Tag Archives: devotional prayer

365 Days with Christina Rossetti–Day 5

ChristinaRossettiEditors’ Note: Christina Rossetti wrote a devotional entitled Annus Domini: A Prayer for the Days of the Year, Founded on a Text of Holy Scripture (1874). We will be featuring one of her prayers for the next 365 days. 

Day 5

Genesis 31:53: “Jacob sware [sic] by the Fear of his father Isaac.”

O Lord Jesus Christ, Fear of Isaac, teach us sinners, I pray Thee, to fear Thee, and much more to love Thee all the days of our life, until perfect love shall cast out fear. Amen.


Our Guadalupe

unnamedAustin Cruz

University of Notre Dame, ’16

Master of Theological Studies (History of Christianity)

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Given both my Mexican-American descent and my strong devotion to Mary, it may come as a shock to some when I say that I have not always loved Our Lady of Guadalupe. Indeed, there was a time when her image was nothing more to me than a pious painting, an image that had been taken up ad nauseam by my ancestral people. It probably goes without saying that the Mexican people have a great love for Our Lady of Guadalupe. They hang her image on the walls of their churches and place her in their homes and businesses. They light candles, which bear her image, and place decals of her image on the back of their trucks. A great number of men and women have even gotten tattoos of Our Lady of Guadalupe placed somewhere on their bodies. And just to give one recent example of how inextricable she is from Mexican culture, her image was briefly used a few times in last year’s animated film The Book of Life, a film that is centered on the Mexican tradition of Dia de los Muertos. yet makes no reference to God or Christianity throughout. All of this is to say that the Mexican people have a special love for Our Lady of Guadalupe, and she herself is inseparably linked to Mexican religious and cultural identity.Granted, it is easy to understand why they love her. In December of 1531, she appeared to the humble, Nahuatl Indian, Juan Diego, at Tepeyac, a hill right outside of what is today Mexico City. Her mission to him was rather simple; she wanted him to go to the bishop and tell him to build a hermitage dedicated to her right there at Tepeyac. She wanted it built so that all people could come to it and receive her love, compassion, help and protection. Being only a lowly Indian, Juan Diego knew that his task would be difficult, but at the Virgin’s request he took up her mission. After he had twice failed to convince the bishop of the truth of the Virgin’s request, Our Lady of Guadalupe sought to aid him through the provision of a sign: Juan Diego was to go up the hill and pick the Spanish flowers, which had miraculously grown there in the middle of winter, place them in his tilma, in order to carry and to show them to the bishop. He did as was told. And when he had showed them to the bishop she provided him with another miracle as a sign of the abundance of her love: as he released the flowers, her image miraculously appeared on his tilma. The fact that she herself had provided her own image (that is to say, that it was not painted by human hands) and that the image has miraculously been preserved to this day has led the Mexican people to exclaim: “She has not done so for any other nation.”
It is a beautiful story, to be sure. And even though I heard that story many times in my life, (for several years my older brother had played Juan Diego in our parish play), I could not bring myself to embrace Our Lady of Guadalupe in any particular way.

OLofGuad5Perhaps it was because she was so uniquely tied to one particular people, even if it was a people that I am descendant from, that I felt that she lacked a universal quality that I imagined  Our Lady of Lourdes or an Our Lady of Fatima had. How can a devotion that seemed so limited, so incarnated within a very distinct culture be considered so great?

Or perhaps my aversion to her was more precisely based on the fact that, even though I am of Mexican descent, I do not speak Spanish, have no rhythm, and do not identify with many characteristics of popular Latino culture, and thus, felt that I could not connect with such a figure as Our Lady of Guadalupe. I thought that to claim her would be to claim for myself an identity that I struggled to fully own.

So, what changed? Why is it that in the past year and a half I have probably talked more about Our Lady of Guadalupe than any other image of Mary?

I do not know that I can describe it any other way than to say that she began to call out to me. I began to feel compelled to look at her image, an image that had so many times before left me unimpressed. The more I beheld her image, the more I found myself drawn to contemplation of it. And thus, I began to realize that what I had taken to be a simple rendition of the Virgin Mary within a primitive culture was in reality an icon of the universal mystery of a mother’s love.

Struck by this realization, I desired to return to the narrative of the Guadalupan events, to see if there was anything within the story itself that I had dismissed as unsophisticated. And, of course once again I had found so much beauty and depth in what appeared to be a simple text, much more than the purposes of this post would allow me to reflect on. But there is one thing that I wish to share, something which each time I read it moves me to my core, and it is Our Lady of Guadalupe’s mission as stated in her own words. She says:

“I very much want and ardently desire that my hermitage be erected in this place. In it I will show and give to all people all my love, my compassion, my help, and my protection, because I am your merciful mother and the mother of all nations that live on this earth who would love me, who would speak with me, who would search for me, and who would place their confidence in me. Their I will hear their laments and remedy and cure all their miseries, misfortunes, and sorrows.”[1] (emphasis mine)

It is particularly this message that makes Our Lady of Guadalupe so special. It is a message that could perhaps more simply be restated in the form of a question: “Will you let me be your mother?” It is a question she asks to all people, to all nations. She places no restrictions and she makes no conditions. Despite her appearance within a particular culture and within a particular time, it is a question that requests a universal response.

If perhaps, like me, you have ever had trouble growing close to Our Lady of Guadalupe because she came incarnated within a particular culture you do not recognize as your own, I encourage you to spend time with her in prayer this advent season. Though she may have done for the Mexican people what had not been done for any other nation, take comfort in the fact she did this as a sign of the depth of her love for her children of all nations. Join in the celebrations at your parish, contemplate her image, which she left on Juan Diego’s tilma. And rejoice in the fact that we have a mother who, like her Son, is no stranger to our own particular needs.

[1] This quotation is taken from verses 23-25 of the Nican Mopohua, the foundational text for the traditional Guadalupan events written in the native Nahuatl. For more an English translation and more on this text, see Mother of the New Creation by Fr. Virgilio Elizondo.

Musical Mystagogy: St. Margaret Mary and the Sacred Heart

Carolyn PirtleCarolyn Pirtle

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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Today marks the feast of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647–90), a Burgundian nun who experienced a series of visions from 1673 to 1675 that ultimately resulted in her petitioning Church authorities to institute a feast in honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Because of her role in promoting devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, St. Margaret Mary's visions feature prominently in the stained glass windows of Notre Dame's Basilica of the Sacred Heart.
Because of her role in promoting devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, St. Margaret Mary’s visions feature prominently in the stained glass windows of the Lady Chapel in Notre Dame’s own Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

In addition to the feast itself, St. Margaret Mary promoted acts of devotion in honor of the Sacred Heart, chief among which was the reception of Holy Communion on the first Friday of every month, a devotion many still practice to this day. It is for her devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and her untiring efforts to spread that devotion to others that Margaret Mary Alacoque is honored as a saint, and so today’s musical piece will focus not on the saint herself, but on the object of her unwavering devotion: the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

The devotion to the Sacred Heart is twofold: on the one hand, we honor the physical heart of Jesus, the pulsing heart of muscle and blood with its valves and chambers whose very existence encapsulates the mystery of the Incarnation—the heart that testifies that “the Word became flesh” (Jn 1:14); the heart that was pierced by a lance and poured forth the precious lifeblood of Him who loved unto the end. On the other hand, we also honor what the Sacred Heart of Jesus symbolizes: the sheer, unmerited gift of God’s unsurpassable, unfathomable love and mercy, offered without reservation to all who would receive it into their own hearts.

Today’s musical piece, the motet Improperium Expectavit by 18th-century Italian composer Giovanni Battista Casali, is a setting of the Offertory text for the feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, taken from Psalm 69 [68]:21–22b. Translated from the Latin, the text reads:

My heart expected reproach and misery
and I desired one who would grieve with me
and there was none:

I sought one to console me, and I found none:
and they gave me gall as my food,
and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.

The text of today’s piece draws attention to both the physical and the symbolic elements of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. From the symbolic standpoint, the heart of the one proclaiming the psalm—understood in the context of the feast as the Heart of Jesus himself—is broken; it is inconsolable, overcome with grief at the devastation of reproach and abandonment. And yet there is also an immense physicality in these lines. Hearing this passage from the Psalms in the voice of Jesus, we are reminded perhaps of his words from the Cross: “I thirst” (Jn 19: 28). Here is the one who hungers and thirsts to draw all into the communion of life he shares with the Father and the Spirit, and his longing is met with derision; his thirst for love is slaked with a drink of malice. We see the juxtaposition with stark clarity in the Reproaches for Good Friday: “I gave you saving water from the rock to drink, / and for drink you gave me gall and vinegar.”

To contemplate the Sacred Heart of Jesus is not simply to contemplate the overwhelming love that Jesus pours forth from his Heart; rather, it is to contemplate the mystery that Jesus pours forth his love for us even as we wound his Sacred Heart with our sins. We see this mystery in the way that the Sacred Heart is represented in visual art: pierced, surrounded with the crown of thorns, surmounted by the Cross which ultimately stopped its beating, and yet, even in the midst of these wounds, it is still ablaze, burning with divine love, the love of the God-man who longs for nothing more or less than perfect communion with his people.

We hear this mystery in Casili’s motet in the way that musical dissonance (clashing/grating of pitches) gives way to serene consonance (rest/resolution). This is the way that nearly all Western music operates at some level: tension arises in the music that is ultimately resolved. The dissonance somehow serves to help us appreciate all the more the consonance that resolves it. In this sense, consonance seems to purify the dissonance as the notes are brought into harmonious communion with one another in the movement toward resolution. This is what happens when we allow the dissonance of our sinfulness to give way to the love of the Sacred Heart: we ‘sour notes’ are brought into a radiant harmony with Jesus as we learn to sing with ever greater fidelity the hymn of self-giving love he intones from the Cross.

In contemplating with St. Margaret Mary Alacoque the Sacred Heart of Jesus, may we learn to give ourselves over to the ardent love of Christ as it blazes forth from his pierced Heart, that the dissonance within our own hearts may be melted away and dissolve into the consonant, radiant harmony of life in God; that, in the words of St. Paul from the proper reading for today, we may be “rooted and grounded in love, may have the strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that [we] may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:17b–19).

The Rosary in Real Life

Carolyn PirtleCarolyn Pirtle

Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy

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October is the month of the Rosary, and today we honor the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title Our Lady of the Rosary. At this time of year I always find myself reflecting on the ways in which praying the Rosary (and not praying the Rosary) has shaped my life of faith, and inevitably, my mind returns to my childhood days of praying the Rosary with my family.

When I was eight, I was the only girl in a family of four children (there are six of us now). My mom was pregnant with my sister, and my dad was traveling for work pretty much all the time. It’s only with the benefit of hindsight that I realize how chaotic these few years were, and yet I recall them with tender fondness, recognizing them as the years when our family was knitted—soldered together—into an incredibly close unit. It’s only with the benefit of theological reflection that I realize how much the Rosary was a part of this. When my dad began traveling, my mother began the practice of gathering us children together every night to pray the Rosary as a family. We prayed for my dad’s safe return home each weekend. We prayed for the security of his job. We prayed that our home would be kept safe in his absence. We prayed for the health of our mother and the baby she carried in her womb. We prayed for our extended family. We prayed that we would do well in school and in our extracurricular activities. We prayed that we would all make good friends and that we would learn to be better siblings to each other. In other words, we offered up in our family prayer the heights and depths, the profundities and the mundanities of domestic life, and in praying the Rosary in particular, we placed ourselves under the loving maternal gaze of Mary.

Lest you get the wrong idea about my family, though, let me clarify. Here is a picture of what we decidedly did not look like when we gathered together each night for our family Rosary:

Family Rosary

No photos were ever taken during our nightly prayer gatherings, so let me paint a word picture of what actually transpired each night. First, there was The Great Debate about whose bedroom we would use for prayer. Since the kid whose room it was usually got to lie down in his/her bed while everyone else either knelt on the floor or squeezed onto the bed to sit, this was a crucial part of the process. Naturally, the next step was to figure out who was going to sit/kneel/lie down where. Someone would always snag the extra pillow to kneel on and there would be a brief but intense battle for comfy real estate for one’s knees. Next, we had to determine whose turn it was to hold the cool glow-in-the-dark rosary and who would have to use the not-quite-as-cool rosaries with the non-glowing plastic beads. And all of this usually transpired in a span of 5 action-packed minutes, before we even made the Sign of the Cross.

These are still the coolest.
These are still the coolest.

Inevitably, though, my mother would call us all to order with an “All right, we’re starting!” and begin “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” And we were off. For the next 20-ish minutes, there would be moments of quiet grace and moments of unbridled pandemonium. My mother would recite the opening prayers and the first decade, and then my brothers and I would each be called upon to lead a decade in turn, starting with my oldest brother and moving down through the lineup. Like our behavior during the pre-game action, our recitation of the Rosary itself was usually far from perfect. Without fail, someone would forget which mystery we were on; someone else would say either too many Hail Marys (an unforgivable error) or too few (usually a welcome mistake). Someone’s knee or elbow would encroach on neighboring territory, resulting in a furious yet silent turf war; someone would yawn or sneeze or cough or emit some other bodily noise that would elicit uncontrollable, shoulder-shaking, repressed laughter. Most commonly, we would just get bored and count down the beads until it was all over and we could finally go to sleep.

This is what it’s like to pray the Rosary in a real family, in the real world. It’s messy, it’s chaotic, it’s discombobulated, but it’s also authentic. Real family life is messy, chaotic, and discombobulated, so why would the life of prayer be any different? Prayer is the way in which we lift up our lives to God exactly as they are, not as we would have them be. And by continuing to turn to God even and especially when life it at its most chaotic—when, for example, the sole breadwinner is constantly traveling to provide for his growing family while his wife cares for the children and runs the household—that chaos is infused with meaning and transfigured into the precise way by which that family is drawn closer to God and to one another.

Whether it was prayed while crowded in a darkened bedroom, driving through the Kansas countryside in the family mini-van, gathered in the living room with extended family on occasions of great need, or even before Mass with our parish family on Sundays, the Rosary was a leitmotif that continuously ran throughout life in my parents’ household, and without even realizing it, my siblings and I were being formed in a life of faith that was rooted in and indeed inseparable from daily practice. We were being drawn together as the domestic Church (though we would never have called ourselves that)—a tiny community united around Jesus and Mary that was being immersed and slowly formed in the mysteries of God’s love poured forth in the Incarnation.

In his recent address for the Meeting with Families in Cuba, Pope Francis stated:

The family is a school of humanity, a school which teaches us to open our hearts others’ needs, to be attentive to their lives. When we live together life as a family, we keep our little ways of being selfish in check. . . . No doubt about it: the perfect family does not exist; there are no perfect husbands and wives, perfect parents, perfect children . . . Those families don’t exist. But that does not prevent families from being the answer for the future. God inspires us to love, and love always engages with the persons it loves. Love always engages with the persons it loves. So let us care for our families, true schools for the future. Let us care for our families, true spaces of freedom. Let us care for our families, true centers of humanity.

In praying the Rosary as a family, we were participating in an intensive course of study in this “school of humanity.” We weren’t perfect, our prayer wasn’t perfect, yet we learned to forgive one another’s imperfections and also acknowledge our own. We became better at being a family.

MaryRosary_0Pope Francis’ description of the family as the “school of humanity” resonates with Pope St. John Paul II’s description of the Rosary as the “school of Mary” (Rosarium Virginis Mariae, §§1, 14, 43). What better way to learn how to be human than by placing one’s family under the tutelage of the Blessed Mother, who taught her Son how to be a part of his human family? Through the Rosary, we contemplate with wonder and awe the mystery that Jesus experienced life on earth precisely as a member of a family, or as Pope Francis said so beautifully in his recent off-the-cuff remarks at the Festival of Families, “God came into the world in a family.”

I’ll admit it: there are times when I struggle with the Rosary as much as I did when I was eight, probably for the same reasons that many people struggle with it. My mind wanders. I still get bored sometimes with the repetitiveness, even as I try to focus on the mystery at hand. If I attempt the Rosary lying in bed at night, I fall asleep 99% of the time. There have even been phases in my life when I’ve let the practice of daily recitation go by the wayside altogether. And yet, despite the manifold struggles I face with the Rosary, I keep coming back to it. Because every time I pick up my beads, I remember with deep love the many chaotic nights spent in prayer surrounded by my mother and brothers (and my father when he was home). I realize again the truth of the well-worn adage that “the family that prays together, stays together,” a phrase my mother repeated often (usually when we children were secretly griping under our breath about having to pray the Rosary—no perfect families, remember?), and taken up by Pope St. John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae. In this letter, John Paul II encourages families to take up anew this practice of praying the Rosary together:

The Holy Rosary, by age-old tradition, has shown itself particularly effective as a prayer which brings the family together. Individual family members, in turning their eyes towards Jesus, also regain the ability to look one another in the eye, to communicate, to show solidarity, to forgive one another and to see their covenant of love renewed in the Spirit of God.

Many of the problems facing contemporary families, especially in economically developed societies, result from their increasing difficulty in communicating. Families seldom manage to come together, and the rare occasions when they do are often taken up with watching television. To return to the recitation of the family Rosary means filling daily life with very different images, images of the mystery of salvation: the image of the Redeemer, the image of his most Blessed Mother. The family that recites the Rosary together reproduces something of the atmosphere of the household of Nazareth: its members place Jesus at the center, they share his joys and sorrows, they place their needs and their plans in his hands, they draw from him the hope and the strength to go on. (§41)

Having grown up in a family that prayed the Rosary together, I can attest to the truth of this passage and many others like it in John Paul II’s letter. To this day, I share an incredibly close relationship with my parents and siblings, and I firmly believe that the strength of our collective relationship is largely due to the life of prayer that we cultivated together (sometimes willingly, sometimes very unwillingly). The messiness and chaos of family prayer not only makes for vivid and often hilarious memories later in life, but most importantly, it makes for stronger families. If you are blessed with the gift of children, do your family a favor. Tonight, before bedtime, gather together, dust off the rosary beads, and start with just one decade. Embrace the mistakes that will inevitably occur, and persevere through the messiness. Practice this life of prayer, then practice some more, and years from now, through the grace of God and the intercession of Mary, you will see your children’s children immersed and schooled and formed in the same inexhaustible mysteries of God’s unfathomable love that form the very heart of the Rosary.

Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us.


Follow Carolyn on Twitter: @carolyn_pirtle

At the Feet of and Entrusted to the Heart of Jesus

Hope BoettnerHope Bethany

University of Notre Dame, Class of 2015

Echo 12 Apprentice

This writing finds me in a familiar place, though at a different stage of life. I often come to sit at the feet of the Sacred Heart of Jesus statue on campus. When I came here as an undergraduate, I liked to think about sitting here as an image of Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus—the type of quiet listening, spent sitting at the feet of Jesus, that we think of when we think about Jesus in the house of Martha and Mary.

Johannes Vermeer's painting of "Christ in the House of Mary and Martha"
Johannes Vermeer’s painting of “Christ in the House of Mary and Martha”

One day this past spring (maybe because of this writing job, in fact; it has made the wheels of my mind continually turn and try to catch ideas for writing), I realized that my mental picture of sitting at the feet of Jesus and sometimes trying to force the sentiments of peace that Mary might have found was overly idealistic. I hope and pray that there will be many times in my life of sitting at the feet of Jesus, quietly and at peace like Mary. But Mary of Bethany’s time at the feet of Jesus does not image for us the only time spent at the feet of Jesus.

These scenarios also did, and maybe they do so more powerfully.

The woman caught in adultery found herself at the feet of Jesus.




Mary Magdalen, pouring the anointing of oil on Jesus in sorrow for her sin, began by crying at the feet of Jesus and drying those tears with her hair.





And Mary, the mother of Jesus, had to spend hours at her Son’s feet while at the foot of the Cross, experiencing the agony of watching her Son die.



And so at another point, I realized that my thought process of sitting at the feet of the Sacred Heart of Jesus statue here on campus, and finding my way to it no matter what state of mind and heart I found myself, more closely mirrors the way that St. Margaret Mary Alacoque wrote about the scenarios in which we ought to entrust ourselves to the Sacred Heart of Jesus than it did to any time Mary of Bethany spent quietly at the feet of Jesus, as Martha bustled busily around the house.

St. Margaret Mary Alacoque—the saint to whom we believe that Jesus appeared and revealed his Sacred Heart—expresses the reality that our lives belong at the feet of Jesus, or, in keeping with the feast we celebrate today, entrusted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus:

This divine heart is an abyss of all blessings, and into it the poor should submerge all their needs. It is an abyss of joy in which all of us can immerse our sorrows. It is an abyss of lowliness to counteract our foolishness, an abyss of mercy for the wretched, an abyss of love to meet our every need.

Therefore, you must unite yourselves to the heart of our Lord Jesus Christ, both at the beginning of your conversion in order to obtain proper dispositions, and at its end in order to make reparation. Are you making no progress in prayer? Then you need only offer God the prayers which the Savior has poured out for us in the sacrament of the altar. Offer God his fervent love in reparation for your sluggishness. In the course of every activity pray as follows: “My God, I do this or I endure that in the heart of your Son and according to his holy counsels. I offer it to you in reparation for anything blameworthy or imperfect in my actions.”

Continue to do this in every circumstance of life. And every time that some punishment, affliction or injustice comes your way, say to yourself: “Accept this as sent to you by the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ in order to unite yourself to him.”

But above all preserve peace of heart. This is more valuable than any treasure. In order to preserve it there is nothing more useful than renouncing your own will and substituting for it the will of the divine heart. In this way his will can carry out for us whatever contributes to his glory, and we will be happy to be his subjects and to trust entirely in him.

Life belongs at the feet of Jesus, entrusted to his Sacred Heart, in all circumstances. In joy and in peace, yes: but also in sorrow, and especially in contrition for sin.

And what do the feet of Jesus and entrusting ourselves to his Sacred Heart have to do with anything about writing? Oblation editor Tim O’Malley asked Sam Bellafiore and me to write “wrap-up” pieces about what we have learned as undergraduate fellows and where we are headed. As became more and more epidemic as the year went on, I am late in writing (spilling ramen on my laptop and destroying it did not help this process; requiescat en pace, old laptop).

But I am grateful for this last year, in which I have been able to write for this blog as a job (it felt like I was cheating every time I entered hours). I am grateful for what I have learned about writing, about thinking of writing as a kind of ministry, about Tim and Carolyn’s senses of humor and patience (and the abilities Sam and I had in testing that patience). Writing can be a kind of ministry, I suppose. As I prepare to begin master’s level coursework in theology and to serve in parish ministry during the next two years, this writing—and this lesson of entrusting it all back to the heart of Jesus for his glory (and not for mine), will continue to be on my mind. Because, again, as St. Margaret Mary said:

This divine heart is an abyss of all blessings, and into it the poor should submerge all their needs. It is an abyss of joy in which all of us can immerse our sorrows. It is an abyss of lowliness to counteract our foolishness, an abyss of mercy for the wretched, an abyss of love to meet our every need.

May we give ourselves over to that “abyss of love” of the heart of Jesus more and more, entrusting ourselves to his will.

Hope in Action: Devotional Prayer and the Marathon

Laura TaylorLaura Taylor 

House of Brigid

Wexford, Ireland

As my feet pounded against the pavement and wound through Dublin’s narrow streets earlier this week, my thoughts wandered amidst the surrounding cacophony of the marathon—the rumble of footsteps fromMarathon Pic 1 the tens of thousands of runners around me, the exuberant cheers from spectators along the race route, the shouted words of encouragement and motivation passed from one runner to the next; the deep, controlled breaths of the seasoned runners, and the short, shallow gasps of the neophytes. My interior self was thrown into turmoil, too, with thoughts of proper pacing, constant checks for the slightest indicators of injury, perhaps too-regular calculations of the remaining distance—not to mention all the everyday doubts, fears, uncertainties, and expectations fighting for their place in the mix as well.

The monotony of running 26.2 miles became particularly apparent at mile 14. As the prospect of running another 12 miles sank in, the first twinges of exhaustion coursed through my body. At mile 16, I noticed some of the faster runners begin to walk. At mile 19, increasingly more competitors appeared to have suddenly stepped into a mire of molasses; the 20-mile marker poster seemed to mock us, stretching farther and farther away. My muscles protested at the continued exertion, the heat of the sun blazed down, the road began to incline, and the discomfort of it all became nearly unbearable. Insidious thoughts of ending the pain altogether and quitting the race clashed against my halting determination, and threatened to become too convincing to fight for much longer. As a first-time marathoner, I naïvely expected my months of training would be enough to get me to the finish line—but they weren’t. Something far deeper, though, would.

My thoughts turned back towards my graduate school courses on liturgical asceticism and the ancient desert monastics of Egypt and Palestine. If those courageous—though somewhat disconcerting—men and women could endure the scorching desert heat, meals of stone-hard bread and locusts, sleepless night vigils, coarse animal-hair shirts, and wage spiritual battles against the anthropomorphized passions and emerge victorious, then surely I could endure the self-inflicted pain of running a marathon—High5 EnergyGels© notwithstanding (I wouldn’t wish those on any enemy!).

Inexplicably, the words of the Ave Maria slowly, languorously laced their way through the mêlée to reach the core of my innermost self. What I most needed in this moment was hope—the kind that comes not from within, but from above. How in the world did I think I could ever accomplish this Herculean effort on my own? In that interminable 19th mile, I decided to draw strength from the tradition of the Church during my own hour of need—the very prayers that sustained saints and martyrs in their times of distress. In the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, I would be “guided and enlightened by the great prayers of the Church and of the saints” (Spe Salvi, §34). Too delirious to formulate a proper theological interpretation of this internal struggle, praying the Rosary on my fingers while running became a vehicle of active hope.

Rosary Pic 1Despite my ragged breathing, the ancient words flowed freely with each step. In those last few miles, I journeyed with Christ and the Blessed Virgin by reflecting on the five Glorious Mysteries, the splendor of the Gospel message made real and present in my very human search for strength. In the most unlikely of times and places, I somehow felt more a part of the Church than ever before. I meditated on the hope and endurance of the great saints and martyrs who came before me and experienced all manner of suffering and persecution:

“In some way we want life itself, true life, untouched even by death; yet at the same time we do not know the thing towards which we feel driven. We cannot stop reaching out for it, and yet we know that all we can experience or accomplish is not what we yearn for. This unknown ‘thing’ is the true ‘hope’ which drives us, and at the same time the fact that it is unknown is the cause of all forms of despair and also of all efforts, whether positive or destructive, directed towards worldly authenticity and human authenticity” (Spe salvi, §12).

Pope Benedict XVI says the Rosary duringWhile I was only praying for the strength to finish the marathon, Benedict XVI’s words resonate on a deeper level. My self-inflicted suffering could be considered a stand-in for the very real and heartbreaking suffering that occurs every day in this world. Fortunately for all of us, “the star of hope has risen—the anchor of the heart reaches the very throne of God. Instead of evil being unleashed within man, the light shines victorious: suffering—without ceasing to be suffering—becomes, despite everything, a hymn of praise” (Spe salvi, §37).

Through praying the Rosary, my pain and exhaustion were thus transformed into a hymn of praise and thanksgiving. I completed the marathon running strong, the opening words of the Salve Regina echoing at the edges of consciousness:

“Hail, holy Queen, Mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness, and our hope.”

Marathon Pic 2