By Bishop James Conley
At the beginning of the 13th century, the Lord called Father Dominic Guzman to preach the Gospel to the Albigensians, a sect of Christian heretics living in southern France and spreading error and confusion about the faith across Catholic Europe.
Dominic had very little success. The Albigensians had a hodgepodge of heretical beliefs and practices, much of them rooted in the idea that the material world was evil, and that the spirit needed to be liberated from the evils of the flesh. They drew support for their movement by pointing to decadence and immorality among Catholic priests and bishops.
Dominic, like many others, worked hard to correct their heresies and call them to conversion. Eventually, he realized that only priests who were sincere witnesses to humility, simplicity and authenticity of life would have success among the Albigensians. But even the witness of his own austerity did little to convert Albigensian heretics.
In 1208, Father Dominic devoted himself to intensive prayer and fasting, asking the Blessed Mother to help him preach the Gospel more effectively and compellingly. As the story goes, Our Lady miraculously appeared to Dominic, and taught him the prayers of the Rosary. She told him that the work of proclaiming the Gospel — the conversion of the Albigensians — must begin with prayer, which would help him to obtain an “abundant harvest.”
An abundant harvest did come — and it exceeded Dominic’s expectations. Less than 10 years later, he founded the community that became known as the Order of Preachers — the Dominicans, named after Dominic himself. He became a saint. And the Dominicans have preached the Gospel throughout the world, convincingly, intelligently, and by the grace of the intercession of Our Lady.
Of course, the rosary didn’t drop from thin air. Repetition in prayer is an ancient custom, one Jesus himself would have practiced. And prayerful meditation with the Our Father and the Hail Mary had begun in other forms before St. Dominic received a message from Our Lady.
But Our Blessed Mother did give St. Dominic a powerful gift — to pray, preach and teach through the Rosary.
In 1883, Pope Leo XIII wrote that “by divine inspiration and grace,” St. Dominic foresaw that the rosary “like a most powerful warlike weapon, would be the means of putting the enemy to flight, and of confounding their audacity and mad impiety. Such was indeed its result.”
The rosary sets the enemy, Satan, to flight. It asks the Mother of God to pray for us and for our endeavors. And it draws souls to Jesus Christ. Pope Leo XIII wrote that the rosary “will have the greatest effect in removing the calamities of our times,” most especially by helping souls “return to Christ… by frequent meditation on the salvation obtained for us by Him.”
When we pray the rosary, Leo wrote, “the heavenly Patroness of the human race will receive with joy these prayers and supplications and will easily obtain that the good shall grow in virtue, and that the erring should return to salvation and repent; and that God who is the avenger of crime, moved to mercy and pity may deliver Christendom and civil society from all dangers, and restore to them peace so much desired.”
The rosary is a powerful gift to the Church. And the Lord calls us to pray it today; to set the enemy, the evil one, on his heels, to foster conversion, and to build a culture of life, and a civilization of love.
On Sunday, as part of our ongoing Eucharistic Family Rosary Crusade, I invited Catholics in the Diocese of Lincoln to join me in praying the rosary around the perimeter of the University of Nebraska - Lincoln’s downtown campus in a “Husker Catholic Candle-lit Rosary.” Thousands of Catholics — by some estimates, more than 4,000 — showed up to pray the rosary. We made a ring around the campus, 2.5 miles long, to pray for our students, for our city, and for our state, and for peace in the world. I have no doubt that we will see, from those prayers, an abundant harvest.
Related slideshow: Rosary crowd estimated at 4,000
God is calling us to be missionaries — to proclaim and preach the Gospel in our own time, and in our own diocese. Without prayer, our work will bear no fruit. But with the rosary, the powerful intercession for us of the Mother of God, we can do all things, through Jesus Christ, “the way, the truth, and the life.”
I am grateful for every Catholic who prayed the rosary with us on Sunday night. In gratitude to God, I will be offering a novena of Masses for all who participated, both in Lincoln and those who prayed with us in their homes through Spirit Catholic Radio. In this month of May, Mary’s month, I invite you — and all Catholics in the Diocese of Lincoln — to continue praying the rosary, daily, for the conversion of the world, and the conversion of our own hearts.
[Editor's note: find more information about the Eucharistic Family Rosary Crusade at rosarylincoln.org.]