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Mary’s 15 Promises

Tradition tells us that the Blessed Virgin Mary made 15 promises to St. Dominic which she extends to anyone who prays the rosary. Here are her promises along with a brief explanation for both adults and children.

1. Whoever shall faithfully serve me by the recitation of the Rosary shall receive signal graces.

Explanation: What are “signal graces”? They are little signs that God will give you that you are headed in the right direction so you can make good decisions.

For children: If you pray the Rosary, God will help you make good choices when you’re not sure what to do.

2. I promise my special protection and the greatest graces to all those who shall recite the Rosary.

Explanation: Mary is a channel of God’s graces to us. She has a special place in her heart for those who pray the Rosary. They receive her special attention and protection.

For children: When you pray the Rosary, Mary promises to make an extra effort to protect you and send you special blessings.

3. The Rosary shall be a powerful armor against hell; it will destroy vice, decrease sin, and defeat heresies.

Explanation: Praying the Rosary will not take away your will. You still have the power to make your own choices, but praying the Rosary will naturally make it easier to make virtuous choices because the hold of sinful habits decreases as habits of faith increase.

For children: When you pray the Rosary, it helps you to be good. If you struggle with a certain bad habit, like lying or hitting your siblings, praying the Rosary will help you overcome these habits. Praying the Rosary is like riding around in a tank! You’ll have super strong protection against the devil!

4. The Rosary will cause virtue and good works to flourish; it will obtain for souls the abundant mercy of God; it will withdraw the hearts of men from the love of the world and its vanities, and will lift them to the desire for eternal things. Oh, that souls would sanctify themselves by this means.

Explanation: The last promise was about helping us to resist sin. This promise is about helping us to grow in virtue. We won’t just “not be bad”; we will become more holy as we increase in virtue.

For children: Praying the Rosary will help you grow in holiness, because it helps you grow in the virtues like love, honesty, wisdom, faithfulness, and courage. Which virtues do you need to grow in? Pray the Rosary! Our Lady will help you!

5. The soul which recommends itself to me by the recitation of the Rosary shall not perish.

Explanation: You won’t go to hell if you pray the Rosary. That doesn’t mean you won’t go to purgatory.

For children: If you trust in Mary by praying the Rosary, she promises you won’t go to hell. (If you are not comfortable telling your child about hell yet, you can say something like “Mary promises to help you get to heaven if you pray the Rosary and trust in her.”)

6. Whoever shall recite the Rosary devoutly, applying himself to the consideration of its sacred mysteries, shall never be conquered by misfortune. God will not chastise him in His justice; he shall not perish by an unprovided death. If he be just, he shall remain in the grace of God and become worthy of eternal life.

Explanation: When we meditate on the Mysteries while praying the Rosary, Mary ensures that we will never fall into despair about any misfortunes we experience, because she will send us the graces we need to handle them. We will all suffer on earth, but through a devotion to the Rosary, our suffering will be more bearable.

For children: If you make a habit of praying the Rosary, Mary will wrap her mantle around you like a good mother! She will help you when you are sad or having a hard time. What kind of hard times are you having right now? Are you sad about a problem with a friend? Disappointed or angry about something? Mary will make sure it’s not too much for you to handle!

7. Whoever shall have a true devotion for the Rosary shall not die without the sacraments of the Church.

Explanation: This one is pretty self-explanatory. If you have a true devotion so the rosary, then Mary will ensure you receive last rites before you die. The graces of this sacrament help you endure suffering without losing hope and faith; this sacrament also absolves you of any unconfessed sins.

For children: If you make a habit of praying the Rosary, Mary will make sure a priest anoints you with special oil to help you if ever get really sick. This is called the Anointing of the Sick. This sacrament sends you special graces that help you endure your illness and even grow in holiness through it.

8. Those who are faithful to recite the Rosary shall have during their life and at their death the light of God and the plentitude of His graces. At the moment of death, they shall participate in the merits of the saints in paradise.

Explanation: This is one of the most amazing promises. Mary is promising that if we pray the rosary faithfully, we will participate in the treasures of heaven like the saints do. This makes sense. When we make a habit of praying the rosary, our actions and our hearts become purified so that we are able to experience the light of God. Of course, that we are able to attain these merits comes only through grace and the superabundance of merits earned by Christ on the cross.

For children: Mary promises that if you pray the Rosary faithfully, you will have the light of God shining upon you and you will have many rewards in heaven like the saints.

9. I shall deliver from Purgatory those who have been devoted to the Rosary.

Explanation: AH! Remember, Mary promised in #5 that you won’t go to hell if you pray the Rosary, but you may experience purgatory either here on earth or after death. Some of us will still need some cleansing before we enter heaven even if we have generally led holy lives. However, Mary promises to “get us out” of purgatory quickly! She is our greatest Advocate.

For children: Mary promises that if you pray the Rosary, she will help you become pure and holy so that you go to heaven. People who are pretty good but who occasionally like to do bad things are not quite ready for heaven. They are ALMOST ready, but God wants all of us to be brilliantly clean so that we can enjoy heaven together. So we experience something called “Purgatory” before we go to Heaven. It’s like a washing machine getting nice clothes really clean. Mary promises that you will be washed clean really fast!

10. The faithful children of the Rosary shall merit a high degree of glory in Heaven.

Explanation: This promise makes sense in light of the Church’s teaching that “spiritual progress tends toward ever more union with Christ” (Catechism, paragraph 2014). The more holy you are, the higher will be your place in Heaven. Praying the Rosary merits us a higher place in Heaven because we will become more holy.

For children: If you pray the Rosary faithfully, you will sit very close to Jesus and his Mother in Heaven.

11. You shall obtain all you ask of me by the recitation of the Rosary.

Explanation: This isn’t like making a wish while rubbing a genie bottle, then POOF, you get your wish. Mary is our advocate and she mediates between her Son and us. She will ask Jesus for all that we ask, provided it’s good for our salvation and doesn’t violate God’s perfect will for us.

For children: When you pray the Rosary, you can ask Mary for what you need, and she will talk to her son about it. Jesus loves his mom so much that he pays attention to what she says!

12. All those who propagate the Holy Rosary shall be aided by me in their necessities.

Explanation: This means that when you tell others about the Rosary, including teaching your children to pray it, Mary will take special care to ensure you have what you need both spiritually and physically.

For children: When you share what you know about the Rosary with other people, Mary loves it! When you do this, she promises that you will have what you need to become more holy. She even promises that you will have enough food, clothing, and a home to live in. It doesn’t mean you will get all the toys you want or live in a mansion, but she will take good care of you like a loving mother.

13. I have obtained from my Divine Son that all the advocates of the Rosary shall have for intercessors the entire celestial court during their life and at the hour of death.

Explanation: The entire celestial court! Mary promises that if we encourage others to pray the Rosary, the angels in heaven will be interceding for us not only during our lives, but when we die.

For children: When you encourage other people to pray the Rosary, Mary promises that all the angels in heaven will be praying for you!

14. All who recite the Rosary are my sons and daughters, the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.

Explanation: When we recite the Rosary, we are the children of Mary, and Jesus is our brother. We are part of the Holy Family.

Children: When you pray the Rosary, Mary treats you like her very own child and Jesus becomes like your big brother. You are part of her own family!

15. Devotion to my Rosary is a great sign of predestination.

Explanation: Praying the Rosary is a SIGN that you are on you way to heaven, but of course it’s not a guarantee. You have to respond to God’s invitation and grace. Praying the rosary is a sign that you love Mary, and you are precious to her. She will ensure you have the graces you need to obtain salvation, but it’s still up to you to respond and to act in love and obedience.

Children: Praying the Rosary shows that you have a heart of Mary, and anyone who loves Mary is very special to God.

The Family Rosary: How to Start

“Give me an army saying the rosary, and I will conquer the world!”

Pope Blessed Pius IX

October is the Month of the Holy Rosary!

Yep, the Church devotes a whole month to the rosary, one of the most popular and quintessentially Catholic spiritual practices. If you have been thinking of starting a family rosary but you’re worried it just won’t work with your family, or if you are just curious about the devotion, this month I will share some tips and insights with you.

My Rosary Confession

Have you tried praying the Rosary with your kids and it didn’t go very well? Perhaps your toddler whipped the beads around her neck like a hula-hoop or your tween asked incessantly, “Why are we doing this?” Or maybe you aren’t really wild about the rosary yourself, and you can think of 100 other things you’d rather do.

I’ve been there. To be honest, I didn’t always like the rosary. In fact, for a long time I would pray the rosary with my children only because I thought it was the right thing to do since we were Catholic and all. I wanted them to have a strong Catholic identity, but I didn’t really love praying it. Too frequently I would find my mind wandering while we were praying it. “Why’s that sock underneath the t.v. stand?” What am I making for dinner?” “How many more beads to go?” “I think I have an eye infection.” My own ambivalence about the rosary helped my compassion for my squirrely but well-meaning kids who tended to do things like hang upside down off the couch while holding their prayer beads.

However, over the last few years I’ve developed a strong devotion to the rosary, and I’ve experienced personally the power and the graces that flow from praying it faithfully. I realize now that I didn’t understand it, and I certainly didn’t appreciate its history and graces. Now it’s by far my favorite devotion – without rival, and I pray it nearly every day. My passion for the rosary has affected my own children’s reception and experience of the spiritual practice.

Given my own path, I have a soft spot for parents who want to WANT to pray the rosary but feel uninspired or anxious about how to do it with their children. I’ve gained some insights into how to institute the practice of the family rosary. During this Month of the Holy Rosary, I’ll post some articles about what I’ve learned.

The Basics

For those of you who are new to the Church or who didn’t grow up with the rosary, let’s start with the very basic basics!

The rosary is a Catholic devotion which uses prayer beads and a series of prayers: the Apostles Creed, followed by the Our Father and a series of 10 Hail Marys (this is called a decade). There are 5 decades in the most commonly prayed rosary. In between each decade, you say a “Glory Be” and at the end of the 5 decades, you pray the “Hail Holy Queen”.  You pray one prayer on each bead; after each prayer, you move on to the next bead and the next prayer. Small children seem to like the rosary because they know most of the prayers and they like feeling the prayer beads.

Here is a helpful image of the beads and the prayers prayed on each:

The rosary prayers are usually paired with one of 4 Mysteries which focus on some aspect of Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and glory.  You meditate on these Mysteries while praying. So the point of praying the rosary isn’t just saying the prayers; we also meditate on these moments in salvation history.  This is why John Paul II said, “The rosary, though clearly Marian in character, is at heart a Christocentric prayer. In the sobriety of its elements, it has all the depth of the Gospel message in its entirety.” You can pray all the 4 Mysteries in one go (that would be 4 full rosaries), or you can do as most folks do an pray just one set of Mysteries a day.

The rosary has been around a LONG time. I read a fascinating book recently by Fr. Donald Calloway about the history of the rosary. The rosary as we know it (the 5-decade Dominican rosary) started with a Marian revelation to St. Dominic, but a form of the rosary had been in practice even before that. It’s believed that the laity began praying the rosary as a way to emulate the monks who prayed the Psalter each day. The laity could not read or they didn’t have access to the Psalms, but they knew the Our Father so they would pray 150 Our Fathers instead of the 150 Psalms. The beads were used as a way to keep track of their prayers. Eventually the Hail Mary was added.

But perhaps folks who have questions about the rosary are far less interested in where the prayer comes from or how it works; they are more interested in knowing why they should start at all. Many may wonder why they would say the same prayer over and over again. Isn’t that mind-numbingly boring? Suitable only for little old ladies with extra time on their hands?

Absolutely not.

First, while we do say the Hail Mary 10 times for each decade, we meditate on a different Mystery each time. We use our imagination to enter into that Mystery so that we understand it better and so that God can reveal truths to us about it.

Second, people from many backgrounds of all ages report that praying the rosary faithfully has led to many graces, transformation of character, and unexpected blessings. Many of our greatest saints, including Pope John Paul II and Padre Pio, prayed the rosary every day. Saint Francis de Sales said the rosary is the greatest and most powerful method of prayer. The rosary is a treasure to be discovered by everyone, at every age, at any time in history.

Just START

If you want to try praying the rosary with your family, just start. October 7 is the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, so perhaps you can make it a special rosary day.

Your family doesn’t have to do it perfectly or resemble a gathering of monks. Just grab a rosary and gather your children. If you imagine your children sitting like angels with hands folded together reverently with their rosaries dangling between their palms, you have probably seen one too many Catholic stock photos. You know the reality of living with HUMAN children is very different from the ideal we get into our heads sometimes. It’s okay if your kids are wiggly, ask questions in the middle of the prayers, or suddenly remember a story about your dog in between decades. This is life with children. You have to live in the moment, not in a fantasy. If you expect too much of your kids in the beginning, you may never start – and that would be a shame.

So my big message in this post is JUST START. Start where you are and where your kids are.

Resources to Get Started

If you don’t know the prayers or the format, there are many resources to help you get started.  The Rosary Center has a free on-line tutorial on how to pray the Rosary. You can try reading a reflection on the Mysteries before each decade, or, if necessary to get the boat out of the harbor, just prayer the Our Father on a single bead and 10 Hail Marys. Then have hot chocolate. This is what I did when I first started praying the rosary regularly with my kids. We would just pray 1 Our Father followed by 10 Hail Marys. Then, later, we added the reflection. Then we added a scripture reading before each decade. Then we added a prayer after the decade. After a while, we prayed TWO decades. Then THREE, etc.  Our Lady and her son treasure every prayer.

I do have some favorite books to recommend for praying the rosary with children. I like using books with illustrations for the children to ponder while praying:

A Rosary for Children (Almada). This is my all-time favorite book to use while praying with all my children, including my teens. There are some typos, but the illustrations are beautiful and the presentation is deep enough for older kids without being too difficult for younger children to understand. This book received the Imprimatur and the Nihil Obstat.

Praying the Rosary with Mary (Burrin). Small children.

A Child’s Guide to the Rosary (Fiocelli) Elementary-aged children.

Amazing Love: Rosary Meditations for Teens (Seaburg) Middle school and high school children.

Behold Your Mother: A Teen Girls’ Reflections on the Holy Rosary (Belle-Oudry) Teen girls. I just bought this for my teen daughter and it looks wonderful. I will ask for her feedback in a few weeks.

More rosary inspiration to come! Next time I’ll share the 15 promises of the Holy Rosary!

Raising Children Who Are Free

As we celebrate July 4 as a nation, I am thinking today about the meaning of “freedom.”  Most folks nowadays think that freedom means they get to do whatever they want without limits, without judgment, without boundaries, and without responsibility. In truth, this is not freedom; it’s a prison. Here is what real freedom means to me.

Freedom Is the Ability to Love

First, freedom is the ability to love generously. In fact, the more unselfishly you can love, the more free you are. Fr. Robert Spitzer explains 4 levels of human happiness in his extraordinary book Finding True Happiness:

  • First level: happiness derived from material objects and the pleasures they can provide. There’s nothing wrong with level 1 happiness, but if you spend most of your energy here, you’ll be pretty shallow. This kind of happiness is very short-lived.
  • Second level: happiness derived from achievement and comparing ourselves to others and finding we are better or more beautiful in some way. People who live mostly at this level tend to use people for their own gain, and they are not satisfied for very long because they worry that they might lose what they’ve gained.
  • Third level: happiness derived from doing good for others and making the world a better place. People who live mostly here are interested in the welfare of others. This is more robust level of happiness, but still people disappoint us at times and don’t do what we hope.
  • Fourth level: happiness derived from seeking the transcendent. They don’t want to just meet the immediate needs of other people; they see the deeper goodness in people and work for their salvation. People who live at this level have a desire for communion with God. Level four is the most perfect level of human happiness.

Fr. Spitzer explains the more you move up the levels, the more free you actually become, because you are breaking the chains of your illusions about yourself. Most people nowadays are trapped in level 1 and 2 happiness because the media and larger culture so strongly pressure them to believe that if they just have the right stuff or achieve the right accolades or live in the right house or get the right job that they will be blissfully happy.

As you begin to live more dominantly in at the 3rd and 4th levels, you become less turned in on yourself, and more open and available for love. Human beings are happy and free when they are capable of self-giving love in which they work for the good of the other, even when it means personal sacrifice (level 3).  Human beings are most happy and free when they are capable of looking for the good in the other rather than focusing on or even delighting in the bad (level 4).

The truth is, we can never really be free until we grow to a place emotionally and spiritually where we can give and receive this kind of generous love.  Holiness requires this kind of freedom. The saints display a transcendent level of freedom because of their ability to respond to God’s love with a radical self-gift and an emptying of themselves for the sake of others even when they get nothing in return, even when they are harmed in return.

I can begin to teach my kids about this kind of freedom by raising them with responsive love, by mentoring them in generosity, and by modeling self-gift in my own life. I can resist consumerism as much as possible. In the age of carefully crafted virtual self-images which are crude reflections of a person’s real self, I can teach my kids about authentic friendship and what it means to give and receive love. I can raise children who are capable of real freedom by protecting their hearts so that they are capable of real communion and connection with others. This is what intentional Catholic parenting is all about!

Freedom Is the Ability to Choose the Good, the Beautiful, and the True

Second, freedom is the ability to seek and to choose God.  God created us with a thirst for the good, the beautiful, and the true, because they light our way home to him.  We have free will, so we can choose to reject the good, the beautiful, and the true; we can choose to reject God and his love, but when we do, we will remain fractured and incomplete. We miss the mark, and we will never be truly happy and at peace.

I want my kids to know this, even if means I have to teach them lessons that would be considered politically incorrect, unpopular, and even strange. I can teach them that something is “good” to the extent that it acts in a manner that reflects its true nature and purpose. If we teach our children the basic Christian virtues in a home filled with warmth and love, they will understand what it means to be a good human being. The Christian virtues help us understand our purpose and to act according to our natures.

The world does not believe this. The world tells us that “nature” and “purpose” are unstable and evolving, so we are free to decide what they mean to us. A suggestion otherwise is presented as unjust and oppressive to the dignity of this or that person or group. I want my kids to understand that while we can make some choices about our lives and how we express our identity, human dignity is grounded in the identity God gave us, not in some identity we whip up like a milkshake. When we try to live in a way that violates our purpose, our nature, and the identity God gave us, inevitably we “under-live” – we remain mere whispers of what we could be and what we really are.

As I explained to one of my teenagers recently, human beings are not squirrels; human beings and squirrels have different natures and different purposes. If I decided to go live in a tree, gnaw on wood to sharpen my teeth, and collect nuts all day, my actions would not be “good” because I would be acting against my nature and my purpose. Even if I felt strongly drawn to gnaw on wood and live in the tree, I would need a therapist and the support of my family. I would not need a parade encouraging and celebrating my confusion. Similarly, if a squirrel spent its day eating laundry detergent instead of nuts, we would recognize this behavior was very bad for the squirrel because it contradicts its nature and it will harm the squirrel in the long run. Even if the squirrel was born with a taste for laundry detergent, we would discourage this behavior.

Obviously what I’m saying here applies to many discussions, but in particular to the nature and purpose of marriage, and what it means to be a woman or a man. Our children are being bombarded by LGBT propaganda; it’s a topic we can’t ignore for long. I can teach my older kids that men and women have different natures even though they are equally valuable. Despite what The Tyranny of Hurt Feelings (otherwise known as Ivy League faculty) might say, if you are a boy you cannot choose to be girl any more than you can choose to be a squirrel; a man cannot marry a man because it violates the purpose of marriage and sexuality, and pretending that they are married is therefore damaging to to the dignity of both men involved just like gnawing on wood all day would damage my dignity even if I loved to do it.

To help them become free, I can also teach my children about the meaning of real beauty and the way it reflects God’s great love and benevolence. As a family, we can appreciate God’s creation together, and wonder at the music and art created by gifted men and women. We can talk about why we find some things very beautiful, other things less beautiful even if they hold some value, and still other things downright ugly.  For my older kids, it’s important that I help them understand that real beauty has nothing to do with the over-sexualized images they see in the media and which degrade women and men alike

I can teach them about truth by, first of all, confirming for them that objective truth actually exists! By using their power of reason, they can understand that truth is not relative; it is not dependent on their feelings, moods, or inclinations. I can teach them about the truth by catechizing them well, and by showing them how the searching part of them that asks questions and wants to understand the world was placed there by God, and as long as they seek him and the truth in good faith, he will not let them down.

This is probably crazy talk in our culture. Sometimes reality looks crazy, the truth sounds strange, and the beautiful becomes overshadowed by the blinding lights of idiocy.  But this is freedom nonetheless, and it’s what I want for my children, for you, and for this country that I love.

Explaining Lenten Sacrifices to Kids

When I returned to the Church many years ago, I had very gloomy image of Lent.  In particular, I perceived Lenten sacrifices as something very negative, something to dread. I am grateful that my spiritual director helped me understand Lenten sacrifices in a relational way.  This was a huge game changer for me.

He explained that quite often our attachments to things or behaviors are getting in the way of our relationship with others, including God. So we make a special effort during Lent to put aside these attachments so they don’t distract us from caring for ourselves and our relationships.  This dying to the self is a practice that we will continue for our entire lives, but Lent is a good time for a special “house cleaning”; we can pause and really look at where we are with God.

Of course, Lenten sacrifices are also a means to charitable giving.  Traditionally, Christians abstained from meat during Lent partly so that they could use the money they saved on meat to give to the poor, to those who couldn’t afford meat.  I think we’ve lost this original meaning in Catholic culture, so that others see us as a self-punishing, masochistic bunch.

So over the years and across many Lents, with my own kids I try to remind them of this deeper meaning of Lenten sacrifices.We sacrifice things that are hurting our relationships or are preventing us from growing closer to God, and we can also use the money we save on desserts or toys to meet a need in our community.

If our kids are too young to understand this concept, I wonder why we are encouraging them to give up desserts or their toys.  My concern: If our primary explanation to our kids for Lenten sacrifices goes something like “Jesus suffered, so we want to suffer with him,” I wonder if we are sending an unfortunate message to them. Are we saying that Jesus wants them to suffer because he suffered? I think I had this impression as a child and as a young woman and that is why my first Lent after returning to the Church was not liberating in the way it is for some folks.

While identifying with the suffering Jesus is a spiritual goal for all Christians, I am wondering whether framing Lenten sacrifices as the seeking of solidarity with the suffering Jesus is the best place to start with small children. Some of you will disagree with me here, and I welcome your opinions (but please be polite . . .).  But as I consider my own spiritual life I can see that I, even as a grown-up, am still moving to that place spiritually where I want to identify fully with the suffering Christ. That is at the top of the spiritual maturity ladder and I’m nowhere near that.

One of my goals as the spiritual director of my kids is to help them love Jesus more, to draw closer to him, to want to know him as a real person who cares about them. Yes, I hope they eventually love Jesus enough to die for him on their own cross, but they are still young. I think that first I need to lead them to love God and to recognize that he loves them so much he continually invites them into friendship. I don’t want them to think they need to seek out pain in order to be a good Christian, because right now I don’t think the pain will make them love Jesus more.  Actually that seems kind of messed up to me.

The fact is, life brings with it suffering. Ordinary life gives me plenty of opportunity to teach my kids about offering their sufferings to God. I don’t want them to seek out suffering or to think in some way that they need to want suffering in order to be a good Christian.

Perhaps I can do with my own little directees as my spiritual director did with me when I returned to the Church: I can talk to them about the things in their lives that are making it harder for them to love themselves, other people, and God. I can lead them in love, with gentleness, to practice little sacrifices in these areas. But I would still want to teach this in the context of their growing affection for Jesus.