The recent Popes have all stressed that the best way to enroll in Mary's Academy is through praying the Holy Rosary.
The temptation that sometimes occurs when people resolve to live by a Plan of Life is to regard it as a series of as various, independent religious exercises meant to build up different spiritual muscle groups that help us to become overall more fit in faith. But a Plan of Life is much more than a bunch of discrete prayers and practices: it's meant to form us to live consciously and continuously in God's presence.
The greatest model and master of this type of life is the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose contemplative heart used to ponder, treasure and integrate everything that occurred as pieces of a precious and beautiful mosaic, as St. Luke's original Greek words indicate as he describes Mary's "keeping all these things, reflecting on them in her heart" (Lk 2:19,51). To live a Plan of Life aright, we do well to enter into Mary's school just like the first disciples did in the Upper Room before Pentecost.
The recent Popes have all stressed that the best way to enroll in Mary's Academy is through praying the Holy Rosary. And so, in this month of May, which is traditionally dedicated to growing in devotion to Mary, it's fitting to focus on this greatest of all Marian devotions as a crucial part of our spiritual game-plan.
Pope Francis has said publicly that one of the means of his spiritual strength at 78 years of age is that he prays three Rosaries a day. One of his papal secretaries said about him, "He works tirelessly and, when he feels the need to take a moment's pause, he closes his eyes and ... simply sits and prays the Rosary. He prays at least three Rosaries a day. 'This helps me unwind,' he told me. Then he sets to work again."
In the preface of a book on the Rosary written by another of his secretaries, the Pope wrote, "The Rosary is a prayer that always accompanies me; it is also the prayer of the ordinary people and the saints. ... It's a prayer from my heart."
And it's a prayer that he, just like Pope Benedict XVI, St. John Paul II and Blessed Paul VI before him, is urging all Catholics to take up.
To young people preparing for the priesthood and consecrated life, he said, "Always keep Our Lady with you and please pray the Rosary.... Do not neglect it!"
At an General audience two years ago this week, Pope Francis added, "In this month of May, I would like to recall the importance and beauty of the prayer of the Holy Rosary. Reciting the Hail Mary, we are led to contemplate the mysteries of Jesus, that is, to reflect on the key moments of his life, so that, as with Mary and St Joseph, he is the center of our thoughts, of our attention and our actions." He called the Rosary "a school of prayer" and "a school of faith," and encouraged all of us to get our family members, friends and fellow parishioners to join us in that school.
Since 1985, praying three Rosaries a day has been part of Pope Francis' daily Plan of Life. The change happened when, as a priest, he witnessed St. John Paul II on his knees publicly leading the faithful in the prayer of the Rosary. He saw in his predecessor the fruits of Marian devotion and sought to follow St. John Paul II's example. Now he's hoping that we follow his.
St. John Paul II gave us a great exhortation in 2002, The Rosary of the Virgin Mary, in which he called the Rosary the "echo of the prayer of Mary," a "compendium" of the Gospel," and something that, "reclaimed in its full meaning, goes to the heart of the Christian life." It's a prayer, he said, that has us enter Mary's contemplative heart and in it helps us not only better to ponder the joyful, luminous, sorrowful and glorious moments in the life of the "blessed fruit of [Mary's] womb," but also to bring the joyful, luminous, sorrowful and glorious rhythm of our own life into harmony with God's.
St. John Paul also shared with us in that exhortation his own spirituality of praying the Rosary, which every Catholic should read to pray the Rosary well or better.
My earliest childhood memories are of praying the Rosary with my family at the kitchen table. It taught me that God was real and part of our daily life. It also taught me how important daily prayer was, with others, for others, and mutually strengthened by others. It deeply nourished my priestly vocation.
I've continued to pray the Rosary until this day. I normally pray five mysteries and then briefly meditate on the other 15. But on days when I have a lot of time in the car, or on retreat, I'll pray all 20.
Following St. John Paul II's insertion of the Luminous Mysteries focusing on Jesus' public ministry, I've also put together several other sets of mysteries -- the Mysteries of "Mercy," of "Miracles," of the "Parables," of Jesus' "Great Sermons," of "The Priesthood," of Jesus' dialogues with St. Peter, and with Women -- that I seek to pray from Mary's perspective when I need a little change from pondering the normal 20.
As part of the Plan of Life, spiritual authors recommend we pray one set of five mysteries a day, something that takes most people 12-15 minutes. If you've never prayed it, there are lots of accessible books, websites and apps to help you, as well as many people in every Catholic parish who I'm sure would be happy to teach you and pray it with you.
I've always been moved that in Michelangelo's famous Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel, the "lifeline" that the angels hold out to lift people to heaven is a set of Rosary beads. It's an indication that the Rosary is a chain of love linking us to contemplate Christ so as to behold him forever, as well as one that helps us, in communion with Mary and through her intercession, to glimpse, reverence and love Christ in those made in his image.
The Rosary is one of the greatest means by which we enter into Mary's school and learn from her how to stay united with her Son through the joyful, radiant and sorrowful episodes of human life so as to be able to ponder with her forever the mysteries of eternal glory.
Father Roger J. Landry is a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts, who works for the Holy See’s Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations.