between the different parts. That’s certainly also true for our sequential rosaries, isn’t it? Come to think of it, I remember Fr. Giles Dimock, O.P., telling me as much way back in my Franciscan University days. “It’s what I do on very busy days,” he told me, “even if it’s just one decade at a time.” And that’s coming from a Dominican – an eminently trustworthy source when it comes to the rosary, which is particularly associated with the Order of Preachers.

Besides, as much as I like the idea of spiritual beings tying up my prayerful loose ends, it’s not like Mary is keeping score – like, “Tut, tut, that Rick just dropped another decade, so no spiritual benefits for him unless his angel picks up the slack!” Moreover, she doesn’t depend on our rosaries, complete or not. While it’s true that the rosary prayers undoubtedly please her, prayer in general is chiefly for our benefit – it’s primarily a gift that leads to our being shaped and transformed.Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours,” writes St. Augustine. “God thirsts that we may thirst for him” (CCC 2560).

That’s why I like St. Bernadette’s take on the sleeper rosary tradition. According to Ann Ball, the Lourdes visionary didn’t think twice about unfinished bedtime rosaries, and even urged a fellow sister to “do the same as little children who fall asleep saying ‘Mama, mama.’” No worries about incomplete decades or prayers; only childlike abandonment and trust, and the accompanying comfy security of being nestled in a mother’s embrace.

“Invoke your Guardian Angel that he illuminate you and will guide you,” wrote St. Padre Pio to a correspondent. “God has given him to you for this reason. Therefore use him!” Sound advice – and it gives me an idea. October is right around the corner, a month connected with both the rosary and our guardian angels, so I’m cutting a deal with mine: “Instead of finishing all my incomplete prayers this month,” I’ll suggest to him, “how about nudging and reminding me to finish them myself?

“Done!” I envision him replying as he shakes my hand. “Only don’t try my patience by flipping on that car radio so often.

Ouch – point taken, but I know it’s for my own good, as is the whole mystical set-up: a personal angel, the Mother of God, and they’re both constantly beckoning me, pulling me, dragging me to Jesus. How can I lose with a team like that in my corner?

 

image: Victor H / Shutterstock.com

Richard Becker

By

Rick Becker is a husband, father of seven, nursing instructor, and religious educator. He serves on the nursing faculty at Bethel College in Mishawaka, Indiana. You can find more of Rick’s writing on his blog, God-Haunted Lunatic, and his Facebook page.

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  • Tati305

    I loved your article for I find myself praying while going to work almost daily. I turn the radio off most days😉. Just pointing out the article has a couple of repeated paragraphs. Also please don’t listen to NPR. Their support of abortion, same sex marriage and other doctrines not supported by our church will surely give you a headache on your way to teach!

  • James Fambro

    Yeah, don’t listen to NPR…. bunch of liberal crap-trap!

  • Lorry Davis

    Your car is an AWESOME tool! For over 11 years now, I have not listened to the radio, but instead have listened to and have done in-depth study in Theology with Dr Scott Hahn, Dr Brant Pitre, Michael Barber, Dr Peter Kreeft, and many, many more!
    I have an hour drive both ways to work, so in 11 years, I have gotten quite an education!

  • Nancy MacAfee

    Good article…last three paragraphs are a repeat though???

  • Michael J. Lichens

    Pardon us for that, Nancy. Our system got excited and copied it multiple times. It has been fixed. Pray that the coffee be strong enough to match wits with our system. Thanks for your comment.

  • Pamela

    My sentiments exactly. Get Syrius and tune into EWTN…after you finish the Rosary, of course!

  • D J

    Why not say that first decade at home before you leave for work, get ready, sit down with that last cup of coffee and recite away.

    Anyway, I have never understood how anyone can drive and say the Rosary at the same time. I would have problems concentrating on each mystery/biblical story during each Rosary decade. Having my mind jump back and forth between the prayers, each biblical story and the real time events of the road would not be a safe driving experience. Has safety ever been an issue for you while driving? Or is the driving Rosary a different routine, minimal concentration on the biblical mysteries. Just curious.

  • D J

    An EWTN affiliate is a good alternative.

  • Mater

    I once had a dream of Our Lady and Jesus, he was a child lying across her lap, and they were sitting in a grape arbor. She would reach up and pluck grapes one by one and feed them to him. I understood this to be all our stray prayers, unfinished rosaries, etc. Beautiful and very consoling image. Nothing is ever wasted with God.

  • Joseph J. Pippet

    JMJ It’s Impossible to Meditate on praying the Rosary while driving (without Meditating on the rosary your not Praying as one should), talking on the phone while driving, Against the law in most states if not all) has Caused Many accidents, brushing/combing one’s hair, applying lip stick, makeup and listening to the radio, NPR, EWTN etc.a few other things when driving have been the Cause for accidents. I doubt if anyone who may have had an accident while praying the Holy Rosary will mention that to the Police etc. Respectfully with Love, Joseph J. Pippet, North Cape May, N. J.

  • Thanks for your comment, D.J. I like your idea of starting the first decade at home before departing, but, alas, I’m usually crunched for time there as well. I suppose what I really need to do is set my alarm earlier — or ask my guardian angel to prod me awake sooner.

    With regards to the rosary and driving, I suppose I’d have to agree with Mr. Pippet (see below) that I’m just not praying it properly — at least as far as truly meditating on the mysteries as I ought. And you’re both certainly correct with regards to safety being a priority when operating a vehicle, no question.

    However, I’d argue that a rosary poorly prayed is better than no prayer at all, and even simply attempting to pray is both pleasing to Our Lady and beneficial in shaping our souls.

    In any case, when I’m alone driving, especially in the dark, lonely, early morning hours, it’s prime time for “close sharing between friends” and “to be alone with him who we know loves us.” Those are St. Teresa’s words in reference to contemplation (CCC 2709), and I know that a rosary recited while driving is nowhere near what she had in mind. Still, it can still be a turning toward and an attending to, in a limited way — like a conversation with a dear friend in a moving auto. It might be more favorable to be sitting by a fire with pipes and tankards, but chatting on the road can still be a gift.

  • D J

    I appreciate your honesty. Saying the Rosary on a tight schedule is very difficult to do, indeed. I have read of many others completing each decade of the Rosary throughout different times of the day, thus having it completed by the end. I have always wondered how they do their Rosaries also.

    I have been saying the Rosary intermittently the past 2 years and it has helped me greatly. When I say it now, I use an app from my Kindle Fire called “My Rosary”. The app symbol has a red heart with a cross in it. Before I had the app, I was praying the Rosary without knowing to concentrate on the Church’s assigned stories. It felt good to me but I did not quite understand how it could be completed differently. Some of my research then found in the apparitions of Mary and in statements of some of the Saints, that concentration on the stories/mysteries is integral in receiving the maximum benefits promised.

    You may want to download the app or one like it, and give it a try. The app I use has some background music, a picture of the Rosary and its beads. Each time a prayer is said I advance on the app beads like a real Rosary. At the beginning of the larger “Our Father Beads”, there is a nice illustration, the title to the story, and a corresponding bible passage which I read before I say the “Our Father” prayer. As I progress through the Hail Mary beads, afterword, I momentarily reflect back on the biblical story I read, then go to the next bead. Multi tasking back and forth between the Hail Mary’s and the Biblical Stories has changed the Rosary experience for me. It now feels like it has another purpose, to dwell on the Biblical stories Jesus/Mary wants us to think about while praying with Mary, to Jesus. A quick Rosary might take me 20 minutes where a more deliberately story concentrated Rosary may take about an hour. For me, the feeling I get from the Rosary experience sometimes reminds me of how I felt in my high school days after a 5k run; exhilarated and on a runner’s high. I assume everyone has a different experience; maybe someday we will all find that experience the Saints who prayed it, found. I’ll keep trying.

  • Sue Korlan

    I generally put the rosary in my pocket, and then I can pray it while I walk. If I don’t get a decade finished by the time I reach my destination I count the number of beads left and finish it as soon as possible.

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