“Wow!” my friend exclaimed. “The family rosary every night! I'm so impressed. Wish I could get my kids to go along with something like that, but we're just not pious enough.”
My friend was undoubtedly visualizing a lovely scene of seven children, plus parents, rushing eagerly to pray each evening. She could see the kneeling figures. She could hear devout voices softly murmuring the Hail Marys, right down to the tender babe cradled in Mother's arms.
I had to burst that pretty bubble, because that's not how it is in our family. I also assured her that parents don't have to be living saints to launch and sustain the daily family rosary.
Gluttons for punishment, maybe.
On a typical evening in our house, Mom and Dad wander from room to room calling “rosary time!” as 9 p.m. approaches. Three or four people drift into the living room to wait for the other kids.
After five minutes, one or two more meander in, but only in time for one of the earlier arrivals to feel the need for the bathroom. Then another leaves to make a quick phone call. One more family member enters, but someone else goes to get a glass of water.
Bathroom user returns, but two others, tired of waiting for phone-user and yet-to-arrive sibling, decide to make use of the waiting time by dashing upstairs to get into pajamas. Last child arrives in living room, and wonders aloud why she was being shouted at to hurry up when three other people aren't even here!
The whole situation resembles one of those math problems where water flows into the tub at one rate and out at another. And Mom has the same hopeless feeling now as she did back in eighth-grade arithmetic.
At last, everyone really is in the living room, and the rosary begins.
After we all recite the Creed, 5-year-old Katherine leads the Our Father and three Hail Marys. But tonight she insists on saying a fourth Hail Mary, resisting appeals to reason (“There's only three beads there”) and authority (“Don't you want to be obedient?”). Since a major sulking fit is looming, we let her say a fourth Hail Mary.
First decade: Things go pretty well. But after a while the tender babe is no longer content to be cradled in Mother's arms. He slips away, and it's time for another segment of “The Baby Show.”
Second decade: Baby staggers about the room, makes strangling noises in his throat, then collapses on the floor. (He'd watched his big brothers play gun fight this afternoon.) This action is repeated seven times.
Third decade: Baby decides he requires more audience participation than the poorly suppressed laughter he's provoked so far. He climbs furniture and takes flying leaps onto each family member in turn, with the goal of knocking someone over.
Fourth decade: Let's see, how do we distract baby from murderous rampage? Let's give him his own rosary to play with — that nice, child-safe, wooden one! ... Oops! Bad idea. He's using it like a whip to beat his siblings. OK, baby, time for bed.
Fifth decade: Mom returns from putting baby to bed. Several children are now in decidedly unprayerful postures. At this point, Mom doesn't much care, but one older sibling, a.k.a. Mother Hen, is turning around and glaring at each offender. Offenders glare back.
Our closing hymn is “Where Charity and Love Prevail.”
Another family rosary comes to an end. Devout children stampede from living room.
Is Christ praised and our Lady honored by family rosaries like this?
I've often wondered, and always conclude, yes. After all, we've set aside this time for Jesus and Mary. That must count for something.
Second, my husband and I have been practicing the virtue of fortitude by doing this year in and year out. (The kids, too, to the extent that they cooperate willingly.)
Third, praying a well-meditated rosary is difficult under any circumstances. I've been just as inattentive when saying it alone as when saying it with the family. But every now and then I do manage to think deeply about those mysteries. (The kids tell me that this happens to them, too!)
Best of all, we've learned that prayer isn't just an airy “spiritual experience” to be achieved in the ambiance of a silent chapel, but an essential part of the nitty-gritty stuff of daily living.
Daria Sockey, a mother of seven, is a home educator and free-lance author based in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.