She was just a waif of a woman, my grandmother. Lying in a hospital bed after a long illness, brought upon by years of smoking. She waited for the end. When we arrived at the hospital, the nurses were preparing another painful blood-gas test, although there was not much she could do to complain about it. Her big brown eyes were dim, and she just stared off like she was waiting for someone or something.
My step-mother was on the phone with one of her prayer-chain church ladies, saying something about how happy she was that her mom had been ‘saved’ before it was too late. My step-mother was a ‘born-again’ Christian and fallen away Catholic; she had a hard time with the church after getting a divorce as a young mother. The fact that her mom was an old, New York Italian Catholic didn’t seem to factor too much in her evaluation of eternal life. I had been raised in a conservative, non-denominational Christian church, and only knew of Catholicism what my step-mother had imparted.
We had only been married a couple of months when we moved back to my hometown, seven hundred miles away from my wife’s family. A strange part of the country, new places and faces, and a dying grandmother were all thrust upon my wife immediately upon our arrival. Diligently, she fought off the nurses and their unnecessary painful tests, made sure that MeMaw had any and every comfort available, and sat for hours holding her hand, stroking her hair, and whispering in her ear. She did this every time we visited. Her dim brown eyes began to have some shine to them – not a healing shine, but a peaceful gleam – an easiness, if you will. It was as if she was finally ready to accept that something – or someone – that she had been searching for.
After she passed away, my wife and I talked about the ordeal and I told her I noticed how much different MeMaw was every time we visited. There was a tangible peacefulness to her, which I attributed to the comfort and care my wife gave her. She said, “No, it was more than that. Every chance I had, I prayed the Rosary for her. I knew she was raised Catholic and that she was longing for something more – something familiar and comforting. Just being ‘saved’ was not enough to give her the peace she needed to let go of this world and head off to Heaven with our Lord.” At the time, I didn’t really understand what the Rosary was, but I saw it completely transform a sick and afraid little dying woman.
I struggle in my life because I know that I am not the man, husband, or father that God wants me to be. For too long I have put off the pursuit of a personal relationship with Christ, and I have lost my way. My eyes often stare out aimlessly, waiting for something or someone to come along and give me the peace I need to become whole. The other night, we continued our Lenten practice of praying the Rosary as a family. Too often I approach this time as an obligation and fail to realize just how powerful prayer can really be. My heart is not always open to receiving the Lord’s grace despite my desire to complete my conversion. But something was different that night.
Suddenly, this memory of my dying grandmother came flooding into my mind – the soothing repetitive nature of the Hail Mary’s. At that very moment I felt the peace it brought her in those final days. Each Mystery, as spoken by my 9 year old daughter, had a deeper meaning than just the stories I learned as a child. It was then I realized what I was missing and why I had no peace in my life. I don’t pray with any real purpose. A passing plea for help or strength or a word of thanks now and then is all prayer had been to me. But this Rosary is an amazing tool, a pathway to peacefulness and closeness with God. It is lighting my path for conversion!
Most of you probably pray every day already and know the power of speaking with God. But I urge each of you, new converts and cradle Catholics: pray the Rosary often, let it soothe your mind and open your heart so that you too can be closer to God. If you can, pray it aloud with your family; I promise, it will open the heart of a loved one. It might even open yours.