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Hail Mary

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6 February 2012 8 Comments

ignat019I say a lot of Hail Mary’s. I am not sure what it is about the prayer. Maybe it is that I get to focus on the life of Mary, the peasant child, the young mother, the strong-willed socialite (more wine!), the prematurely-aged mourner, and the one who held all things in her heart. Maybe it is that I get to think of the theology: the Mother of Mercies, the greatest of all disciples, the Theotokos, the Holy Queen. Or maybe it is just that I firmly believe that there is something about this prayer that makes my world better. The thing is, over the course of my last fifteen years, I have developed a devotion to Mary.

A quick evolution of the way I say the Hail Mary:

I used to say the Rosary alone sometimes, but I would get bored. So, I would say it with other people, but I found myself waiting to say the words in synch with the people I was praying with (I did not want to be the bad pray-er, the one who rushes ahead). I eventually stopped saying the Rosary with others because I always found it next to impossible to think about the mysteries and say the prayer at the same time. So, I started praying the Rosary before I went to bed. I remembered hearing when I was younger that angels would finish the prayer for me if I fell asleep. Yes. I know. Still, that was a win! Then I started using the prayer to fall asleep (sort of a pious counting of sheep). That was not a win. I mean it worked for a while! I would get half a decade in and wake up the next morning with my rosary hanging off the bed, or crushed under a pillow, or maybe down by the floorboard. It just did not seem right. So, I stopped with the Rosary.

I soon found myself praying Hail Mary’s throughout my day. I used to repeat them as I was going about my business (actually, I still do). They provided a mantra of sorts. I found the Hail Mary to be kind of like the Jesus prayer, but it sort of rolled off of my tongue a little easier. When I was praying them silently, Hail Mary’s could flow into that mental space behind my eyes a little more smoothly than other prayers. I thought that they were consecrating my work, in a way. Then I realized that I could say the words without even thinking. This was fine, I suppose, but a little odd when I was, say, driving (I know – a pet example, but its so true). There were times that I would be saying Hail Marys, but then I would I would curse out the driver in front of me. Trying to bring myself back to the space of the prayer was somewhat difficult after that. It had become apparent that I was saying the words out of habit. So, again I stopped saying Hail Mary’s for a while.

Then the prayer returned. Maybe I should say that She returned. I began praying the Hail Mary when I was teaching in high school. I noticed that the prayer affected my relationships in subtle ways. I might pray for a particularly difficult person or situation, and that person or situation would somehow become not so difficult. Was it me? Was it the other person? I am not sure. It was just apparent that something was shifting in the dynamic. The problems that I kept in mind when I said the prayer were actually affected. What is amazing is that even after I recognized that things were happening in a particular situation, I continued to pray Hail Mary’s and things would continue to happen.

I try to avoid magical thinking. I try not to be too goofily spiritual. The thing is, I love this prayer. It makes me feel strange to say that. I mean, I do not want either to psychologize or spiritualize a situation. The modern man in me wants to take the phenomenological perspective and claim that I have said the prayer so many times, and filled that prayer with so much emotional and intellecutal juice, that my perspective shifts into a sort of habitual space of openness to peace. The religious man in me wants to say that I have finally come to a place where I can recognize that the blessed Mother (despite all of my failed attempts) actually does interceded for me in ways that I cannot fathom. Perhaps both are correct, in a way. It is hard to put my finger on what, precisely, happens when I say it. I just know that something moves when I ask Our Lady to be present.

What a quandary. I am sure that, upon reading this, that my religious friends would say “well, of course!” I am sure that my atheist friends would roll their eyes, but then say, “Only you, man…why do we let you get away with talking like this?” Well, I will tell you why. And I think that this is what Ignatius and countless others realized: there is a power in prayer that is completely unaccounted for. Things happen for those who pray in faith. The things we expect? Well, its not magic. Its not stories for children. It is real life. I have felt the power of prayer move me in ways that nothing else has. Regardless of what perspective I take, the data remains the same. When I pray the Hail Mary, things happen in my life that I have never consciously sought. The outcomes surprise me. Relationships become smoother, my perspective shifts to accommodate the cares and concerns of another, and I become more peaceful. It is true. I cannot explain it. I cannot quantify it. I can accept a psychological or spiritual answer. Still, the fact remains that my perspective on life is seriously altered by the use of this prayer. To that end, Mary remains a primary mediator for my relationship with the Divine Christ. I continue to believe that she interceded on my behalf. Who knew: the one who bore Jesus into the world has continued to bear him to me until this day.


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  • Bernie said:

    Thank you for continuing to be a conduit through which God’s grace flows. I needed to read these words this morning.


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  • Valentin Boyanov said:

    Dear Paul, I see you have good relations with Holy Virgin Mary.
    I have from recent a problem with my attitude towards her.
    I hear in the Litany of Mary this :….Mother of our Creator, pray for us.
    I can’t find answer, how comes, the Virgin is the Mother of the Creator. To Saviour – yes, but to Creator.
    I ask, but can’t hear her answer. Can you help me ? I see, she hears you better.God bless
    Varna, Bulgaria, Europe

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  • Steve said:

    Whatever works for you I think is best. For me, repetitive prayers, rosaries, ect., are tedious and annoying. I guess it’s whatever works…maybe we are all graced with our own method of prayer. Still, I would steer clear of thinking that we can in any way manipulate God to do certain things for us through a certain prayer or practice. I just think it is a grace given…..I’ve had some of those in my life. Certain pictures or prayers gave me a sense of peace…then they didn’t, then they did. You get me. :)

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  • Paul said:

    Bernie! Great to hear it. Blessings!

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  • Paul said:

    Hi Valentin,

    Well…there is the long answer and the short answer.

    The short answer is this:
    I don’t know.

    It is a mystery…and mysteries are not easy to work with because they have no answer. They are meant for us to wrestle with them – to think, talk, and pray about them. When we wrestle with mysteries, we are shaped by them. We can become stronger in faith and open ourselves to understanding one more part of the Divine Mystery.

    So, know this:
    if you do not understand how Mary is the Mother of the Creator, it might not be a bad thing. Maybe you are being invited to discover more for yourself.

    That being said, here is a little bit longer answer:

    Each name for Mary reveals something about who she has been for the people who came before us. Mary, in her role as Jesus’s mom had one purpose: she brought Jesus into the world and raised him. That is one way we think of her. She bore a human child into the world.

    Another way we think of her is as Mary, the mother of God. When we think of her like this, she has a slightly different purpose: she bears Christ to the world and helps us understand Him. She was given to John, His disciple, and she has been given to us, His Church. She helps us by bringing us to Christ. She always points to Jesus. In our tradition, different saints have described Mary in different ways, but she always is found pointing to Jesus Christ.

    So, think of Jesus:
    Jesus was “in the beginning with the Father” and “through him, all things were made.” I am not sure what this means entirely. None of us are! Even the wisest of Theologians ultimately fail to be able to explain it completely. However, every time we encounter this mystery, we can learn something new. More will always be revealed.

    A good place to start: we at least understand that the Christ was and is somehow present in the process of creating reality. This is an article of faith. In essence, the Christ is part of all creation from all time. He is one with the Creator.

    We talk of Mary, a very young woman from a “peasant” family. Mary is the one who bore the child we would come to know as Jesus the Christ (Savior, Messiah, King of Kings, Logos…all those names we have for him!). One person bore a child who would be called the embodiment of God’s Word. She was human, like you and I are human, and she had within her the life that would transform the world. The Son, who is somehow one with the Creator, came into the world through Mary. The Virgin was mother to the Creator.

    This is an amazing thing to contemplate. As for what it means? Well, maybe that is where you are being called to pursue understanding in prayer. If you continue knocking, the door will be opened. So, keep knocking! And may you understand how she is present to you, in friendship and kindness, always pointing towards the embodiment of the Creation whom she cared for in her own womb.

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  • Paul said:

    Hi Steve – I think I get you. If I am reading you right, you have nailed exactly was this reflection is about…the evolution of a prayer, how our interaction with words and images as revealers of God’s presence changes over time (to paraphrase what you said, they do, then they don’t, then they do), and finding the different modes of prayer that work for us.

    Regarding manipulation: I totally agree. Know that this is the “magical thinking” I was talking about. As Catholics, we are most often accused of magical thinking, as though the words give us power over God. For instance, people have accused us of thinking we can control God through the practice of the sacraments. We know that this is not the case, though. Like Sacraments, our prayers are never about having God by the tail (see: “On the Examen, in a round about way,” which is on the tetragrammaton). Instead, they are about finding the grace of opening ourselves to, and be opened by, God. It is we who are moved by/to God, not vice-versa. We cannot manipulate God and control outcomes through prayer. We can become more open to God’s presence in our lives, though.

    With that in mind, what I hope is clear is that miraculously, against my previous ways of thinking, against my expectations, this prayer has moved me and, amazingly, it continues to move me. It rarely moves me in the way I expect it to. Instead, it moves me in ways that continuously surprise me. I am always aware that it is God who is in charge, but I am also aware that grace is always present here. Why this prayer? I have no idea. Will it always be so? Who knows.

    But for now, this is the truth: praying with Mary has moved me deeply. You are right, Steve: it is grace given. I would add, that a grace not shared is a grace not fully realized. So, I hope that it comes across that, to my surprise, through this prayer, Mary has somehow become a profoundly powerful intercessor for me.

    May God always continue to Grace you!

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  • Erikakw said:

    Thank you for writing so plainly regarding your myriad ways of praying the Rosary. I think your strength is stopping and starting the Rosary prayer and be willing to try again and again.

    I am learning.

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  • John J said:


    I was turned on to this by Dad, and I am glad I finally had a chance to read it.

    Thanks for these words about praying, and praying the Hail Mary, in particular. I appreciate what you’ve said. The reflections help me to understand more what this prayer can do, both for the person praying and for the person’s environment.

    I will confess I pray this prayer daily and nightly, and have for years. It is not puzzling to note that there was a decided increase in the recitation of this and other prayers that corresponds directly to the time, three years ago, when I was placed in job transition. Since then, my prayer life and spiritual time has been a steady source of calm, inspiration and hope in the midst of it all.

    These times are generally preceded by an Our Father, or two or three, as sometimes I feel the first time or two through, I was not focused on the words I was saying. I will then find myself well into a few Hail Marys before I know it, and feel peace floating through. Seems odd, but great nonetheless. It is what it is, and it keeps me coming back.

    I will often throw in an Angel of God, sometimes turning it plural, praying to all the angels of God, asking them “to light, to guard, to rule and guide,” our immediate family through their endeavors, on their behalf.

    Or I find myself reciting portions of the mass as well, the ‘older’ versions before the recent changes. And recently, I will simply state, “Lord I’m not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul will be healed.” This phrase alone seems to give me peace and resolve in many situations or in times of reflection.

    Like you, these prayers can come at various times of the day; in traffic, making lunch, prior to falling to sleep or in the middle of the night, to get back to sleep.

    All this said, after seeing your thoughts on this, I will spend a bit more time pondering my Hail Marys now, as I have much to learn, in so many areas of life, including my prayer life.

    The blessing in all of this, at least for me, is that nothing in my life pervades all areas of my life more positively and profoundly than my time spent in prayer or reading the Word. Without exception, these blips of time, and the resulting uncontrollable-by-me graces that result, have definitely made me, and are making me, the man I am evolving into today. Thanks be to God!!

    Blessings, brother!


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