Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Rosary Awareness Mission

My love affair with the rosary began my freshman year of high school.  It was my first and only year to attend a Catholic school, and it would forever change the course of my life. That year, I was blessed to have Dr. Elizabeth Barnes as my English teacher. Of all the things I learned that year, the most important lessons were taught in her classroom.

In addition to teaching us the approved curriculum of proper English sentence structures and introducing us to the great literary works of authors past and present, she fed us a steady diet of true stories of our Catholic faith.  It was in her classroom that I learned that the movie The Exorcist was not made up out of nothing, but was based on the diaries of a Catholic priest that she knew who had performed the rite.  It was a boy, not a girl, in the real exorcism.  She introduced our class to the Catholic miracles of Fatima and Lourdes, and most of all she introduced us to the rosary.  I am sure the other kids were already familiar with it. I certainly should have been, having been raised Catholic, but it was new to me.  All of the things she was teaching me should have been familiar, but it was all brand new, and I was astonished.  She was opening my eyes to the reality that there was far more to being Catholic than just going to Mass, and I was eating it up like a starving person at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Inspired by what she was teaching me, I developed a love for Our Lady and a devotion to the rosary.  Growing up around men who were abusive or absent, I wanted to trust God but lacked the foundation to do so.  I looked with skepticism at the Church because she was run by the men, and in my own experience - and the experience of my mother - men only used their power to hurt you.  Here, though, was a feminine figure being upheld for me.  I was being encouraged to place my trust in her, and that was something I could do.  I could relate to a woman who wouldn't abandon you. My mother was flawed and broken, but she'd stuck with me my whole life through and had never abandoned me even when it might have been easier for her. 

The long dormant desire to become a great saint roared back to life in my heart like a bear coming out of its winter hibernation.  When the Gulf War broke out and my older sister was sent overseas, I turned to Our Lady for help.  I convinced two of my friends to join me in praying the rosary for an end to the war and the safe return of our soldiers after lunch each day.  We would eat quickly and then head upstairs to Dr. Barnes's classroom to pray. As the weeks and months passed, that small group of three grew to a group of 15 containing not only students in my own class but students out of the other two classes as well.

Many years later, my sister told my mother that during the Gulf War, before anyone knew she was pregnant, she was ordered to bring supplies to a hotel that was being used as a bunker by the U.S. forces. At the last minute, though, my sister was called to another duty and her friend was sent instead. The hotel was bombed and the soldiers inside, along with my sister's friend, died. If my sister had not survived that day, her three children would never have been born.  I truly believe that her life, and the lives of my nieces and nephew, were spared due to the protection of Our Lady.

That isn't the only miracle I've witnessed that came because of my prayers of the Rosary. I have seen my husband saved from suicide and eventually converted to Catholicism. I have seen myself and my family healed of tremendous wounds that we carried because of the abuse. It has brought me back home to the faith when I had wondered away, and has kept me in the faith when I was going through some of my worst spiritual dryness, when I couldn't feel Christ's presence in my life at all even though I knew intellectually that he was with me.

Six years ago, I came up with an idea to do a poverty awareness walk. I wanted to help the poor by drawing attention to their plight, facing the obstacles they face, and giving talks to encourage and uplift them as well as to help those who don't struggle with poverty understand them better.  I was highly qualified for it, having spent most of my life struggling with poverty in some form or another.  However, the timing for that mission wasn't right. The circumstances weren't right, and nothing fell into place.  I abandoned the idea altogether.

Last Tuesday, I woke up from a dream with this song, "Do not be afraid, for I am with  you, and I will not be moved," playing in my head.  I thought it was marvelous, but I really didn't understand why He was singing it to me.  That evening, as I sat down in the quiet to contemplate it further and to pray, the idea came to me that for the past six years I have been trying to do what I could to address fiscal poverty with very limited effect.  However, the problems our country faces - including poverty - aren't at their core a fiscal problem.  In other words, the financial problems are simply a symptom of the larger disease of spiritual poverty.  That's not to say that people who are poor are to blame for all of their own problems, it's to say that the real causes of poverty are spiritual problems. It's greed and envy and avarice and pride and lust and sloth and wrath.  Those are the real problems, and until we address those problems, the world will remain troubled.

That's when it hit me that the rosary is the answer to spiritual poverty.  Rather than doing a poverty awareness walk, I should do a rosary awareness walk.  I should walk from one corner of this nation to another, teaching and speaking about the rosary, sharing it with people, and encouraging them to pick it up and start praying it.  The idea fit.  The timing was right. My son is graduating high school and going to boot camp in July, and there are no real impediments in our way. Walking means there won't be any travel expenses beyond food and shelter to worry over, and those can be provided for by purchasing a tent and travel food for during the journey and people willing to host us along the way once we arrive.  It would accomplish both ends, by allowing us to live in solidarity with the poor while at the same time serving to bring attention and awareness to the hope and help found in the rosary.

The idea was perfect, but frightening. It left my hands shaking and my heart pumping in terror. I quickly wrote out a prayer asking God to please help me discern whether or not this was His will or not. I told Him that He would need to give me three very definitive signs, ones that I could not miss, ones that would be so evident to me that I could not mistake them for anything else.  I closed my prayer journal and returned to my computer. 

There was an image at the top of my Facebook feed of St. Pope John Paul II that had a quote of his, "Take up your rosary once again!" I got a chill.  It could still be coincidence. I called my mother to talk to her, hoping that she would do something she does a lot - shoot down my idea and tell me all the reasons why I shouldn't do it.  Instead, she shocked me by telling me that this was something she had been seeing Randy and I do for a long time.  I recalled a dream I'd had just two years ago where Randy and I were walking, heading south toward Arkansas, to do mission work.  Eddie wasn't with us. At the time I didn't understand it, but I knew this was related to the proposal before me now.  During the call, she recommended that I do a novena to St. Therese and ask her for a single white rose in confirmation of the idea. I got off the phone and went on a walk to pray the rosary and begin the novena.

That night, my husband brought up the fact that I'd left the room to talk to my mother, clearly not wanting him to overhear it. He was hurt and upset. I hadn't brought it up to him yet because I am full of ideas and a very few of them ever become anything. I wasn't really sure I wanted this one to become real, and there was no use bringing it up until I was sure. I told him, expecting him to tell me the idea was crazy and dumb. That had been his first reaction to my initial poverty awareness walk. He told me that he had a feeling we were meant to do something like that, before his knee got torn up in Salt Lake City.  Now, however, he wasn't sure he could handle walking more than a mile or two a day at most before his knee would start really hurting him. He knew it was something I was being called to do, he just wasn't convinced it was for him.

On the third day of my novena, I got a single white silk rose in the mail from a charity devoted to increasing the number of people praying the rosary.  I had the confirmation I needed that this was not just my own idea, but something God wanted done. I spoke to my son, and his words to me, "Mom, if that's what God wants you to do, that's what you need to do," were unexpected, but gave me a final reassurance that if it was God's will, it would work out fine.

Now, I begin the process of discerning when the right time to leave is, and what the steps of the journey will be. He has asked me, specifically, to allow Him to plan the journey, so I'm not researching routes. I'm actually going to throw this out there.  If you would like to bring our Rosary Awareness Mission to your parish, just leave a comment in the box with the name of your parish and the type of service you would prefer. I can give rosary centered talks covering motherhood and marriage, for those in RCIA, and even for fatherhood.  I can do single talks, single day or multiple-day retreats, five nights of study, whatever your preference is. I can speak to children as well as to young adults and adults.  If you're interested and would be willing to give us your hospitality, we have feet and will travel.  We definitely won't be leaving until after July 24th, when our son ships off for boot camp, so it probably won't be until after August that we leave Elko. You have time to get on board. Looking forward to hearing from you.

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