Running the Rosary

Perhaps it’s the 11 kids or my own undisciplined personality, but I tend to fall asleep when I pray the Rosary in traditional positions. During adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, I am ashamed to admit, I find the prayer especially mesmerizing and struggle to recite five decades before the head nodding begins. However, while running in the woods, my soul soars as I stride along rugged cross-country trails. I have received both physical and spiritual consolations. Once, in His goodness, God enticed two deer to race across my path. He knew that Psalm 42, which begins, “As a hart longs for running streams, so my soul thirsts for you, O God…..” is my life’s prayer. What a consolation.

During the year of my beloved St. Paul, his words in 2 Timothy4:6-8 echoed in my soul as I ran along my chosen path: As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

God has whispered His wisdom to me while praying the Rosary and running over the years. Taking only my fingers and rectitude of intention along as prayer tools, I open my heart to receive His light. I feel like the disciples whom Jesus instructed to take nothing with them during their first mission. I, too, have only the Paraclete to unite me to heaven as my Nikes pound the earth. The totality of the running experience frees my soul to pray. Even distractions, such as airplane engines ripping the sky above, serve as a point of meditation for me. This is earth. There are no planes in heaven. The noise reminds me that I will not let Satan snatch the joy of my prayer-run from me. I then hear only the birds or the wind-tossed leaves. I’ve even heard the silence of a fawn nestling in moss. She echoed the silence of my soul at prayer.

The Joyful Mysteries seem to yield abundant fruit during my runs. On the Monday following the Notre Dame student body’s standing ovation of President Obama, Our Lady reminded me to rejoice in the midst of fear. God’s perfect will for Mary, and humanity, was announced and incarnated, in time, both 2000 years ago in Nazareth and two days or weeks or years ago in Indiana. Christ defeated death through his birth in a stable. My fast-beating heart gave birth again.

While leaping roots and mud puddles: expected stumbling blocks along my way, the Holy Spirit showed me that love and service of others requires sacrifice. The Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth was not without its trials either. Mary had to overcome her own exhaustion, nausea, and travel logistics to attend to Elizabeth’s needs. She persevered. While praying this second mystery of the Joyful Mysteries, I meditated upon what keeps me from serving others. Do I judge whether their needs are legitimate? Are they worthy of the service of a very busy woman? Can I even afford to make the meal or donate the diapers? “Why is my hardened heart leaving good undone”, I’ve contemplated while approaching a hill I’d rather walk than charge. Mary then energizes me not only to run up the hill, but to act in the service of others.

During one run several years ago, I had counted off the Joyful mysteries with each breath but without apparently receiving the Breath of Life in my prayers. Finally, as I began to pray the fifth Joyful Mystery, the Finding in the Temple, my heart began to pound with joyful understanding. Jesus’ words to his parents, “I must be about my father’s business” became my answer to those who had chastised me about yet another pregnancy with the following comment, “Whatever you’re trying to prove, you’ve already proven it. You don’t need any more children.” Peace caressed me and my tiny, unborn tenth child. Perhaps Jesus didn’t know why He was in the temple. He only knew that He “must be about my father’s business”. I, too, couldn’t explain why my husband and I were open to a large family. My reasons weren’t important. I knew, with every stride, that I was running the race for God. Only His perfect will mattered for me and my family. The Father wanted Grace in the temple of my body and I submitted, answering, “Yes, I will be about your business, Lord.” The supernatural gift of Understanding given to me four years ago continues to breath life into me while I run and pray. Effective exercise and true prayer continue energizing one long after the prayerful run has ended.

Often, running is my prayer. It’s my small way of returning thanks to God for allowing me to co-create eleven children with Him. I struggle to regain fitness postpartum in order to glorify God in my body. Also, in justice, my children and husband deserve a mother and wife who cares about her body and soul. They deserve an energetic and happy mom. Prayer and exercise produce that fruit. I believe God is using my family to evangelize the world to the truth and beauty of the human family and to the goodness of children. Therefore, in living my vocation I represent what a Holy Catholic Mother may resemble. I try to present to the world an attractive example of Christian life in everything I do, including care of my body. God willing, my runs are helping to forge my victor’s crown.

The prayer of running inspires me to “finish the race” when I feel exhausted both on and off the trail. Running the Rosary has taught me to persevere through the end despite the crosses of my vocation. Many times I have not wanted to begin a run. On those days, I am gentle with myself. I start slowly. I walk until my body remembers that I am a runner. Sometimes I’ll walk for a time and then recommence the run. My body deserves respect and recognition for what it has given the world: children. Training myself as a runner teaches me to nurture my soul too. As St. Frances de Sales wrote, “Hate your imperfections, then, because they are imperfections, but love them because they make you know your nothingness and give to you an opportunity to exercise yourself in virtue, and to God to show His mercy towards you.” Running and praying work together and teach me another lesson of St. Francis, “Courage! Let us rise above ourselves, for God will help us, and we shall advance.”

St. Francis must have been speaking to me, because some mornings I advance by leaping out of bed when the “alarm” of a child screeches. Therefore, my Morning Offering lays unsaid on my nightstand. I don’t despair of my slow prayer-start to the day. When I remember what I’ve forgotten, I return to my prayers. All is not lost. St. Paul tells us to persevere to the end. He doesn’t give us a time frame. Physical conditioning takes months and years to attain. Athletes continually train in order to improve. So, too, our souls require the humility of patient nurturing. St. Alphonsus Rodriguez wrote, “Let one say to himself in the morning, ‘This day I mean to perform my ordinary actions well.’ So, that becomes easy and tolerable, which might appear very difficult if it were taken in a general way, and with the thought that this effort was to be made for a lifetime. Meanwhile, by proceeding every day in this manner, little by little a good habit is formed…” Beginning to run again after each pregnancy has informed my prayer-life. My legs have run St. Alphonsus’ counsel on wooded trails while my soul, too, journeys along its path to heaven.

Regardless of one’s hobby, if it is of God, it can become a prayer. I have mulched my yard and meditated, cooked and contemplated, cross-stitched and beheld the cross. For one whose mind is set on things above, everything becomes an opportunity to contemplate the goodness of God and to glorify Him with your body. Ora et labora, indeed.

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  • HomeschoolNfpDad

    Physical conditioning takes months and years to attain. Athletes continually train in order to improve.

    St. Paul would have been intensely aware of this fact when he compared the walk of faith to a runner racing for the laurel-wreath prize. Specifically, he would have known that no one even gets into the race for the laurel-wreath until he has trained for months or years to prepare himself. Taking the prize is not the result of a moment’s intense effort. It is the result of years of training that come together in a moment’s intense effort, which latter is impossible unless the racer first subjects himself to the joys and travails of training. Let’s face it: physical exercise is hard. At times it can become so hard that it brings you to tears. A lot of people avoid physical exercise for this reason alone: they cannot bring themselves to suffer as they must, on occasion, in order to stick with it day in and day out.

    In this, exercise is a precise map of the faith. Suffering is a normal part of what today is so often called a “faith journey.” So also is joy and, ultimately, the glory of victory – even if that victory is simply overcoming yourself, as all marathoners must somewhere around mile 20 or so. With the kind of physical suffering that is sometimes induced by intense physical exercise, the need to overcome self becomes real in a way very different from other forms. When combined with prayer – especially the Rosary – the run of a morning can exactly mirror the journey of faith because the Rosary reminds us, day in and day out, that joy and suffering and light are all required to complete the journey and enter into glory. The run reinforces this. If we never suffer during the run or the prayer or in life, then we never grow. Suffering weakens the person for a time but offers the opportunity to improve and become stronger. If we never experience joy, then the suffering can begin to lose (apparently) its meaning. Joy provides fuel for the journey, nothing less, sustaining us through the hard times with hope for a better tomorrow. If there is no light to guide the way, we can lose the path – and if you’ve ever gotten lost on a hot day while running, and your water has run out, then you can clearly see the need to know, eventually, what path you need to take. You can meander joyfully until your body gives out. Then you will meander in suffering. And the light that can show you the way can bring you back. In faith and life as on the jogging trail.

  • HomeschoolNfpDad

    So much from this article highlights the realities of faith, not least the lovely spectacle of a mother of eleven who runs and runs and runs. One of the temptations of engaging in frequent physical exercise is the temptation to worship our own body, rather than to glorify God in it. This is no different from the temptation that a pastor faces if he is a good homilist: he may be tempted to receive for himself the adulation that is rightfully God’s. It is also no different from the temptations that couples may face when practicing NFP: the couple may be tempted to misuse NFP in a contraceptive way.

    Thus, in its subsurface, the article identifies precisely the problems with today’s world and today’s Church. Too many of us want to take a pill to solve life’s problems. A pill to keep the babies from coming. A pill to make me sing or speak well. A pill to make me skinny. A pill for everything, even if it doesn’t exist, and then we’ll go invent that pill, too.

    There is no pill for life. There is no pill for faith. And if we are too lazy to remove each his rump from off the coach, both figuratively and literally, then we die. Today those deaths come not so much froom syphillis and smallpox as from cancer, diabetes and heart disease. For some, these ailments are unavoidable. But for many, the solution is to simply get moving – and to do so now, before the ailment comes.

    The modern faith is much weakened, and there are many reasons for this. But one of them, certainly, is the habitual reach for a pill whenever difficulty looms. In some cases (e.g. cancer, diabetes, and heart disease), the pills are necessary medicine once the ailment hits. In other cases (e.g. contraception), the pills are objective moral evils. But in all cases, there could be less need for the pills if we could only remove from ourselves the desire to look to pills as cure-alls for every one of life’s problems.

  • redwallabbey

    As another mom of 11, I really appreciated the encouragement to both pray and exercise. I need both to do my job! While I can’t run anymore, I walk regularly. We can often find excuses to put off both the prayer and the exercise but then both our souls and body suffer.

    And thanks also for the reminder that all we do as parents can be a form of prayer when we direct it to God. Thanks for the encouragement to keep running the race(even if it is the form of a fast walk!).

  • goral

    “I’ve even heard the silence of a fawn nestling in moss. She echoed the silence of my soul at prayer.”

    What a beautiful picture of our soul, weak and vulnerable and yet has the knowing to stay or to leap and run for safety as our Lord provides the cover.

    With eleven children it looks like you’ve been adding an extra Hail Mary to every decade, certainly better than falling asleep.
    Gotta run.

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  • SeanReynoldsNZ

    I remember one of my Evangelical Protestant friends comparing the Protestant idea of the altar call where everyone gets excited to someone getting saved … and then the new convert is left to their own devices as being like a crowd in a stadium cheering as the gun goes at the start of a Marathon …. and then leaving the stadium. I know from my wife, a convert to Catholicism, that it is very hard to find support in one’s Faith after one has been baptised because there is interest shown in the RCIA candidates before they are baptised, but then they vanish from our sights.

    Baptism is only the beginning. For marriage, the wedding ceremony is only the same as the starters gun. I remember from completing the Rotorua Marathon in New Zealand three times that the real decision on whether or not you go the distance is made when you are on the road at the back of Lake Rotorua, where no one is watching you.

  • SeanReynoldsNZ

    Thinking of the issue of getting back in shape after each run reminds me of the Australian athlete the late Kerryn McCann. She won the gold medal at the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games, and also at the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games. She also had three children: One in 1997, her second in 2003, and her third in 2007. She died from cancer in December 2008.

    But the point I want to make is that she still went to the effort to keep fit and compete successfully on an international level after having children: They may have even been her reason for doing so.

  • elkabrikir

    No wonder St Paul used the metaphor of “running the race” and “competing well” to describe the experience of living as a baptized Christian. I’m amazed and pleased by how this topic has resonated with CE readers. Sean, your point, as simple as it is, gave me chills as I envisioned you on the raod at athe back of Lake Rotorua. (Remember the infamous Rosi Ruiz who jumped on a subway during the Boston Marathon…..when nobody was looking? Even if she hadn’t been caught, how could she feel any satisfaction in crossing the finish line. She’s like the Roman emperors St Paul referenced., who didn’t compete, yet wore the victor’s crown.)

    So it is with us even though we may appear to all be on our knees praying or mindlessly running.) When Jesus separates the sheep from the goats, I pray he doesn’t look at me and say, “I do not know you.”

    Nfpdad, I liked your comment that “exercise is a precise map of the faith life”. I’ve always felt like that too. However, some folks can make the run the end game for them…..and then problems begin. (It’s like an addiction.) For me, running is a means to an end: deeper faith, better health, stress relief, pure pleasure, freedom…………

  • rman

    Awesome article Stacey! We have the Mad Moose Marathon in Prince George, BC Canada, but most of us go and do Red Deer, Kelowna or Vancouver/Victoria. I can tell you that it is the Catholic runners that keep me Catholic because I can say we all need each other. I perform Christian country music and contemporary Christian music which has an actual physical energizing effect on me – it makes you feel close to God. In Prince George, the First Nations people also relate to runners and because I play their gospel music, I feel this is the direction I am going in my Christian life – with all the drugs around and the moral relativism and New Age in all the “white man’s” churches, they really appreciate a simple Christian message they can relate to! Also, a lot of runners are known as social misfits, but nice people just the same, which is the real reason I run, not for any religious reasons, which are nevertheless a surprising, pleasant spin off of running!

    richard (pace dog) in Prince George, BC

  • rman

    Please let me briefly tell you how being a serious Christian and athletics, running in particular, is a most powerful force for Christianity in these seemingly apocalyptic times in Canada where homosexuality is now hardwired into our mainstream conversation and where the liability now comes mostly from within our church. I am single because I made bad career choices, so in midlife I find myself in the middle of this controversy. Where my first reaction might be to throw the Bible at Catholics, I find it works better to get respect from them first by showing them my marathon medals and my training schedule keeps me out of their inner New Age circles, yet still able to be part of the regular parish music team! They can see that being a real Christian is motivating me to success and we can all have a few good laughs together as Catholics, in spite of these apocalyptic end time changes around us! God Bless! Richard in Prince George, BC Canada

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