I grew up with women of the rosary. Think the Catholic church’s equivalent of Hell’s Angels. But more lace than leather, an Irish fisherman’s sweater and comfortable shoes.
My friends’ mothers and grandmothers—mainly of the Irish persuasion—stockpiled an unbelievable number of rosaries in their “delicates” drawers back in the day. From jade to crystal, pearl to wood, we were covered.
Covered for what, you might rightly ask. Let’s see—to solidify impending marriages of the young members of any family clan; to create marriages that weren’t impending; babies, babies, babies; healing the ill; blessing the dying; babies; and did I mention, babies? “But only within the confines of holy matrimony, please Blessed Mother.” Said while making the Sign of the Cross.
Now, in a middle age where I realize very few things are certain, I envy these women their absolute faith in the power of the rosary. And do you know why they thought the rosary was the secret sauce? Because they weren’t fooling around—they were going straight to the Mother of all Mothers. When all else failed and Jesus wasn’t attending to their prayers as they thought He should, they went directly to his Mother. Because, what good son doesn’t listen to his mother?
Let’s see. There was the sweet little five-foot Irish fireball, my friend’s mother, who said a novena every day for A YEAR so her daughter would get pregnant. And when she did, of course it was credited to the novenas and Mother Mary doing what she could to nudge Jesus into sending her daughter a baby.
Then there was the mother whose rosary was worn thin from praying that her less than studious son get into a “good, Jesuit university” and meet a “nice Catholic girl.” He did. And you know why, of course.
There was the prayer/knitting circle who prayed diligently for “poor Mary Catherine” for months on end. Had “poor Mary Catherine” known why, she would have wanted to sink into the earth. Her grandmother opined about her homeliness and the group of seventy-somethings prayed that some “good man” would overlook it to make her his wife.
Lest you think these women were naïve simpletons, let me assure you—they knew exactly what they were doing. These were women who had birthed more babies, downed more Irish whiskey and held more family secrets than most of us could ever dream of doing. You didn’t mess with them—or their novenas. Smelling of lavender and Pond’s facial cream, they were grannies who got it done.
There aren’t as many of them, it seems, as there used to be. Maybe even the grannies among us are a little jaded, a little more uncertain, of the power of prayer.
I hope we don’t make them extinct. With our in-fighting and our hate speech and our cynicism about God. I am a very modern woman. But, if you look in my silver box of treasures (doesn’t everybody have one of those?), you’d find a few things. Wallet pics of myself and my two sons, each of us through early grade school years—pics that sat in my mother’s own treasure box. Shots of my parents holding my newborn sons. A photo of my mother’s grave with flowers on it—a reminder to me that none of us is here forever. A tiny prayer square a friend gave me during my divorce. A shell from the military salute at my father’s Air Force funeral. And—you knew this was coming—a rosary I’ve had since I was a child, its blue crystal beads still sparkly. It sits next to my mother’s St. Anthony medal (“He finds EVERYTHING, Kris. Everything. Just ask him.”)
I grew up surrounded by women of simple faith. Not simplistic, simple. Ask and ye shall receive. Faith the size of a mustard seed that moves mountains. The Kingdom of Heaven is yours.
I’m thinking we could all use at least one prayer warrior like that in our lives. Especially the ones that pray for us and then pour the Irish whiskey. Those are the experienced ones. The ones you want to run to when life doesn’t deliver.
Because even if we’re not sure we believe it—even when we don’t really believe it—hearing them tell us Mother Mary will make it happen is a comfort. Especially as they say it while hugging us, enveloping us in a cloud of facial cream and lavender sachet scents.
And if their breath smells a wee bit like Irish hooch, well we manage to overlook that for the greater good.