Padre Pio biographer Frank Rega's How To Pray the Secret Rosary allows you fulfill Our Lord's exhortation to pray in secret

In these early days of Lent 2019 I have been turning over in my mind how I might do as Our Lord exhorts us: "...and whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others." This is one of our first Mass readings of the Lenten season. Our Lord directs you and I away from praying in public or in places of worship so as to observed, so as to flaunt our faithfulness and be spiritual braggarts. Instead Our Lord in Matthew's Gospel gives this detailed instruction,  "Whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father Who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you."

Our Lord is calling us to a true integrity of soul, away from a narcissistic prayer life, lest we receive a merely earthly reward from our showy prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

Taking a very literal approach, my mind came up with scenarios which prevent one from fulfilling Our Lord's call, and I fixed upon Our Lord's fatherly directive, "go to your room," which would be peculiar sounding to many millennials I've known who move out of home, congregate in big cities, and cannot find or afford a room of their own. Speaking for myself, in the past year I shared a room with three different girls - and while they were lovely - I was unaware of any way to say the Rosary privately. Once I had an exchange with one Catholic roommate who saw me pinching my Rosary, then my taking a break to answer a phone call before returning to the rose-wood beads again. She asked me why I had not prayed during the day when I was on the tube and noted I could have prayed more had I used the time traveling. She pointed out she had prayed more decades than me that day, which made me feel the way I've probably made others feel in the past. I told her I do pray on the tube, but always sniff the air and see if I can pull out my beads or finger decade without being conspicuous, but that day I hadn't, the reason being I came home a bit late on a train filled with groups of young men fresh from the pub and didn't want to draw any unwanted attention by virtue of praying in their view. Remaining implacable, she said, "so you just sat there and did nothing?"  I nodded. 

Offering a Rosary 'in secret' seemed a bit far-fetched to me, until in preparation for Lent I read my friend Frank Rega's inspired book How To Pray the Secret Rosary. Mr. Rega puts forth a way of mentally offering the Rosary without recourse to having a bead in your fingers. I have committed it to memory while practising the method. Frank has devised a method for offering a Rosary which affords the person praying a way of faithfully fulfilling Our Lord's exhortation. The inner room may be the intellectual space in your mind you keep separate for prayer, and you may use Frank's system whereby you count the ten Hail Marys in this fashion: the first seven Hail Marys are keyed to a pillar of wisdom -- a particular virtue or spiritual concept -- and the last three are keyed to the Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity. 

The order is in fact the most ingenious part and if you master it you will enjoy a true sense of being free to pray whenever, wherever you are, such as when you have your hands full in line at the grocery store, or have only a few windows to pray in the course of working a 16 hour day while being surrounded by colleagues, and you wish to pray without fielding questions on why you stroke beads. 

Adopting Frank's way means counting the Hail Marys when they are arranged in this way, each one tied to a particular pillar of wisdom and then a Person of the Blessed Trinity: 1st Hail Mary - Humility, 2nd Hail Mary - Meekness, 3rd Hail Mary - Contrition, 4th Hail Mary - Faith, 5th Hail Mary - Hope, 6th Hail Mary - Charity, 7th Hail Mary - Abandonment, 8th Hail Mary - God the Father, 9th Hail Mary - God the Son, 10th Hail Mary - God the Holy Spirit.  I won't lie - there is a bit of memorisation required on your part - but is so natural as to surprisingly automatic.

This is not to say you meditate on humility - rather you are to meditate on the mystery while you climb a ladder in your memory where the first rung is humility, the second meekness, the third contrition and so forth,  which mirrors the soul's proper growth and healthy development from having humility as the nucleus of true holiness, to cultivating the essential virtues, while also being demonstrative of the best direction of the soul, from practising true charity in this life to ultimately being a beholder of the Beatific Vision in Heaven.  In following this map we may be orientating our soul towards the right journey to Heaven. 

Personally, when I was 20 and taking my degree, and struggling to pray a five decade daily Rosary, I was under extreme time constraints and had to offer it when walking to and from lectures. To count the Hail Marys I used a film leader countdown such as this one, which competed with my capacity to meditate on the scenes of the Sacred Mysteries. 

In Frank's book there is a chapter devoted to each pillar of wisdom and to each Person of the Blessed Trinity.  Frank has curated a selection of choice pearls of divine insight from Doctors of the Church and saints, including Thomas Aquinas, Augustine of Hippo and Padre Pio. Such a synthesis of saintly insight is the very stuff which will strengthen your will to ascribing honour to meekness or to the much misunderstood stage of total abandonment to God.   While a very short book, which is less than 80 pages, Frank's method is the fruit of 30 years spent in meditation. And instead of using humility, meekness, contrition etc as a string of noble sounding worlds after even a cursory reading of each chapter you are brought to higher understanding of their role in your progress.

Returning to Our Lord's words in Matthew's Gospel, the 'secret' Rosary allows a growth in the integrity Our Lord has called us to, away from vane, hypocritical prayer where the object is to be 'seen'. I have known not a few Catholics who have become 'hooked' on the reward of being seen by others as good and holy so their prayer life devolves into a pageantry of protesting their piety much too much, but they scarcely ever pray in 'secret'. This narcissism of soul does not stay confined to their prayer life, but infects their whole way of being, after all if they use such a sacred thing as prayer as a means for satisfying personal vanity, where will they stop? A galling experience taught me this lesson. When I was a younger woman I was not aware how much another Catholic woman was negatively controlling me, instructing me how my actions were pleasing God (or pleasing her) or pleasing the devil (not pleasing her), and she spent much time advertising her piety by going to public events where she prayed and was hailed as angelic. There was one moment when she was checking up on me, to see if I was praying as she asked, and I turned around and asked her if she ever prayed as she was asking me, regularly on her own, and she replied that no, she did not.  I, too, have had to learn the errors of my narcissistic, shallow prayer life of years past. If narcissism is a vice, then I suggest the opposing virtue is integrity. 

This is not to suggest that concrete Rosary beads are to be spurned as redundant and I do not proffer that you replace Rosary beads with the 'secret' Rosary for good - perish the thought - rather a combination is best. As a sacramental, a Rosary bead may be carried on your person, even if you do not use it manually. Situations in your life may require you to pray in 'secret' and having both a public and a private means at your disposal means you are more likely to offer a daily Rosary which Our Lady asked for repeatedly at Fatima. While I believe wholeheartedly in Rosary rallies, prayer groups, gathering at the homes of others to pray the Rosary and praying openly on the train, I believe ever more deeply in having a basis in the 'humble' prayer offered without spectators so 'your Father who sees in secret will reward you.'


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