When I began the project of looking closer at the Hail Mary on my blog many years ago, I never dreamed it would be a book. That project inspired a whole new way of praying for me, and it made me slow down.
The book inspired by the blog series, Word by Word: Slowing Down with the Hail Mary, is now available, and I'm excited to share more from some of the contributors who have agreed to be interviewed here.
In Word by Word, each contributor wrote a brief reflection about every word of the Hail Mary. The idea was that, in reflecting on the prayer one word at a time, we would all slow down and pray it differently, more meaningfully, and closer to Jesus.
Kevin Lowry, who's up today, has long been a friend of mine, and though we live within an hour of each other, it was only last week that we met in person. It was no less smile-inducing than I expected. The fact that Kevin got "WOMB" through the luck of the draw (or, really, the fault of the Holy Spirit) will make me smile until my face breaks...
Kevin, what's your relationship with the Hail Mary as a prayer? How does it help you grow closer to Mary and, through her, Jesus?
I came to the Catholic Church via the Hail Mary. Scott Hahn gave me my first rosary, and when he gave it to me, I didn’t even know what it was. Thankfully, my wife (who wasn’t Catholic at the time either) got me a little booklet on how to pray the rosary, and I started to do that… as a Presbyterian. I remember running into a priest friend of mine, a very wise Dominican, during that time period. I showed him the rosary, and told him that I had learned how to pray with it. He chuckled, and said, “Oh, you’re a goner.”
As it turned out, my priest friend was quite right. It had taken the better part of ten years for my “intellectual conversion” to transpire, during which time I was gradually cured of my multifactorial misunderstandings about the Church. Upon learning the Hail Mary, it took no more than three weeks for a deep desire to become Catholic to settle in. In particular, I developed a strong hunger for the Eucharist. It was so intense that I had to leave Mass before communion, dragging my wife, two infant children, and assorted baby paraphernalia across rows of bemused parishioners. So in my case, there was a direct link between getting to know Mary and growing in my desire to be in full communion with Jesus.
Your reflection was on the word WOMB. Tell us a bit about what this word means to you in the context of the Hail Mary.
I still snicker a bit over being asked to reflect on the word womb, having only vicarious male-oriented experience with this highly mysterious organ. I am aware of being a former inhabitant of the womb belonging to my mother, of course, but since my memory of this time is non-existent, I have only a generalized sense of gratitude towards my mom for putting up with me during this time and thereafter.
My memory of the fruit of my wife’s womb is decidedly more concrete, as I was present for the birth of all eight of our children, and witnessed a miracle each time. Of all the amazing experiences in life, those were the most incredible of all. Awesome. Just awesome.
The zenith of this reality is contained within the Hail Mary, where the fruit of Mary’s womb is Jesus, our Lord and savior. This is where a womb, grace, blessedness, holiness, and the rest of it all converge - in the practical, earthly reality of childbirth. Have you ever seen a child being born? It’s a striking reality that Mary’s blood would have covered Jesus at the time of his birth, clearing the path for Jesus’ blood to cover us. She was the facilitator of his mission on earth, par excellence. And her womb was the means to the miracle.
What's your top tip for slowing down as you pray the Hail Mary...or any prayer, for that matter?
I don’t do “slow” naturally. My brain zigs and zags and dances all over the place, even during prayer. So I have to ask for help. The Holy Spirit helps my prayer to be more focused, and sometimes I take advantage of those deep inner promptings to offer individual Hail Marys for particular individuals or situations.
In addition, I love the notion of Mary perfecting our prayer. I’m so deeply grateful for her intercession in my own journey, it’s not a stretch for me to imagine myself as a young boy tugging on her skirt, mournfully asking for help with a task that is clearly beyond my capabilities. And she does, with a smile on her face and joy in her voice.
Some of my non-Catholic friends are scandalized by this focus on Mary, mistaking it for creature worship or idolatry. Fortunately, I know better, and receive the benefits of her guidance with enormous gratitude. I still can’t say that I completely understand the extraordinary power of the Hail Mary, or why I continue to be drawn to the rosary so many years after coming into the Church, but it’s really not an optional add-on at this point. It’s an essential element of growing closer to Christ, and allowing my own hardened heart to be gradually softened by the mother of love and mercy himself.
So pray a Hail Mary. Then do it again. And again. Before you know it, your heart will burn within you, and you’ll know the power of God in a way that transforms your life.
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Copyright 2015 Sarah Reinhard
About the Author
When she’s not chasing kids, chugging coffee, or juggling work, Sarah Reinhard’s usually trying to stay up read just one…more…chapter. She writes and works in the midst of rural farm life with little ones underfoot. She is part of the team for the award-winning Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion, as well as the author of a number of books. You can join her for a weekday take on Catholic life by subscribing to Three Shots and follow her writing at Snoring Scholar.