‘The Virgin Mary and her rosary saved my life,” writes Father Donald Calloway, a priest with the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, in his new book, Champions of the Rosary: The History and Heroes of a Spiritual Weapon. With a mix of experience, prayer, history, and doctrine, he argues that today’s world needs more people making use of this Biblically based devotion (one that National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr. prayed throughout his life, having learned it from his mother).
Armed with history and tradition, Father Calloway makes the case that the Rosary is underutilized and powerful, and that “our world needs the rosary today more than ever.” — KJL
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: “The sacred mysteries of his life, death, and resurrection have the power to conquer evil and set souls free,” you write. You also share: “The rosary helped me turn from a life of sin to a life of freedom. It gave me the courage to surrender my heart, mind, and soul completely to Jesus and his Church. The Virgin Mary and her rosary saved my life.” Saved your life? Really? Why is the rosary so liberating?
FATHER DONALD CALLOWAY, MIC: My life before I ever touched a rosary was a mess. I was a high-school dropout who had been kicked out of Japan for criminal activity [his stepfather was a naval officer], incarcerated multiple times, and spent two summers in rehabilitation centers before I was 20. When I began to experience a conversion at the age of 21, I learned about the rosary and began to pray it every day. It became my therapy. The daily rosary helped me convert to Catholicism, enter the seminary, study for ten years, earn multiple graduate degrees, and become an ordained Catholic priest. The rosary has the power to set souls free because it is, in essence, the Bible on a set of beads. It is mobile and can be prayed practically anywhere. The holy rosary educates the mind, heart, and soul about the true teachings of Jesus Christ because its prayers and mysteries come from the New Testament. This grounds the rosary in the living Word of God, and it is that Word that gives us hope, healing, and new life. And it has been my experience, as a priest, that those who pray the rosary inevitably are led to a more fervent participation in the life of the Church through the sacraments. The Eucharist and confession, in particular, dispose souls to sanctifying grace.
LOPEZ: Can a rosary really be a weapon?
FATHER CALLOWAY: The rosary has always been understood to be a spiritual weapon. When Mary gave the rosary to Saint Dominic in 1208, she gave the explicit instruction that it was to be used to overcome a heresy. She called the rosary a weapon, a battering ram, for the defeat of all falsehoods. In the New Testament, St. Paul stated that the Word of God is stronger than any two-edged sword and able to overcome all strongholds. Knowing that the prayers and mysteries of the rosary come from the New Testament makes it the ultimate spiritual sword for the spiritual warrior. Interestingly, at the beginning of the rosary’s existence, many people began to wear it on the left side of their belt in order to signify that it was a spiritual sword. In medieval times, a knight would unsheathe his sword from his left side since most people are right-handed. This is why even today priests or sisters who wear the rosary as part of their religious habit almost always have it hanging on the left side of their habit.
LOPEZ: Do you have any evidence to suggest that our politics today is what it is because Catholics don’t pray the rosary enough?
FATHER CALLOWAY: I would say non-rosary-praying Catholics have played a part in this. Catholics who pray the rosary and believe according to the teachings of the Church know the real Jesus and do not automatically drop a vote for a political candidate simply because he says he is a Catholic or speaks at a Catholic event. Rosary-packing Catholics recognize the sound of truth and vote to please the heart of Christ, not further wound it.
LOPEZ: Could the rosary defeat ISIS?
FATHER CALLOWAY: ISIS is simply a new name for an old enemy of Christianity: radical Islam. Throughout the past 800 years, the rosary has helped bring about the defeat of radical Islam on many occasions. For example, in the following areas of the world the rosary helped save cities, nations, and entire civilizations from Islamic takeover: Kotor (1539); Malta (1565); Lepanto (1571); Vienna (1683); Peterwardein (1716); Temesvar (1716); Corfu (1716), as well as many other places. Yet, lest we think these events are too far removed from us to have any real meaning, in our own day heaven continues to instruct the Church about the importance of the rosary for overcoming radical Islam. In December 2014, Bishop Oliver Doeme of Nigeria was blessed with a vision of Jesus concerning the rosary. In this vision, Jesus appeared to the bishop with a sword in his hand, gesturing for the bishop to take it. When the bishop went to take the sword, it was transformed into a rosary. Jesus then said to the bishop three times: “Boko Haram is gone! Boko Haram is gone! Boko Haram is gone!” Boko Haram is one of the many radical Islamic groups in Nigeria, one that burns people alive in cages, kidnaps young girls and does horrible things to them, and decapitates people. After the vision, the bishop began a rosary crusade, and the fruits have been impressive. Even the president of Nigeria recently noted that the presence of Boko Haram in Nigeria is all but dead. Bishop Doeme continues to strongly promote the rosary in Nigeria to get rid of Boko Haram.
LOPEZ: Many people think that Catholics are a bit over the top when it comes to Mary. Could your book become more ammo for that line of attack?
FATHER CALLOWAY: I’ve never known anyone to complain about the queen in a chess game having too much power and mobility. That’s because everyone knows that the whole game is about the king, but to fight for the queen is to fight for the king. Everyone who plays chess also knows that if you lose the queen you lose the game. But not everyone knows that the way we play chess today is because of Catholic theology. It only takes one bishop to work with the queen in order to capture the opponent’s king in as few as four moves. God and his saints know this.
And there is someone else who knows it: Satan, the devil. He is well aware that, according to the bookends of history (the story of creation in the book of Genesis and the story of the end of the world in the Book of Revelation), he gets his head crushed by the foot of a woman. Because she’s God? Absolutely not. Because God lives inside her and has chosen to conquer the beast and save humanity through her. She is the vessel of the Messiah and Savior of the world. Which means that without her, we have nothing.
This is why Lucifer constantly seeks to tear away Christ’s followers from underneath the protective mantle of Mary. She is the victorious woman of Genesis and Revelation, and the devil knows it. Therefore, he constantly seeks to dismantle Christianity. If he can downplay or take away the importance of Mary in the life of Christ, the Church, and the Christian, he can have great success at also downplaying the other important truths of Christianity, such as the Eucharist, confession, priests, the papacy, the rosary, etc.
The saints, on the other hand, tell us that we should never be afraid of loving Mary too much, because we will never love her more than Jesus does. He is not offended or jealous when his disciples love and honor his mother (remember: he is the king, she is the queen). For example, would I be offended if someone honored my mom? If people sang songs to my mother and laid roses at her feet, would I be upset? Of course not. Honor my mother and, if I have the power to do it, I’ll give you everything within my power to convey. I’d put those people who showed a special love for my mom at the front of the bus! It’s the same with Jesus. He’s not a robot or an angel. He’s the God-man, and he has a mother. He loves his mom. He’s not offended when people pray the rosary and crown his mother with spiritual roses. Those who insult his mother he places at the back of the bus.