Praying the rosary is a devotional practice by which the faithful meditate on the mysteries of the lives of Jesus and Mary. In purposefully slowing down our pace by means of this prayer, we become open to what our Lady and our Lord have to say to us during the prayer, as well as in each moment of the day. You could say that praying the rosary lowers your spiritual blood pressure and allows you to be present to, and see things in, your life that you might otherwise have missed without it.
Among the fifteen promises Mary gave to St. Dominic and Blessed Alan de la Roche for those who pray the rosary is the gift of “signal graces.” You won’t find a definition of these graces in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, but some people consider any prayer that is notably answered, such as a prayer for healing, to be a signal grace. For others a signal grace is an interior “knowing” of what the right way to proceed is or the revelation of some needed but missing piece of information in order to make a good decision. I believe I have experienced both of these types of signal graces, but also one more. What I commonly call “signal graces” others might call “God-incidents,” a more spiritual way of looking at what some might brush off as mere coincidence.
Confidence Means “With Faith”
Much of our prayerful discernment revolves around the bigger questions of life such as vocation, family, work, community involvement, etc. But once those questions have been decided we have to walk through the day-to-day results with confidence that those bigger decisions are in accord with God’s plan, that we have discerned well. Signal graces then become little signposts or trail markers that whisper in my ear, “This is the way; walk in it.” When living the life those bigger decisions yield, the little decisions can be overwhelming, our ability to meet our needs woefully inadequate and the strength to do what is required, seems not enough. These “shortages” can cause us to doubt that we made those big decisions correctly.
We are not called to walk in doubt or timidity, but in confidence that our well discerned choices are sound. Knowing our littleness, weakness, and lack of confidence, our Blessed Mother asks our Lord for trail markers along our way to encourage us and help us to grow in our trust in God and His Divine Providence. These signal graces build up our faith that, though the going is rougher than we hoped, though we are being stretched further than we thought we would be, we shouldn’t give up, but instead persevere along the path in front of us.
When someone gives you a bag of hand-me-downs and it contains just exactly what you needed and prayed for, that is a signal grace that being a stay-at-home mother was a well discerned choice. When a sudden unexpected decrease in a fixed expense occurs after you stood firm in your conviction not to work on Sundays, that is a signal grace of a well discerned choice. When you prayed for a simple way to help an elderly neighbor and realized, as you are thinking about her, that you made way too much dinner, that is a signal grace. On their own these small graces are not enough to make great changes in your life, or the lives of those you love. They are not meant to do that. They are more of a fortification, a heavenly hug, a love note, helping you to step back and remember the big picture: you are a beloved child of the King!
It is noteworthy that our Lady, our Queen, gives these graces in exchange for spending time in prayer. She is trying to teach us that by spending time close to her Immaculate Heart and to Jesus’ Sacred Heart, we will grow more and more like them, more attuned to the life of grace that we are living. What joy! What an exchange! The life of grace becomes like a treasure hunt, where we, like gleeful children, run along from clue to clue, growing in excitement and confidence that we are going to wind up exactly where we want to be: Heaven!
Truthfully, the reality of this is not always so picturesque. Often I dutifully, rather than prayerfully, pray the rosary. Often I thankfully, rather than truly gratefully, acknowledge the signal graces. Often I am more of a drudge than a gleeful child. But the Blessed Mother is patient with her cranky children. She accepts our grudging prayers as well as our joyful ones. She knows our weakness because she is human, too. In my experience this is where Jesus, Mary and our holy intercessors, the Saints, really get busy.
Take for example the situation our little family is currently in. We live outside of Buffalo, New York, a town hardly known for real estate booms. Yet right now we have a record “seller’s market” combined with a record low housing inventory. These two factors have yielded a very difficult time to try to buy a house. We have placed failed bid after failed bid. Time is getting short. We need to leave our current home. We have prayed and prayed and PRAYED. Our rosaries and prayer times continue but are more dutiful than joyful. We are weary.
Our children attend Chesterton Academy of Buffalo, a wonderful place where they learn the faith in every class, couched in a classical curriculum that is teaching them how (as opposed to what) to think. It’s extraordinary. The families there, from faculty to students, are there because they love Jesus and they believe in the Church’s call to raise our children as disciples. Though Chesterton does all they can to keep the tuition affordable, it is still a stretch for us.
Let’s be honest. Twenty-first century life is a stretch for me! Far from being a superwoman, my limitations and faults are laid bare by the requirements of parenting teens. My husband and I have prayerfully discerned the big choices we have made regarding work, etc. But down here in the nitty-gritty of daily life, I occasionally flounder and wonder if I shouldn’t just chuck it all, put the kids in public school and get a full time job. Whenever I’m doing some of that stinkin’ thinkin’, the Blessed Mother is faithful to her word and sends me a grace that signals me to remember why I am doing what I am doing, stretching where I am stretching, failing where I am failing.
Ever the Good Mother, Our Lady gave us a marker along the way this week in the person of Fr. Ragheed Ganni, a beautiful young priest who, together with three deacons, was martyred outside their church in Mosul, Iraq on June 3rd, 2007, Trinity Sunday. Attacked prior to this murder, warned not to continue his ministry, Father Ragheed and companions continued doing what God called them to do: feed His sheep. Right before shooting him, the terrorists asked Father Ragheed, “Why did you not close the church like we told you to?” Father Ragheed replied, “How can I close the house of God?” These were his last words.
Fr. Ragheed’s membership in that Communion of Saints has blessed us 6,000 miles away in Buffalo, New York. A local organization of Catholic lawyers, the Thomas More Guild, offers a yearly scholarship essay contest. This year the topic was to write about a modern-day Thomas More. My daughter Adele, a junior at Chesterton, chose to write about Father Ragheed. Yesterday we learned that Adele won the essay contest! Our quiet, reserved young lady shone a light on a brave young priest and the Blessed Mother reflected that light back onto her.
But the grace flows on. The same day the committee was choosing Adele’s essay, the National Catholic Register published this article! Father Ragheed Ganni’s cause of canonization has officially been opened. From Mosul to Buffalo to Rome, the Communion of Saints flows on.
“How Can I Close the House of God?”
How can I not feed His sheep? How can I not walk this path that our Lord has entrusted to me? To turn around on these paths of ours is to turn our back on Jesus. To turn our backs on Jesus is to turn away from the source of our lives, to turn away from Love itself. I cannot do that! I need Love! I cannot survive one moment without Love! Our Lady helps us to stay on this path, with our backs to the world and our faces to Jesus. One way she helps us is with signal graces.
Along the way, as violence escalated and forebodings grew, I would like to believe that Father Ragheed, too, was given beautiful signal graces by Our Lady to keep to his well discerned path, to keep feeding Jesus’ sheep. Now those sheep ask Fr. Ragheed’s prayers as the Communion of Saints flows on.
Courage and Strength
The Blessed Mother has promised to give us signal graces not to give us holy shivers, or prove anything to us, but to encourage and help her children along the long and difficult way, the valley of tears. Yes, sometimes we skip along from clue to clue like joyful children, but often we don’t. Often I don’t. Often I need a nudge from my Momma who loves me, to get my chin up and look at what her Son is doing in our lives, look how He is working behind the scenes to do everything for our ultimate best.
In prayer I was overwhelmed by the presence of my new holy friend, Father Ragheed, overwhelmed by what he has sacrificed for our Lord and for His sheep. I am overwhelmed, too, that he is a friend my daughter will have forever, we will all have forever. I am encouraged to pick up my tiny, little cross and carry on, inspired by the life of a perhaps soon-to-be saint. This gift and grace of new courage and strength is simply our Lady keeping one of her fifteen promises in exchange for slowing down, drawing near and meditating on the sacred mysteries. When the trail is rockier than I expected, the incline steeper than I feel fit for, or the mileage just so much longer than I planned on hiking, I pick up my beads, draw near to the Blessed Mother and Jesus, and pray. Many are the graces our Lord gives us through the Blessed Mother when we pray the rosary. Today I am particularly thankful for those graces called signal graces.
Father Ragheed Ganni and companions, pray for us!
You can hear Fr. Ragheed singing to Mary, here.