THE HOLY ROSARY – A TRULY THERAPEUTIC
AND RE-INVIGORATING PRAYER
“The holy Rosary is a powerful weapon.
Use it with confidence and
you will be amazed at the results.”
– St. Josemaria Escriva
The saintly Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said: “The Holy Rosary is the best therapy for those who are distraught, unhappy, fearful, and frustrated, precisely because it involves the simultaneous use of three powers – the physical, the vocal, and the spiritual.”
Archbishop Sheen is absolutely right, and I say this at the age of 75 – ten years in the Seminary, and 50 in the priestly and pastoral ministry. Time and again, I have had to confront extremely complex situations, to which, from the human standpoint, there was no rational explanation or handy solution. As a matter of fact, some of them literally defied imagination, comprehension and resolution. The result was a crippling sense of helplessness, nagging frustration, and overwhelming fear. For me, as St. John of the Cross aptly said, “those were my dark nights of the soul – both literally and figuratively.”
Invariably I would return to the Gospels and especially to the Annunciation, at which Mary was informed of her Virgin Birth. So firm and unshakeable was her commitment to God, that Mary would never entertain the slightest temptation to offend him. She is “our tainted nature’s solitary boast.”
Justifiably perturbed, she literally pleaded, “How is this possible, as I am a virgin?” A grave compromise on her personal commitment to God and to her intended spouse, Joseph, was tantamount to a betrayal that would haunt her for the rest of her life. Quick as a shot and to allay her legitimate fear, the angel replied, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.”
And, then, to set her mind at rest and to ensure that this was no hallucination or illusion, the divine messenger added: “The Holy Spirit will come upon, and the power of the most you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called the Son of God.”
And, as a final and reassuring confirmation, the angel said: “And now, you relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible to God.” With that, Mary needed no further assurance. With trustful faith and unshakeable confidence Mary replied, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.” (Lk. 1:26-38)
With a similar trust and filial confidence, I turned to God in prayer through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Rosary – a simple but very powerful prayer. And the results astounded me – the seemingly impossible became a startling and marvelous reality, engendering intense peace, indescribable joy and a re-invigorating reassurance. In the words of a Spanish proverb: “Only God can write straight on crooked lines.” The three therapeutic powers – the physical, the vocal, and the spiritual – unfailingly converged and led to what can best be described as “a recurring and astounding miracle.” And the Blessed Virgin Mary rendered it possible! She never fails!
1. The Rosary gives me Peace. Said Pope St. Pius X: “The Rosary is a simple but powerful prayer…it is the prayer that touches most the Heart of the Mother of God…If you wish for peace to reign in your homes, recite the Family Rosary.”
2. The Rosary renews my Faith. Said our Blessed Lady to St. Dominic: “The Rosary will cause virtue and good works to flourish; it will obtain for souls the abundant mercy of God; it will withdraw the hearts of men from the love of the world and its vanities and will lift them to the desire for eternal things.”
3. The Rosary helps me combat sin. No human being is immune to temptations – after all, to err is human, to forgive divine. Not only does Mary help me combat sin, but she provides me with the drive to pursue personal holiness. “You must be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt.5:48) That is the ideal to which every human being should aspire, and Mary enables us to make it a progressive reality. This was her promise: “The Rosary shall be a powerful armour against Hell; it will destroy vice, decrease sin, and defeat heresies.”
4. The Rosary draws me closer to the Sacraments – the channels of God’s all-powerful grace and heavenly power. This is best demonstrated in the life of Venerable Matt Talbot (2nd May, 1856 – 7th June, 1925).
One of the most memorable and inspiring stories that I have ever read is that of the Venerable Matt Talbot, whose life is the spiritual and metaphorical equivalent of one who resolutely and marvellously rose from earthly rags to unearthly riches. If, as one spiritual author has so rightly remarked, every saint has had a past, then every sinner has a future. And of this Venerable Matt Talbot is an outstanding example.
Matt was the second of twelve children born to Charles and Elizabeth Talbot. Charles, the head of the family, was a heavy drinker and recklessly squandered his meagre earnings as would most of his sons later.
At the early age of 12, Matt went to work in a wine merchant’s store, where he began by “sampling the wines.” The seeds of an addiction had been planted. Next he shifted to a Whiskey Store and before long he was a confirmed alcoholic. Like his father, Matt frequented pubs in the city with his brothers and friends, recklessly spending all his wages and even running up debts. The obsession with alcohol became so very compulsive, that he once stole a fiddle from a street entertainer and sold it in order to buy himself alcohol.
Not much later he was penniless. Swallowing his pride, he would wait outside a pub in the hope that somebody would invite him in for a drink. Several of his fair-weather friends ignored him. Said Francis Bacon, “The worst solitude is to be destitute of sincere friendship.” That, for the abandoned and lonely addict, was the proverbial last straw that broke the camel’s back. He had hit rock bottom, and, in God’s Providence, there was only way up and out, and Matt resolutely decided to take it.
Returning home, a very penitent and determined son informed his mother that he was going to “take the pledge” to renounce alcohol. Walking into the Chapel of Holy Cross College, Clonliffe, Matt took the pledge for three months, thereafter for six months, and finally for life. The prodigal son had returned home never to depart. Having consumed alcohol excessively for 16 years, Matt Talbot maintained sobriety for the next 40 years until the day he returned to God.
Where did he find the strength to maintain his resolute determination? From personal prayer and participation in the Holy Eucharist every day. It is reported that on one occasion, the devout Matt was approaching the rails for Holy Communion, when he felt himself held back by some invisible hand. No matter how hard he tried, that invisible force held him back. The evil one was certainly losing his hold and just could not match God’s invincible power. Undeterred Matt Talbot tried another church and would not desist until he was once more able to receive our Eucharistic Lord and so enjoy the supernatural help that he needed to attain sobriety. Very scrupulously he repaid all his debts. He even searched for the fiddler whose instrument he had stolen and sold. Unfortunately, he could not be traced. And so, Matt gave the money to a priest and requested him to offer the Mass for the fiddler.
Despite his addiction, Matt Talbot was an industrious and conscientious worker. When working for a building contractor, his work-rate was so good that he would be placed first on the line so as to set the pace. Later when working in a timber yard, he would of his own accord deliberately opt for the least appealing and hardest jobs. To his bosses he was respectful but not obsequious, even standing up to them in defence of his oppressed but defenceless colleagues. On one occasion, Matt was constrained to join a strike. When he resumed he refused to accept the pay, only because he had not earned it, and recommended that it be distributed among the other strikers.
Although poor himself, he gave unstintingly to neighbours and fellow-workers, to charitable institutions and to the church. After his mother’s death in 1915, Matt lived in a small flat with very little furniture, a plank bed and a piece of timber for a pillow. He rose each morning at five so as to participate in the Mass before proceeding to work. While at work, he would, when possible, seek a quiet place in order to pray. And on Sundays he would attend several Masses as a mark of his personal devotion and total reliance on God’s supernatural grace.
On Sunday, 7th June, 1925, Matt Talbot was on his way to Mass, when he collapsed and died of a sudden and massive heart attack. Sadly no one was able to identify him, so that his body was taken to the Jervis Street Hospital. There, when undressed, the hospital staff was astounded to see a heavy chain wound around his waist, with more chains around an arm and a leg, and cords around the other arm and leg. These penitential and ascetic practices the repentant Matt Talbot adopted at the direction of his spiritual guide, Dr. Michael Hickey, Professor of Philosophy in Clonliffe College. Four days later, on 11th June, 1925, Matt Talbot was laid to rest in Glasnevin Cemetery in the presence of a large number of sympathetic mourners and silent admirers.
So profound was the impact of the life of Matt Talbot that, soon after his death, he became an icon for Ireland’s temperance movement – the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association. American Catholics have listed him as the Patron Saint of Alcoholics. Today countless addiction clinics, youth hostels, and other institutions have been named after him. Even one of Dublin’s main bridges has been named after him. So very impressive was the life and impact of this admirable man that Pope John Paul II studied his life closely and wrote a paper on him.
On 6th November, 1931, Archbishop Byrne of Dublin opened a sworn inquiry into the alleged claims to holiness of the former dock worker and alcoholic. The Apostolic Process, the official sworn inquiry at the Vatican, began in 1947. On 3rd October, 1975, Pope Paul VI declared him to be Venerable Matt Talbot, which is a step on the road to canonisation, a process which needs two authentic and proven miracles in order to be successful.
Talbot’s remains were removed from Glasnevin Cemetery to Our Lady of Lourdes Churc on Sean McDermott Street, Dublin, in 1972. The tomb has a glass panel through which the coffin may be seen.
A Spanish proverb runs as follows: “God is the only one who can write straight on crooked lines.” In other words, the ways of God are mysterious, but unfailingly and invariably marvellous. And of this Matt Talbot is irrefutable proof. “What is impossible to man is possible to God.”
“I believe in the sun even when it is not shining.
I believe in love where feeling is not.
I believe in God even if he is silent.”
(Words roughly etched on the wall of a basement hide-out
by a victim of the Holocaust)