A year and a half ago, I started taking long walks every day with my dog, Benny. (The other German shepherd, Pongo, does not like walks because she wants to stay close to the children. Benny is attached to me.) I needed to exercise to lose the weight I had gained after the fifth miscarriage. So while the walks were glorious, the reason for needing to do it was somber.
I also decided to use that time to pray more regularly, and I began each walk with the Rosary. The Glorious Mysteries lifted me. The Joyful Mysteries cheered me. The Luminous Mysteries enlightened me. But I dreaded Tuesdays and Fridays. I found I could pray the Agony in the Garden decade without much trouble, but when I started praying the Scourging at the Pillar, I could hardly think of the beatings so violently spilling blood from the body of Christ. My mind wandered. I rushed through the prayers. Okay, on the third Hail Mary, whew, now to the fourth, fifth, sixth, almost done… I felt like if I tried too hard to think of it, I would in some way be causing it, which of course, is kind of the point. I could not face the humiliation of the Crowning with the Thorns, the burden of the Carrying of the Cross, and by the Crucifixion of Our Lord, I was just glad to be almost done so I could get on with my walk, the prayers behind me, the happier mysteries awaiting me. I feared acknowledging real sorrow.
I had to make myself slow down and pray attentively. Every Tuesday and Friday, I faced the Sorrowful Mysteries, even though I did not want to. And then one day, I realized I had gone too far. Because the Crucifixion had become so familiar, I prayed it without much emotion one way or the other. I had become numb—numb like the way you become numb from watching too many horror films. I remember thinking, This isn’t what a closer relationship with Christ is supposed to mean.
The thing about regular prayer is that you are forced to work through these thoughts honestly. I realized this Good Friday when we attended the Stations of the Cross and watched The Passion of the Christ, that “numb” is not the right word. It is a closeness, an insight, an acceptance. Prayer has allowed me to become more familiar with life itself, more attuned to the gift of each day. I started praying for all my children after each Rosary, the ones I have raised, their spouses and my grandchildren, the ones I am still raising, my Godson, my students, my friends. I include in that list the babies I never held, and now I have formed a daily relationship with them. I pray for them like I pray for the others.
I find that I am not as horrified by the Sorrowful Mysteries as I once was because my faith has matured. I am not as horrified by death and suffering because I have deeply accepted that Christ is our Hero.
Funny how that works, isn’t it? When people ask me how a scientist can become a person of faith, THIS is stuff I want to tell them. I understood things about life that I could not see before. I tested the truths of faith in the laboratory of my life, even when it was hard and even when I did not understand, and found them to be true.
I became Catholic precisely because I experimented and arrived at a sound—a Glorious, a Joyful, a Luminous, and yes, even a Sorrowful—conclusion. Praying the Rosary daily is like experiencing Christmas and Easter over and over again, and the gift is everlasting life. Am I am deadened to Christmas and Easter? Oh no! I am more intensely living through them all year long. I feel like I know how to live.