Fr. Robert Barron on Praying the Rosary

How does the body help us in practicing the faith? Fr. Barron says that it is in appreciating the disciplining of our body which can help lead to a healthy spirituality. He cites William James who noted “that the knowing mind is not be isolated from the will, the passions, the desires, and the movements of the body. Sometimes, he says, knowledge comes in a flash of insight, but more usually it arrives as the result of a long and complex process involving attention, feeling, and above all, action.” (p. 27) In this context he comments on the Catholic practice of saying the rosary.

“Can I use this little anecdote as a justification for saying a word in support of the much-maligned rosary as a practice? First, the rosary is concrete, densely objective—it is something that you hold in your hand. Anthony de Mello said that the simple feel of the rosary put him in a mystical frame of mind. How Jamesian! Second, the rosary is a way of disciplining what the Buddhists call the ‘monkey mind,’ the mind that leaps impatiently from branch to branch: ‘What’s my next appointment? Why did she say that to me? What am I going to do about this? Do I have my tickets?’ As long as that mind—skittish, superficial, obsessive—is dominating, we never move to the deeper realms of the soul. The rosary prayer, precisely as a mantra, is meant to dull and quiet the monkey mind and allow the depths to rise. Thirdly, the rosary slows us down. Even my Irish grandmother, who prayed the rosary at ninety-five miles an hour, took fifteen minutes to get through it! All the spiritual traditions witness to the fact that the soul likes to go slow. Again, the surface of the psyche is in constant motion, hurrying to its next thought, its next objective, its next accomplishment. But the spiritual center likes to see, to hear, to savor. Repeating the Hail Mary 50 times (or 150 times if the entire rosary is prayed), moving in a circle, not getting particularly anywhere, is the sort of thing the deep soul loves to do. And so does the body for that matter—just think of a slow romantic dance. In this regard, the rosary is like the stations of the cross or that ancient prayer form now in vogue: the walking of the labyrinth. Dr. Ewert Cousins has said that the genius of Catholicism is that it never threw anything away. How sad that so many Catholics run to the religions of the East and to the New Age to find embodied practices of prayer, when we have them in spades in our own ecclesial attic!” (pp. 30-31)

Taken from “Paths and Practices: Recovering an Embodied Christianity” in Bridging the Great Divide: Musings of a Post-Liberal, Post-Conservative Evangelical Catholic (Rowman & Littlefield)

Bridging the Great Divide

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About Louis

I am a 1997 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
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