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The Hail Mary option? How about “Word-by-word”?


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Kathryn Jean Lopez - published on 10/07/16

What is your favorite word of the Hail Mary?

I pray it unconsciously, the way my children grab my hand without even knowing it when we’re walking side by side. It’s a comfort to me, and I’m so blessed to have it. When I don’t have words for the desires of my heart, I always have the Hail Mary. When I’m lonely or sad or just at odds with the world, I have the Hail Mary. In the Hail Mary, I find so very many spiritual delights, not the least of which is how it leads me, irrevocably, closer to Mary’s Son.

Sarah A. Reinhard writes about the presence of the Rosary in her life, in a collection she edited called Word by Word: Slowing Down with the Hail Mary.

“What would it be like to pray the Hail Mary deliberately, carefully weighing the importance and significance of every one of the 42 words?”

October is a month that invites renewed dedication to the Rosary. How about slowing down with her? Reinhard discusses the option.

Kathryn Jean Lopez: Who needs to slow down with the Hail Mary?

Sarah A. Reinhard: Pretty much everyone I know! 

That said, I think of people like my 87-year-old grandmother, whose pace of life is so much different than mine (because her season of life is different), and I wonder. Though she’s not Catholic, I wonder if she’s slower in her prayers.

Even so, I think the concept of slowing down is one that we don’t fully appreciate. So much of our lives are instant: communication, information, travel… slowing down is a way to remind ourselves that we are human beings, not human doings.

Lopez: What if it’s impossible to slow down, period?

Reinhard: You’re describing my life right now!

If it’s 15 seconds in the bathroom, where you go to a quiet mental state, then do that. If it’s 2 minutes before you get out of bed in the morning, go with that.

I guess what I’m saying is that it’s only as impossible as you make it. Maybe instead of seeing slowing down as a destination, we need to see it as a moveable sort of metric, something that’s relative.

Lopez: What’s so special about the Hail Mary?

Reinhard: For one thing, it’s Scripture! For another thing, it’s short and easy. 

For me, the Hail Mary is a “blankie prayer,” the one I turn to when I don’t have words for the desires and worries and weights on my heart. It’s a way to turn to God through His mother, and I find great comfort in that.

Lopez: Do you get asked “why do Catholics worship Mary” questions? How do you tend to respond?

Reinhard: I have been asked that a time or two, though not like that. Most of the people who know me well and ask it seem to phrase it as, “I don’t get the whole Mary thing” or, “What’s with Mary?” They see that it’s just a normal part of my life and I think they’re curious, more than anything.

I’ve heard it from Catholics and non-Catholics, and for me, the response is to say something to the effect of, “Well, she’s Jesus’ mom and he loved her. When I have trouble approaching Jesus, I think of Mary as a girlfriend in heaven.”

The response I give stems from the conversation I’m having with the person and it always seems to be in the context of a conversation.

Lopez: Is the Rosary essential to the life of a Catholic?

Reinhard: Inasmuch as its prayer that draws us closer to God, absolutely! None of us have to pray the Rosary, and nowhere are we told, as Catholics, that we are required to pray it.

Whenever I make the time to pray the Rosary, I always find myself blessed. It’s never a lightning bolt experience, but the long-tail effect is one of peace and trust in God and His will for my life. I feel closer to Jesus after spending time contemplating His life, however imperfectly I do it.

That said, I fail. All. The. Time. I haven’t prayed a daily Rosary in way too long…

Read more: John Paul II and the Protective Power of the Family Rosary

Lopez: Even if you pray it quickly, the Rosary does take time. What’s your chief pitch for making the time?

Reinhard: You make time to shower each day, right? Or to have lunch with a dear friend or family member? Or to listen to a loved one when they need an ear?

Making time for God is just as essential, and your soul will be better for it.

Lopez: How does Mary’s fullness of grace overflow to us, as one writer in the book puts it? Have you seen it happen?

Reinhard: I’ll be honest, I can’t describe it. I’m a newbie in the spiritual life and this astounds me. The whole book, to be honest, shocks me and requires me to realign myself every time I revisit any of the reflections.

Lopez: Did authors laugh when you approached them about writing reflections on words like “the” and “is”?

Reinhard: Yes, they did. They were all very gracious, though, and I give all the credit (and blame!) to the Holy Spirit. Assigning was completely random, on the basis of when they replied to my email about it.

Lopez: What’s your favorite word of the Hail Mary?

Reinhard: Today, it’s “Mother.”

I’m feeling very overwhelmed and blessed by my vocation as a mother, in need of some mothering myself, and always glad to have Mary to turn to. That word, Mother, makes me think of all the women who mother me, whether they intend to or not, and how their spiritual motherhood of me keeps me growing in my spiritual life.

It also makes me appreciate that hey! I’m a mom myself! And it’s hard!

Lopez: How does Mary guide you daily?

Reinhard: There are many days when I wish she would just show up and give me a list. That would be easier. And also much more satisfying. As it is, I have to rely on the fact that the Hail Mary is my go-to prayer and that by turning to it, whether right after I see my overflowing sink or my out-of-control inbox or hear the kids leaping off the couch or of a family member’s illness, she is walking with me. I can only hope that I feel her little nudges and that the end result of each day is slightly better as a result of my following her gentle tugs and suggestions.

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