“Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.”
A few days before I decided to learn to pray the Rosary, I found out that a long-time family friend (really, more like a family member) had recently opened up about her battle with what had become stage four cancer. She had been feeling sick for awhile, and had ignored it until she couldn’t ignore it anymore. When she found out about her illness, she decided to keep it a secret. Because of this, I was in complete shock when I learned of her illness and of how serious it was. Let’s give her a name. We’ll call her Alice.
Alice and I have never talked about it, but we have something in common. She struggled for years with infertility before finally achieving pregnancy and delivering her two children. When a family member of mine discovered that I have been dealing with infertility for the past four years, she suggested that I reach out to Alice. Of course, this suggestion was made before any of us knew about Alice’s struggle with cancer. I thought about reaching out to Alice, but I decided against it. I am an emotionally reserved person and I have trouble reaching out about things like this. Once I found out about Alice’s cancer, the door on any slim chance that I might reach out to her was certainly closed. She had enough to deal with, I wouldn’t dare complain to her about my problems. Besides, I would not have had any time to reach out to her before cancer would take her life.
Alice died the day after I prayed the Rosary for the first time. I was on vacation, visiting friends, when she died and I was already struggling through an extremely difficult two week wait. Her death hit unexpectedly hard. We had barely gotten time to get used to the idea that she was sick, let alone that she had died. Mostly, I felt for her husband. I don’t think I have ever seen a couple more in love than the two of them. Perhaps the worst part for me, was that I started my menstrual cycle on the day of her funeral. During her funeral, people talked about her life and celebrated her positive and encouraging personality, and I couldn’t help but wonder how she had gotten through a decade of infertility, and what she would have said to me if I had been bold enough to reach out to her while she was still among us.
I felt guilty for mentally making Alice’s funeral all about my infertility, yet I couldn’t help but to regret not having reached out to her while she was alive and well. If she had known that I am going through this, she would have certainly wanted to help mentor me through it. But there I stood, staring at her casket, never to be a recipient of the wisdom she’d gained from her experiences.
As I stood in the shower that evening, I felt frustrated about her death, frustrated about my unsuccessful cycle, and frustrated about my missed opportunity to gain wisdom from someone who has been here. I randomly blurted out, “Alice, how did you do this!? Pray for me, please.”
I have to admit, I was taken aback by my words and by how naturally they had slipped out. ‘What are you talking about, Elisabeth?’ I thought. ‘She can’t hear you.’ But suddenly the words from the Hail Mary I’d recited earlier that week crossed my mind, “Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.”
Because I had known Alice in my lifetime, I was able to speak to her with ease. There was a familiarity I felt for Alice that was impossible for me to feel for Mary during my first time praying a Rosary. But both Alice and Mary are alive in Christ. Aside from the status of being Jesus’ mother, how was the concept of talking to Mary any different from the concept of talking to Alice? Or, aside from having been canonized, how would the concept of talking to Alice have been different from the concept of talking to any other (physically) dead saint? There isn’t any difference at all.
This doesn’t mean that I’m going to start making a habit of praying to saints – or even to Mary – at anytime in the near or predictable future. But I think, as a direct result of my curiosity about praying the Rosary, I was able to have an experience that shed a more personal light on the idea of having a patron saint and on the idea of praying to saints. I can look at this portion of the Hail Mary with a bit more understanding.
Stay tuned to hear more about my experiences with the five mysteries of that day, and about my first time encountering the Fatima Prayer!