A guide to sticking with your beads despite distractions


Praying the rosary can be a challenge. The repetition of prayers may provide familiar comfort but also can lead to rote recital. Rather than focusing on the prayers and meditating on the mysteries, your mind may wander off to unfinished tasks, problems at work, family tensions, or weekend plans. You might even lose count of the Hail Marys or finish feeling unfulfilled.

Distractions inevitably arise, and even saints have had to deal with them. So here are a few tried and tested tips to keep you focused and on track:

Before you begin, prepare. Just as constantly rushing into Mass late can disrupt your prayer life, so starting the rosary without preparing can set you up for distractions. “Never address your words to God while you are thinking of something else,” advises St. Teresa of Avila. There is a natural focal point with the rosary as you recall what mystery is assigned for the day, so take a few extra moments to put yourself in God’s presence for the task at hand.

Set the right environment. You can pray anytime, anywhere, of course – in the car, in line at the hardware store, even while shaving. But the rosary is meditative prayer, and meditation does not go well with multitasking. So take preventive measures to ward off distractions. Turn off the TV, put away the phone, and choose a quiet place, if possible. There’s a reason why Jesus advises us to “go to your room, close your door, and pray to your Father in private” (Matt. 6:6). God deserves your undivided attention.

Pray with all your senses. Many potential distractions come through the senses. You can more easily focus your mind and heart on prayer if you engage your senses as much as possible. Focus intently on the prayers as they are recited, or play sacred music at low volume. If going solo, pray aloud or pray along with a recording of the rosary. Keep religious images or a crucifix within sight to keep your eyes from wandering. And use the beads! They give you a way of praying even through the sense of touch.

Decide what to meditate upon. Should you meditate on each mystery, on your prayer intentions, or the words of the prayers themselves? Each of these options is valid. Choose one, or slide gracefully among all three, as long as you maintain a spirit of prayer (take note of the next two points).

Still distracted? Redirect. “I have many distractions, but as soon as I am aware of them, I pray for those people, the thought of whom is diverting my attention,” says St. Thérèse of Lisieux. “In this way, they reap the benefit of my distractions.” If an individual comes to mind, offer that decade or Hail Mary for that person; if your distraction is some worry, pray for that intention. The trick is to not allow the distraction to carry you away but rather to “arrest” it and incorporate it into your rosary.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church offers another insight: “a distraction reveals to us what we are attached to” (#2729). If your distraction is a negative attachment, such as a temptation or evil thought, pray to overcome that inclination You might even find that it’s God’s way of calling you to repent of a bad habit or to ask forgiveness of someone you have wronged.

Add something extra. Brief additional meditations might help you maintain or re-establish focus. Try a scriptural rosary, where an appropriate biblical verse is read before each Hail Mary (the Knights of Columbus offers one here). St. Louis de Montfort suggests adding a phrase after the name of Jesus in the Hail Mary relating to the mystery, for example, “the fruit of thy womb, Jesus Incarnate” during the First Joyful Mystery.

Don’t give up. A wise man said that “anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.” In other words, don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good — just do the best you can.

“Even if you have to fight distractions all through your whole rosary, be sure to fight well, arms in hand: that is to say, do not stop saying your rosary even if it is difficult to say and you have no sensible devotion,” St. Louis instructs. “It is a terrible battle, but one that is profitable to the faithful soul.”

About the Author
Gerald Korson, a veteran Catholic journalist, is a member of the Knights of Columbus in Indiana.

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