Dear Brothers and Sisters,
“If two of you agree….” (Mt. 18:19-20)
In the Gospels Jesus frequently urges people to pray. But the prayer considered here is unique, because in order for the prayer to be answered, it must be offered by at least two persons. Two is the smallest number that can make up a community. “If two of you agree…,” what matters to Jesus is not so much the number of those praying, but that they are praying together. He wants two persons, but more than that, he wants them united. He emphasizes their being of one accord, of their unanimity. He wants them to be of one voice. In effect he affirms the practice of mutual love for that is the prerequisite for obtaining what we ask for in prayer. So if we want our prayer to be answered, it is best to follow exactly what Jesus says. Jesus tells us the secret of the success of this prayer. It’s contained in the words, “…where two or three are gathered in my name…” When we are united in this way, Jesus is present among us, and whatever we ask together with him we are much more likely to receive. For it is Jesus himself — who is present wherever mutual love unites people’s hearts – who asks the Father with us for the grace we are requesting.
The month of September is the month of the Sorrowful Mother and it brought to mind this story of how through an act of love of a daughter for her mother and aunt, the rosary was discovered an effective prayer together that grew into a personal appreciation of Mary. Julie’s mother and her aunt, her older sister, died one week apart. A few months after their deaths, Julie found herself saying the rosary in the car during the commute to and from work and saying to herself, “I had no idea that the rosary would come to be such a companion to me.” Growing up in a Roman Catholic family Julie had known about the rosary but she had never prayed it because its repetitiveness turned her off. That the Mother of Jesus Christ could have been a virgin made no sense to her. As a teenage girl of the 60s and 70s, it even embarrassed her a little. So she blocked these ideas out of her mind and went on practicing her faith. Years later Julie would drive from her home to a state several hours away and spend many weekends with her mother who was now 85 and her aunt 93. They lived together in their family home. Julie’s mom had dementia, and it was worsening. Congestive heart failure had significantly weakened her aunt’s physical health. Julie knew the rosary was important to them and they had said it daily. However, their mutual hearing losses, and combined with her aunt’s and her Mom’s loss of initiative about basic activities of life, meant that they could not say the rosary together; but then an idea came to her. Julie did not know the mysteries of the rosary but she could speak loudly enough for them to hear. Julie could lead the rosary, and her Mom could announce the mysteries. They appreciated the idea, and they began to say the rosary together every night in the living room before bed. Julie began to notice that no matter what had transpired during the day, after saying the rosary, peacefulness came over herself. She began to think, “Maybe something important is going on here.” It seemed this ritual was helping her mother strengthen her grasp on life at a time when this grasp was slipping away. In spite of having lost much of her cognitive functioning, memory, motivation and initiative, her prayers remained solidly rooted in her mind. With respect and tenderness, her Mom taught Julie the mysteries with a clarity that was missing from other encounters with her Mom. Dementia also affected her Mom’s personality. Once a cheerful, welcoming person she had become oppositional. This change made adhering to her morning medication routine a challenge. One medication required that she take it immediately after waking up and remain in an upright position, not eating or drinking anything for 30 minutes. The idea crossed Julie’s mind to use this time as another opportunity for her Mom to teach her the rosary. The rosary transformed this time into a peaceful time. The opportunities lessened significantly. While her mother and aunt were alive, Julie could not say the rosary when she was by herself. She wondered if this devotion was meant to be only a communal prayer. However, a few months after their deaths, Julie began to say the rosary during her commute, using a finger rosary given to her by a niece. This practice continued and extended to other situations: when taking a walk by herself or when she is an airplane. Over these past years her feelings for Mary have changed. Dismissiveness has turned into respect and appreciation. Praying the rosary has even changed her relationship with herself. Experiencing early hurts and angers made her form a core negative attitude toward herself, which she still tended to hold on to. Recognizing the change in her initial negative feelings toward Mary, opened the way to change her initial negative attitude toward herself. Gradually, the influence of many affirming experiences in her life helped her to feel more comfortable with herself. What started out as merely an act of love to help her mother and aunt turned into a powerful spiritual and personal journey. The rosary had surprised her!
(Used with permission, Living City, May 2016)