By Raymond de Souza, KM
Last week I told the story of the visit of two Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW for short) to my house, and I showed to them that Jesus was in favor of repetitive prayer, because He gave us a prayer to repeat, the Our Father.
I left a question unanswered. The younger JW had asked me, “So, are you saying that your rosary is inspired in the Bible?”
“Actually, yes,” I answered. “The rosary is simply a way of keeping order, dividing the prayers in distinct sections. Let me give you another example, straight from the Bible. Take Psalm 119 (119, depending on the version). It is the longest psalm in the Bible, having 176 verses. On the whole, the psalm is a persistent repetition of the main theme, that is, of the excellence of keeping the law of God. It makes an excellent meditation and prayer of repetition — like the rosary — beautiful, pious, and thoroughly biblical.”
The older JW was visibly embarrassed. He quickly changed tactics. From incredulity he moved on to sarcasm, which is always a mistake in a religious discussion.
“The next thing you’ll tell me is that Jesus prayed the rosary Himself!” he said, with an ironic smile.
“No, not the rosary as we know it,” I replied nonchalantly, “but He made up His own rosary or prayers, ‘saying the same thing over and over again’.”
My guests opened their eyes wide with astonishment, and then both smiled simultaneously, possibly thinking I was bluffing.
“Yes, at one of the most crucial moments, if not the most crucial, of His life, He repeated the selfsame prayer in the Garden when He said, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me, nevertheless not as I will but as Thou wilt.’ That is Matthew 26:39. Verse 42 reads: ‘Again the second time, He went away and prayed, “My Father, if this chalice cannot pass away unless I drink it, Thy will be done”.’ And verse 44 says, ‘So, leaving them again, He went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words over’.”
Two or three seconds of silence elapsed. I looked straight into their eyes, alternating from one pair to the other. They didn’t budge. Then I concluded: “There you are, my friends: Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ praying His own chaplet of repetitive prayers!”
Really wanting to rub it in this time, I asked, “Would you say that Jesus’ prayers were ‘vain’ because they were . . . repetitive?
“In the Our Father, Jesus also taught us to say, ‘Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ And it is His will that we pray. So, the perfect prayer here on earth will be the prayer that is most similar to the prayer of Heaven, won’t it be? If you know how they pray in Heaven and do likewise, then His will would be done on earth as it is in Heaven, as far as prayer is concerned.”
I paused for a moment to give my visitors time to digest the concept. The older one already had a question on the tip of his sharp tongue: “And do you, by chance, know how prayer is done in Heaven?”
My answer startled him. “Actually, I do. I happen to know how they pray in Heaven. If you open your Bible, I’ll show you.”
He passed me his book somewhat hesitatingly. It was my turn for a few flicks of the fingers to show him a text.
“Here it is: The book of the Apocalypse — or Revelation — tells us that in Heaven the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, just like the seraphim cited in Isaiah 6:3, continually indulge in repetitive prayer: ‘And they have no rest day and night as they say “Holy, Holy, Holy, is Jehovah God, the Almighty, who was and who is coming”’ (4:8).
“Fancy that! Prayer of repetition in Heaven! Those seraphim must be Roman Catholic!”
The younger fellow, who was being trained in the door-knocking exercise, laughed a bit, but the older one did not find it funny in the least. A little dark look and the apprentice’s smile vanished as quickly as a devil would leap from a swimming pool full of holy water.
I did not give him time to change the subject. “Now, my friends, if God disliked repetitive prayer, He would have stopped those Roman Catholic seraphim in Heaven a long time ago and told them to say something different for a change, use a bit of improvisation, you know.”
The older man decided that it was time to go. He dryly asked me if I would like to keep the copy of Awake! I dryly declined, but I wanted to know if they understood the biblical foundations of the repetitive prayer, whether in the rosary or any other. He replied that the Roman Catholic Church had invented the dogmas of Hell, Purgatory, and the Immaculate Conception, but I was not interested in starting a whole new debate. The topic was repetitive prayer, and I would not fall prey to this typical tactic of igniting another tough subject when the going gets tough.
“Did you know,” I asked as a sort of coup de grâce in the argument, “while you Jehovah’s Witnesses are improvising prayers in your Kingdom Halls and deriding repetitive prayers, the angels of God are praising Him in Heaven like good Roman Catholics, repeating their praises over and over again?”
They both excused themselves; they really had to go. I thanked them for coming around and for the invigorating conversation. “Please come again,” I said, “I really enjoyed your visit.”
They said they would, rather unconvincingly.
As they left, I thought to myself how ironic it is that the never-ending babbling of improvised prayer, which Jesus condemned, is so often found among many of the very ones who criticize repetitive prayer.
Of course, we must also beware of merely paying lip service to God, for repetitive prayer, however biblical and heavenly it may be, must be attentive. We must not allow our minds to wander to all sorts of subjects instead of paying attention to God, who is the real object of our prayers. Otherwise, we could incur the severe censure of Jesus Himself: “You hypocrites! Well did Isaias prophesy of you, when he said, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me’ (Matt. 15:8).”
Let us who honor our Lady in praying the rosary and always endeavor to pray “with modesty, attention, and devotion,” as St. Louis de Montfort says.
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(Next Week: More Biblical Evidence for Repetitive Prayer.)
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(Raymond de Souza is director of the Evangelization and Apologetics Office of the Winona Diocese, Minn.; an EWTN program host; regional coordinator for Portuguese-speaking countries for Human Life International [HLI]; president of the Sacred Heart Institute, and a member of the Sovereign, Military, and Hospitaller Order of the Knights of Malta. His web site is www.raymonddesouza.com.)