It's almost twenty-two years since I first tried to pray the rosary. Since then I've had a lot of them; some break, some get given away, others go missing. Still others that seem extra special for some reason or other get hidden away before they break. I tend to identify them with where they came from, who gave them to me, or who blessed them.
Right now I have a few in use: There's a sturdy and plain regular rosary that I got at Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré. It always makes me think of the priest at the blessing booth whom I made switch to French after he started the blessing in English. There's the one-decade one I use on my habit sometimes, blessed by one of a group of Irish Capuchins I ran into in Assisi on the feast of the Portiuncula in 2007. There's the Franciscan Crown--which sure has lasted a long time--given to me by old Sr. Ida who worked the front desk at the former St. Francis Chapel & City Ministry Center (now a Hampton Inn & Suites) where I spent half a novitiate in the OFM back in the summer and fall of 1995. The links and chain used to be the color of stainless steel, but have since turned a sort of bronze color. I don't know if that's something natural or a miracle, but I remember that I first noticed it while waiting for the Green Line after a visit to St. Clement's in Boston. When I've thought of that in recent days, I remember to pray around all the suffering and loss that neighborhood saw last month.
Then there's the rosary that got me into the reflection of this post. It's a small one of cord and beads of soft wood. I came to have it towards the end of the month I spent in Assisi when I first moved to Italy last year. There were student friars at the friary where I was and they had the chance, at the end of their semester, to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The morning after they returned,one of them asked me to come to his room. There he had a big pile of various religious articles he had acquired in the Holy Land and he asked me to bless them before he started to give them as gifts. So we prayed together and I blessed them. Later on, at dinner, the brother made a little solemn procession around the refectory, giving each friar a rosary. So I ended up with a rosary that I had blessed myself. Such a thing felt weird to me, so I put it away and never used it.
But when I moved here to the curia it happened to be the beginning of October, one of the months during which the brothers pray the rosary in common each day. So I was looking for a rosary to leave at my little place in chapel. Because it's a particularly quiet, clang-free rosary, the self-blessed gift rosary seemed just right for the crowded chapel. I still felt funny about using a rosary that I had blessed myself, but I started to use it anyway. But then I stopped feeling funny about it when praying with the little rosary I had blessed myself led me into some helpful reflections on my priesthood.
Basically, that it's not about me, if by 'me' I mean any sense of myself apart from the person that God created and God knows and with whom I am too little acquainted, so attached as I still am to the 'Charles' who was drowned in baptism back on August 29, 1992 at little Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Quaker Hill, Connecticut. Unfortunately, he hasn't yet realized, much less accepted, that he's dead.
After all, the brother invited me to bless the pile of religious articles because I was a priest and because I was there, not because I was me. I was a priest, and I was there. So what if I myself blessed this rosary with which I pray? Is that blessing any less because I'm not a very devout priest? Certainly not; it is the blessing of God incarnate in the prayer of the Universal Church.
The same reflection reminds me to guard my heart against certain other temptations with regard to the priesthood. If I should turn a delightful phrase in a homily for which some authority figure in the community praises me, should I let this feed my vainglory? Such would be a sort of sacrilege, for it is God who gives me the words to preach. If certain privileges or advantages along the way have prepared me on the natural level for preaching, still less should I be proud but only reminded how little I have made of what I have been given.
On the negative side, the reflection reminds me to guard myself against temptations to think the Mass I offer is somehow less worthy, less effective, or less pleasing to God because I offer it with so little fervor and devotion and with so much distraction and attachment to sin. It is Christ's Sacrifice, made once and already perfectly, and is put into my hands only that it may be extended through the time and space of these last days. The degree to which I am more or less unworthy to offer the Sacrifice on any given day is no doubt negligible, a nothing before the goodness of God and his passionate desire for our salvation.
O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to Heaven, especially those most in need of Thy mercy. Amen.