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Our Lady of the Rosary - Marian Retreat
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
Why a Retreat on Our Lady of the Rosary?
Were about to begin what we are calling a Marian Retreat. I chose, and I trust Our Lady is pleased; our focus will be on Our Lady of the Rosary. So the next logical question is, why a retreat on Our Lady of the Rosary? There are many series of reasons and I think it is well to go over, at least, some of the reasons; for the underlying reason, for the more clearly we understand why we are doing something, the more strongly we will be motivated to do it well. We should then, first reason, make a retreat on Our Lady of the Rosary because there is no single form of Catholic piety outside of the Holy Eucharist as Real Presence, as Holy Communion, and as the Sacrifice of the Mass; there is no other form of Catholic piety that has been more frequently and earnestly, and the weakest verb I can use is, encouraged by the Vicars of Christ than devotion to the Holy Rosary. Why?
The Church is Undergoing the Most Serious Crisis in Her History
Second reason, because the Church today is undergoing what our present Holy Father calls the most serious crisis in Her history, and for more than seven hundred years, the Bishops of Rome have urged the faithful to say the Rosary; let me immediately add, and live that Rosary to obtain Gods protection against the massive assaults on the Mystical Body of Christ. If, and no one should doubt the fact that the Church is going through the gravest struggle in Her nineteen centuries of existence. We better know where we can go to obtain grace for ourselves and for the Church of God in order, even, for the Church to survive in certain countries, and I include the United States.
In the thirteenth century, the Albigensian heresy raised a doctrinal war against the Church, remember, the Albigenses, like the Manicheans but one thousand years earlier, claimed there were two gods; a good god who was the creator and source of everything good and virtuous, and an evil deity who was the creator, if you please, of everything painful and everything evil. It was in that context, in the thirteenth century, that under divine inspiration, the Order of Preachers was founded by Saint Dominic. And his principal weapon against the forces of error on all sides, his principal weapon was the Rosary.
In the sixteenth century, the militant forces of Islam battled against Christianity. It was, as history tells us, through the Rosary that the Pope succeeded in organizing the faithful in a successful crusade; it was so successful that Christendom was saved, and European Christianity remained alive.
In the nineteenth century, a single pope, Pope Leo XIII, (I counted them before putting my notes together for this conference); Pope Leo XIII, one of the greatest intellectuals of Papal history, issued no less than twenty three papal documents, some long documents on every aspect of the Rosary, telling the faithful that the inroads of unbelief had become so deep, the Church has had to appeal in a worldwide prayer to Our Lady of the Rosary to save the Faith of millions in beleaguered countries, especially in the Western world.
In the twentieth century, one pope after another, Pope Pius X, Benedict the XV, Pope Pius XI, Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI and John Paul II, in document and even encyclical, one after another, have all but besieged believing Catholics to renew and reinvigorate their devotion to Our Lady of the Rosary and not mind you, not to increase piety or devotion or to stir up, shall we call it, emotional fervor, oh no!
A Crusade in Reverse Against the Church of Christ
The present century, not quite over yet, (I never tire of repeating in speech and in print) has given the Church more martyrs than all the previous centuries put together. The present century has had more devastating wars, more millions of casualties than in all the previous wars of history put together. There is a reason and the reason, of course, is because the forces of evil have become organized, mobilized, with not millions, but billions to back, shall we call it, a crusade in reverse against the Church of Christ. Never in my life as a priest have I talked to more intellectuals among the laity, among priests and bishops who tell me and they mean every syllable: the situation in the world is so grave that only the Mother of God can save both the Church in our country and western civilization in materially super-developed nations like the United States. Someone, someone must have access to superhuman power to cope with superhuman evil. It is Our Lady.
A More Faithful Imitation of Jesus and Mary
We are still asking ourselves why, why make this not just a Marian retreat, but a Marian retreat that concentrates on Our Lady of the Rosary? We will not forget, I assure you, this is not a course on Mariology which Ive happily taught over the year; this is a retreat, and a retreat is meaningless unless the idea and inspiration we receive during the retreat improves our spiritual lives and what else? What else is improvement of our spiritual life if not a more faithful imitation of Jesus and Mary? Im sure you all know the author of the Imitation of Christ, dont you? Thomas á Kempis. Scholars for years, some, have been trying to rob Thomas á Kempis of his right to the authorship of The Imitation of Christ. No, its settled. He is the author. Did you know, did you know that he also authored a book called the Imitation of Mary? Did you know that?
Synthesis of Our Faith
Were still asking ourselves why, why a Marian retreat whose focus is on Our Lady of the Rosary? Because the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary are a synthesis of our Faith. Anything we hope to do, please God, to merit His grace, to grow in sanctity, and to win souls for Heaven is somehow locked up in those fifteen mysteries. And what we will do, when as we go through the meditations of the retreat is, of course, concentrate on Marys Son, but in such a way that His Mother will, I say call it, will be a co-focus. One of my hopes during the retreat is to make clear that without Mary we cannot become followers of her Son. Devotion to His Mother is not a pious additive; it is not a religious afterthought. If we are to follow Jesus faithfully, we must do it in the company of His Mother. And even as we reflect on the teaching of Christ that should be our inspiration and on the life of Christ that should be our inspiration. We shall, correspondingly keep through all the mysteries, look simultaneously at His Mother. Marys recorded words in the Gospels are very few. Yet we believe as Catholics that Divine Revelation is not only in Sacred Scripture, it is also in Sacred Tradition. And part of that revealed Sacred Tradition is not only what Jesus said and did, it [is] also what His Mother said and did, and which has become part and parcel of authentic full-fledged Catholic Christianity.
Two Most Famous Apparitions
Were still asking ourselves, why make a Marian retreat whose emphasis is on Our Lady of the Rosary? Because the message of the two most famous apparitions of Our Lady in modern times would all but be evacuated and, need I dare say, meaningless if separate from the Rosary. Im speaking of Lourdes and Fatima. Who remembers how Our Lady appeared to Bernadette Soubirous? Remember? We should also remind ourselves did she, when she told Bernadette to recite the Rosary, did Our Lady recite the Hail Marys? No, she knew better. She did however recite the Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. And for the first time in recorded Catholic history, as a major revelation of Our Lady formerly and extensively approved by the Churchs Magisterium, had Our Lady identified herself, remember, at Fatima as Our Lady of the Rosary.
Recent Events in Eastern Europe
We are still on, why? You see Im revealing something of my own spiritual personality. Being a skeptic, before either I do anything or, in this case, want to urge other people to do something, I want to make sure they know why. Why? Because in recent events in Eastern Europe, in one country after another, the Communist governments are collapsing. Eastern Europe is not something being here, six thousand miles away; most of my blood relatives are in Eastern Europe. Over the years Ive suffered with them. Now Im hoping I can rejoice with them.
Were asking ourselves, why make this a Marian Retreat concentrating on Our Lady of the Rosary? Out of gratitude to Our Lady of the Rosary. No one who knows whats been going on in Eastern Europe since 1917, no one should have any doubts if theres a spark of Faith in that person; it is an historic moral miracle. No question about it. None of the antecedents can begin to explain what is happening on purely natural grounds. The secular magazines, the leading ones Time, Newsweek are crediting the present Pope and his great (they dont understand it, they dont believe it); it must be the present Popes great devotion to what Catholics call the Blessed Virgin Mary and his own great devotion to the Rosary. Surely, as a retreat of gratitude, but also, I would soberly add, as a retreat of supplication to Our Lady of the Rosary.
Slavery of Sexist American Mania
My driver, on the way to the airport in Detroit coming here, pulled out of his pocket a little clipping from one of the Detroit papers a news item. Playboy magazine has just started, the first issue will be in January, in formerly communist Hungary. The devil is very active. The last thing, the last thing on earth, these people liberated from communist tyranny is to be now subjected to the slavery of sexist American mania. Supplication, therefore, for the graces that Our Lady can obtain from her Divine Son to insure that the vacuum created by the fall of communism in Eastern Europe might be filled with God-fearing Christian forms of government. So much, finally, for the why.
How to Make a Retreat on Our Lady of the Rosary
Now, not so lengthily, How? After all, thats the retreat. But just a few words on how to make a retreat on Our Lady of the Rosary. Our approach in making this Marian retreat devoted to Our Lady of the Rosary is very simple. First, we will have one conference, our next one, on the History of the Rosary, to put our devotion into focus. Then well have another conference on How to Say the Rosary More Effectively. There is such a thing as re-examining our rosarian conscience, so that our rosaries which by now can have become quite routine, will once more have that efficacy before God with the Churchs now centuries of history tells us we can and should expect miracles for ourselves and for others through the recitation of the Rosary as the Church wants us to say it.
Then we shall devote one conference each, to the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary and in each conference, to a greater or lesser measure, doing these things. First, briefly explain each mystery as revealed by God and taught by the Church. The Rosary is a vocal prayer, but its not only a vocal prayer; and now I trust we are willing to admit when were saying the Rosary were saying it all right, but our minds, beginning with the mind of this speaker, can be (what mileage would I use?) thousands of miles removed on what we should be meditating. And then, in each mystery, applying the truth that God has revealed to us from the Annunciation to Marys Coronation in Heaven; applying each mystery to our daily lives, both personally and socially, so as to improve our following of Christ by praying to His Mother and obtaining, (get the prepositions) from Him, through Her the graces we and the whole rest of the world so desperately need to make our lives a living Rosary here on earth, so as to join Our Lady in Heaven where she is waiting for us, to present us to her Son. Amen. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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