Struggling with the Rosary
By Brian Pessaro
Posted 10/26/08 at 1:52 AM
The Rosary is excruciating. There I said it. Archbishop Fulton Sheen said it was the most perfect prayer because it takes 19 minutes, which is the maximum time the average person can maintain a state of concentration. The truth is the Rosary can be a real chore. St. Thérèse, the Little Flower, was being more honest when she said, “I am ashamed to confess it, but the recitation of the Rosary costs me more than to use an instrument of penance. I feel I am saying it so badly. Try as I may to make myself meditate on the mysteries, I never manage to fix my thoughts on them." Amen sister. I’m with you. And yet, like St. Thérèse, I wouldn’t give up the Rosary for anything.
I’ll admit I’m not always perfect about making it my top priority. I’ve often flopped into bed late at night only to realize I hadn’t done it yet. I groan as I slide out from the sheets and reach for my beads on the nightstand. Those next 19 minutes are a far cry from the “perfect prayer” Archbishop Sheen described. I can barely keep my eyes opened much less my mind focused. To be honest, it’s not much easier when I’m wide awake. I stink at contemplating the mysteries. The best I can manage is to visualize a picture from one of my Rosary booklets or a scene from The Passion of the Christ. Distractions? Don’t get me started. On my way home from work, I’m bombarded with thoughts of everything but the mysteries. “The third joyful mystery is the… now what was it I was supposed to pick up from the grocery store… Was that my 9th Hail Mary or my 10th? Oh man, I just ran a red light! Sorry Mary.”
So why do I persist if it’s such drudgery? Simple. I wouldn’t be where I am today had it not been for Mary’s intercession. This is my story. Since the age of 11, I was addicted to pornography. It began simple enough with sneaking peaks at my best friend’s father’s Playboys in the basement of his house. But by the time I was 25, I was so hooked on Internet porn that I would itch for my wife to leave the apartment so I could secretly jump online. Several times over the years I tried to quit. Each time, not only did I fail, but the addiction got worse to the point where I gave up resisting.
Then a friend of mine, who knew nothing of my addiction, loaned me a book on Mary and her supposed apparitions in Međugorje. I’m undecided about whether those apparitions are real. I’ll leave that to the Church to decide. However, I can tell you what is real. That book was what finally led me out of my addiction. It was as if Mary reached up from the pages and grabbed me by the collar. I felt her say to me sternly, “Brian you’ve got to stop looking at that garbage. Starting now!” My earthly mother hardly ever scolded me when I was younger. I was always the “good son.” But here I was at age 30 getting chastised by my Blessed Mother in a way I had never experienced. “What do you want me to do?” I asked helplessly. I turned the page. Pray the Rosary and wear the Scapular. I groaned. “Rosary? I’ve tried that before. It’s boring. It doesn’t work for me.” But Mary wouldn’t take no. “Try it again,” she insisted. What about this scapular thing? I had no idea what a scapular was. I thought it had something to do with shaving your head like the monks of the Middle Ages. (I had confused the “scap” in scapular for “scalp”, as in head.) “I’m not shaving my head Mary.” I read on and embarrassingly realized my mistake. “Oh. OK. I can wear that.”
That night I went online and ordered a Brown Scapular, and then I went to my bedroom dresser and pulled out my grandmom’s old rosary. It had been in there for years, nothing more than an heirloom. I got on my knees, and I began to pray. The next night, I did it again. Two nights in a row became three, then four, until before I knew it I had prayed the Rosary every night for a week. Well it’s been 7 years, and I’m still going strong. I can count on two hands the total number of times I’ve missed.
OK so I pray the Rosary and I kicked a nasty porn habit. Ho hum. Big deal you think. Yes it is, because I should explain that when I say the addiction went away, I don’t mean gradually. I mean it vanished that first night. It was like someone reached inside my brain, found the switch for porn addiction, and turned it off. I can’t explain it. I’m not a sex therapist, but I know that’s not supposed to happen. You don’t just put down a 19-year porn addiction like yesterday’s newspaper and walk away from it. A lot of it has to do with a hormone called epinephrine that’s released in the brain each time you view pornography. It produces a high similar to cocaine. Epinephrine is the gift that keeps on giving because it has a nasty side effect of burning the images into your brain. That’s why even when I was in my late twenties I could still see those images from when I was eleven as if it were yesterday. And now they’re gone.
That brings me back to why I pray the Rosary daily, and why I think everyone should too. It’s because of who made the request. Mary is our Blessed Mother, and she’s asked us to do this. If she wants us to pray the Rosary, it doesn’t matter if we don’t “get” anything out of it, and it doesn’t matter if we don’t understand how it “works”. The only thing that matters is that Mary is the one who asked. She says she needs our help, and the way we can help her is to pray Rosaries. Let her worry about the mechanics. Did the servants at the wedding at Cana need to understand how Jesus was going to solve the wine shortage? No, they just needed to follow Mary’s advice. I hope Mary doesn’t mind if I borrow her line and say when it comes to praying the Rosary, “Do whatever she tells you.”
Brian Pessaro writes from Temple Terrace, Florida. Two of his essays are included in the Godspy anthology, Faith at the Edge: A New Generation of Catholic Writers Reflects on Life, Love, Sex and Other Mysteries
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