London is a city in Southwestern Ontario, Canada along the Quebec City–Windsor/Detroit Corridor. This is my home town. My parents are both devoutly Roman Catholic with a deep devotion to Mary, so my brother and I were both Consecrated to Mary at our Baptisms and we grew up praying the rosary.
My name is Peter and this is how praying the rosary changed my life.
A Common Starting Place
Most Catholics I know have almost the exact same intro.
Do these sound familiar:
- I was born and raised Catholic…
- Both my parents were Catholic, so…
- We went to church every Sunday…
If this sounds familiar, GOOD! That means I can skip to the good part.
Behold Thy Mother
Not a cloud in the sky. Not too hot, not too cold, not too humid; perfect. Church bells tolling call the Faithful to worship. There’s more people than usual flocking to St. Mary’s.
It’s First Communion day!
Hair neatly parted on the left, rosary beads in hand, wearing my best dark blue blazer, the smell of incense filling the air. Fr. Lui had prepared us well over the previous months and now we were going to receive Our Lord.
Like most other important events in my life, the excitement and nervousness of the day have blurred most of my detailed memories.
But not all of them.
First Communion gifts are plentiful in number and extremely varied in kind. Fr. Lui gave to me a heavy cast iron statue of La Pieta; my first introduction to Our Lady of Sorrows.
From then on, I have made a place for Her in my home.
Our Lady of Perpetual Help
Skip forward a decade or so.
It was after high school. I lived in Toronto all on my own at 17, and I didn’t know anyone. Living in the basement of an elderly Ukrainian lady near the intersection of Bathurst and Steeles in North York. The room was tiny, it smelled funny, and it flooded when it rained…and it rained a lot: my first taste of real loneliness.
But here’s the kicker:
These are the times when Our Lord wants you ALL to Himself.
The parish I attended was St. Paschal Baylon; another Italian parish. Every Thursday, I discovered, they prayed the rosary in honour of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. At first, I would attend because I didn’t have anywhere else to be (I didn’t know anyone), and I was a familiar comfort to pray the rosary with a group of old ladies. Then, I began to love it as my own devotion.
There was also a Perpetual Adoration chapel at the rear of the church! I had found my hangout. I was there every chance I could get.
It was at that time that I began to take my Faith seriously.
I prayed my first Rosary Novena to Our Lady of Perpetual Help asking her to lead me to the woman who would be my wife. I also enlisted the help of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, asking for her customary signal roses: red for Yes, white for No.
It didn’t work.
At least, not in the way I had planned.
On the ninth day, kneeling before the statue of Our Lady, clenching my rosary and praying with all my teenaged might, I waited for a sign.
…the sacristan calmly walked in carrying a freshly prepared bouquet of flowers to place before Our Lady. It was an assortment of various white flowers, and right in the middle: a cluster of Pink roses.
That the bones you have crush may Thrill
All in God’s time.
Eight years and many rosaries later, I had moved to Alberta. I had entered university to study Civil Engineering and was enrolled in the co-op program to try and earn some money and get experience.
University is a spiritually dangerous time for young people: many lose their Faith entirely.
Our Lady had other plans.
I am convinced that it was because of my devotion to the rosary that I made it through university with my faith, not only intact, but fuller. Our Lady also promised that those who are devoted to the rosary
Once again I found myself alone and not knowing anyone, isolated in the Great White North in Fort McMurray: City of Love. One of the other co-op students, while driving in the mine, remarked, “It looks like Mordor!” We were roommates for 4 months from January until about May.
And then, tragedy.
My beloved Opa had been in final stages of his earthly life for some weeks now. He was in prefect health right up to last couple weeks. And then he decline rapidly. I had planned, with my dad, to try and Skype with Opa in his hospital room. I raced home after work and called my dad immediately. “Hey dad, were you able to find out if they have wifi in Opa’s room?”
“Pete, Opa passed away last night.”
His last words were, “I’m going to see Oma now!” And then he closed his eyes.
That was the day after Divine Mercy Sunday 2011.
Thankfully, they paid us well enough that I was able to afford flying home for Opa’s funeral. At the reception, my dad and his seven brothers and sisters shared stories about growing as Opa’s children.
I learned a lot!
Most importantly, I learn he was extremely devoted to Our Lady and to praying the rosary daily. The whole family would gather in the living room, and kneel while praying the rosary. That triggered memories of one time we took Opa for a day trip to Niagara Falls. On the way home (it was night by then), sitting in the back seat next to him, I heard him fidgeting around and then the distinct delicate clinking sound a beads.
He was praying the rosary!
The day after the funeral, we went to clean out his apartment. Most of it had already been cleared away when we arrived. At the end, there was a pile of things that were still unclaimed. I chose three things immediately:
- His rosary with wooden beads and Terra Jerusalem center piece, <image>
- An image of Our Lady of Guadalupe very simply glued to a slab of particle board, and <image>
- An image of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus
With these, I would carry on Opa’s devotion to the rosary.
Our Lady Knows Best
With a heavy heart, I returned to Fort McMurray to serve the remainder of my sentence… er a…I mean, to complete my work term.
My roommate picked me up from the airport. “Did I miss anything?” “We have a new co-op student. She came over from CNRL. Her name’s Melanie.”
She has beautiful blue eyes.
Work continued. My roommate finished his work term before me and went back home. Melanie were the only co-ops left in the office. She lived in a different part of town so I would pick her up in the morning, coffee in hand, and we’d share the 1 hour drive to the site office.
Our friendship grew.
We’d talk about everything: have you seen this movie, what music do you like, and on and on. We opened up to each other, bit by bit, deeper and deeper.
But I’m slow.
On my days-off I’d drive 5 hours to spend the time in Edmonton. Since everyone I knew also had lives of their own, I spent a lot of time on my own. I was feeling particularly discouraged, probably still mourning the loss of my dear Opa.
I gravitated to the Perpetual Adoration chapel at St. Andrew’s parish to pray the rosary. Feeling burdened by the stress of work and isolation that goes along with it, I poured out my heart before Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.
Then I noticed it:
This particular day, the flower arrangement in front of the altar was beautifully arranged with a single type of flower.
I blinked. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed something. Sitting on the pew directly in front of me, there was a holy card.
Our Lady of Perpetual Help
She had not forgotten my novena from those eight years ago.
“Thou hast given him his heart’s desire, and hast not withheld the request of his lips. For thou dost meet him with goodly blessings; thou dost set a crown of fine gold upon his head.” – Pslam 21:2-3
I returned to Fort McMurray full of joy and hope. The veil that seemed to have been keeping me from see Melanie as my future wife was gone. Our friendship blossomed.
Not without growing pains.
Our first argument was about the Eucharist. At that time, she was Evangelical Protestant; I was a hardcore Roman Catholic. We discussed everything you can imagine about the Faith, especially the rosary. I began to realize how much I took for granted, and how much I didn’t know.
I had never before been challenged!
Like many Protestants, one of Melanie’s hang-ups was Mary. I tried my best to explain Catholic devotion to Mary, but it didn’t seem to have an effect. So I tried to downplay it. My reasoning? One is not, strictly speaking, required to practice a personal private devotion to Mary, so I would privately practice my own Marian devotion and not push it on Melanie.
Also, since she had no objection to raising our future children Catholic, we might check out this Ukrainian Catholic church down the road. After all: it seems like their perspective on theology doesn’t emphasise Mary as much as Roman Catholics.
Such was my silly reasoning (and I might add ignorant reasoning also), and Melanie patiently allowed me my silliness (I thought I was being clever, you see).
Boy! Was I wrong!
If it appears that Eastern Catholic theology does not emphasize Mary as much as Roman Catholics, that’s probably because Byzantine Catholics prefer to wear their Marian theology on their sleeve!
If you’ve never seen the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church, you are in for a treat!
I brought Melanie to St. Josaphat’s Cathedral a few Sundays, just to expose her to the liturgy (I also loved it myself).
Guess what we saw:
On the north wall, left of the Iconostas: a large mosaic of the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help!
As it turns out, Ukrainians have a very deep love for Our Lady of Perpetual Help. She is also known as the Virgin of the Passion (read: Our Lady of Sorrows!!) Not only that, but the Liturgy is packed with Marian theology: they call Her, “Our Most Holy and Immaculate, Most Blessed and Glorious Lady, the Mother of God, and Ever-Virgin Mary.”
And that was the beginning of the end…
…of our arguing I mean.
We got engaged! At our last meeting with Fr. Adam, to my complete and utter astonishment, Melanie declared she would like to become Catholic!
And I am proud to say, despite all my many efforts, I had absolutely nothing to do with it!
It was all the Holy Spirit and Our Lady. For just as in the Incarnation, that is how Jesus is reproduced in the hearts of men: through Mary and the Holy Spirit.
Melanie was received into the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church on Pentecost Sunday 2013, making her Profession of Faith and receiving the Mystery of Chrismation. And on the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, June 8, 2013, Melanie and I were married!
Our Lord says, “Ask and ye shall receive.” Since Mary is His Blessed Mother, and since Jesus is a Loving Son, there is nothing He will deny His Mother.
Therefore, if you ask Our Lady to obtain something for you from Her Son, she WILL obtain it!
Or something better.