A Christian parent’s greatest concern, after God himself, is the spiritual well-being of his children. The spiritual state of our family and our children can be the cause of the most intense suffering of heart, the most severe anxiety, the greatest loss of sleep and peace for a mother or a father. It can also be, through God’s infinite mercy and grace, our greatest parental victory. It can be a victory with nothing less than eternal ramifications, with heavenly crowns for our children and for ourselves.
As Christian parents, therefore, it is appropriate to examine within the extraordinary context of eternal victory for our families or, tragically eternal loss, the strong paternal invitation of John Paul II to every Christian family to daily make time to pray the Family Rosary. Second only to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and receiving the daily Bread of Angels, the praying of the Family Rosary is the greatest spiritual means of daily sanctification and protection for our families that Heaven places at our ready disposal.
In Rosarium Virginis Mariae, John Paul speaks of the two great crises threatening modern society: the crisis which threatens world peace and the crisis which threatens the modern family (cf. RVM, n. 6). The Holy Father speaks of the family as the primary cell of society which is “increasingly menaced by forces of disintegration on both the ideological and practical planes, so as to make us fear for the future of this fundamental and indispensable institution and, with it, for the future of society as a whole.”
It would be naïve for any Christian family to consider themselves immune from the present attacks on family life that contemporary society is unleashing upon the domestic Church. Our families are all presently at risk from ubiquitous social dangers and influences, which include pornography, impurity, and immodesty in dress; drugs, alcoholism, and eating disorders; contraception, abortion, and cloning efforts; homosexual unions, gay adoptions, and child abuse; materialism, secularism, and expensive toys in the place of parental time; radical feminism, careerism, and the rejection of the traditional roles of the father as the head of the family and the mother as heart of the family. These attacks against our families constitute dangers both societal and Satanic at root.
Yes, the Adversary seeks to war directly on our Christian families, for he understands (ironically, sometimes more than we do) the power of the Christian family as the foundational cell of the Church and of the State, the fertile garden for vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and the domestic expression of the Mystical Body of Jesus that can so effectively sanctify its members unto life everlasting.
To point out Satan’s accentuated attack upon today’s Christian family is not a fear tactic, but a reality check. It should help us all prioritize afresh, and conclude with a new strength of parental resolve for the imperative of protecting our families through the Rosary, which many saints and mystics have called the ultimate spiritual weapon against the Devil.
It should also not surprise us that the prince of this world will try every possible means to distract and discourage the family from making its daily Rosary commitment, ranging from temptations leading to family squabbles just before the family prepares to pray, to whispered words into parents’ ears that “you simply haven’t time today in light of so busy a schedule.” For the Serpent knows well the awesome spiritual force of the Rosary, which is a celestially inspired garland of vocal prayer and meditation that so effectively protects our homes against his lies and attacks and, at the same time, is so dynamically efficacious for family healing, family reconciliation,and family sanctification — as well as for the Church’s sanctification as a whole.
Our Totus Tuus Pope tells us: “The revival of the Rosary in Christian families, within the context of a broader pastoral ministry to the family, will be an effective aid to countering the devastating effects of this (family) crisis so typical of our age” (RVM, n. 6).
In his extended teaching from Rosarium, the Vicar of Christ on earth does all within his persuasive means to get us to pray daily together as a family. He further responds to the objection that the Rosary is irrelevant for today’s youth with the positive and tender fatherly encouragement, “Why not try it?”:
The family that prays together stays 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.
It is also beautiful and fruitful to entrust to this prayer the growth and development of children. Does the Rosary not follow the life of Christ, from his conception to his death, and then to his Resurrection and his glory? Parents are finding it ever more difficult to follow the lives of their children as they grow to maturity. In a society of advanced technology, of mass communications and globalization, everything has become hurried, and the cultural distance between generations is growing ever greater. The most diverse messages and the most unpredictable experiences rapidly make their way into the lives of children and adolescents, and parents can become quite anxious about the dangers their children face. At times parents suffer acute disappointment at the failure of their children to resist the seductions of the drug culture, the lure of an unbridled hedonism, the temptation to violence, and the manifold expressions of meaninglessness and despair.
To pray the Rosary for children, and even more, with children, training them from their earliest years to experience this daily “pause for prayer” with the family, is admittedly not the solution to every problem, but it is a spiritual aid which should not be underestimated. It could be objected that the Rosary seems hardly suited to the taste of children and young people of today. But perhaps the objection is directed to an impoverished method of praying it. Furthermore, without prejudice to the Rosary’s basic structure, there is nothing to stop children and young people from praying it—either within the family or in groups—with appropriate symbolic and practical aids to understanding and appreciation. Why not try it? With God’s help, a pastoral approach to youth which is positive, impassioned and creative—as shown by the World Youth Days!—is capable of achieving quite remarkable results. If the Rosary is well presented, I am sure that young people will once more surprise adults by the way they make this prayer their own and recite it with the enthusiasm typical of their age group (RVM, 41,42).
In terms of practically implementing the Holy Father’s call for daily Family Rosary, I would like to offer seven practical suggestions that have assisted our family in our efforts, however fallen and imperfect, in praying the daily Family Rosary:
1. Be flexible. The Family Rosary will never be a monastic Rosary, free from interruptions or distractions. Expect interruptions, while seeking to keep a generally prayerful atmosphere and continuity during the Rosary.
2. Schedule a reasonable time for praying the Family Rosary. Two good times are immediately following dinner (when the family is usually assembled), or right before bed. If the Family Rosary is not scheduled like other family priorities such as meals, homework, sport games, music lessons, etc., then it will oftentimes not happen.
3. Turn off the lights, and light the candles. Ideally, candles could be placed upon a family altar covered with other sacred images. If prayed during the evening, this gives the children the option of either staring into pitch darkness or looking up at the altar and the sacred images of Our Lord, Our Mother, the saints and angels, which will encourage the pondering of holy things rather than the mundane concerns of the day (a practice which is certainly helpful for parents as well).
4. Let the children lead the decades and offer intentions for the Rosary. This greatly assists in their participation and “possessing” the Rosary as their own. It also enhances their prayer of petition, even if a petition or two might be delivered slightly off the mark (for example, the four year old girl who prayed to Our Lady for the quick return of the hair of her father who had been bald for years).
5. Offer a brief meditation for each mystery at the beginning of each decade. It is very difficult for kids to ponder a mystery solely from the announcement of a single abstract noun, like the “Presentation” or the “Transfiguration,” even if the child is generally familiar with the scriptural event. A one line Scripture meditation apropos of the mystery (as suggested by the Holy Father in Rosarium), is also very effective in fostering meditation.
6. Turn the phone off and turn the answering machine on low. I know this may be perceived as an unforgivable sin in some families, but you’ll be emphasizing to your children the primacy of prayer by example, that talking to God and his Mother takes priority over talking to anyone else. Without this phone prevention step, you will all but guarantee regular Family Rosary interruption.
7. Be consistent. Even if extenuating circumstances prevent you from praying the five decades with your family on a given night, then pray a decade together, or even an Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be together as a family. This keeps the habitus, the good virtue of not turning out the lights at the end of the evening without praying together as a family. After the habit of Family Rosary is in practice, it will, ironically, be the children themselves who become the “family conscience,” and will exclaim to you as a parent on any evening that you miss praying, “Hey, why didn’t we pray the Family Rosary tonight?”
Envision the Family Rosary as a beautiful golden chain with which we daily encircle our most precious gifts, our spouses and our children. This “golden chain, the Blessed Rosary of Mary” as Bl. Bartolo Longo refers to it, will grant our families the most powerful protection from the world, the flesh, and the Devil, that we can offer them as Christian lay faithful.
Our families are simply too valuable to us and to God to deprive them of this golden chain of sanctity and protection in the midst of the today’s cosmic battle for souls. Allow Our Lady of the Rosary and the Queen of the Christian Family each day to protect and to sanctify her special little ones, our children, as only she can do.