Champions of the Rosary: A Powerful Read on a Spiritual Weapon

Earlier this year as I was returning to the friary from my summer assignment I found a championsoftherosarypackage in my mailbox from Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC. It was a signed copy of his new book, Champions of the Rosary: The History and Heroes of a Spiritual Weapon. In a couple of days I would be taking a silent retreat at a Trappist monastery and was in need of some spiritual reading, so the unexpected book could not have come at a better time.

To be honest, so many books have been written about the rosary, that when I first saw this one – although grateful for the gift – I was not expecting to encounter anything special. Was I ever wrong!

Fr. Don Calloway’s book on the rosary is probably the best book written on the topic since St. Louis de Montfort’s classic The Secrets of the Rosary, and – I say this without hesitation – surpasses even de Montfort’s work. It will quickly take its place – a special place – as the greatest book written on the rosary to date. Fr. Calloway should be proud of this achievement.

When one reads his book it becomes evident that a labor of love went into it, finding a beautiful balance between a fascinating and thorough history of the rosary and being a work that captures the spiritual dynamism of this devotion with the saints, mystics, and martyrs who, throughout Church history, have been its greatest advocates.

rosaryThe subtitle of the book – “The History and Heroes of a Spiritual Weapon” – points to a profound reality, one that perhaps too often in our cultural thinking (which falls into secular norms of understanding) we tend to neglect – the reality that life is a battle between two kingdoms: between the Kingdom of Heaven and the kingdom of hell, between God and the devil, between light and darkness. And, what is most urgent not to neglect, is the reality that we are all born into this war and thus called to be soldiers on the battlefield.

Fr. Calloway understands well – as many saints and holy men and women throughout history have known – that in the rosary we have been given a powerful spiritual weapon, a sword in the battle against evil. “The first key is to understand the rosary as a spiritual sword made by God, the Divine Craftsman. This key unlocks the mystery of what the rosary is, why it has so much power, and why the devil constantly seeks to destroy it.”

The first half of the book is probably the most thorough history of the rosary ever written in the English language, including a history of popes, miracles, military battles, Marian confraternities, and various developments in Church history that has led to the promotion (and, at times, suppression) of the most popular devotion in Catholicism. It is so well-researched, and yet beautifully written, that Fr. Calloway admits it took him years to work on.

The second half of Fr. Calloway’s book pertains to 26 holy men and women – saints, blesseds, popes, Servants of God – who had an incredible Marian devotion and were great advocates of the rosary. This section constitutes the spiritual dynamite of the book, giving the stories and Marian spirituality of men and women whose holiness and devotion is contagious. Reading about these souls we are strengthened, edified, and encouraged by their radical witness to become holier, to pick up the rosary each day, and go deeper into prayer and intimacy with Jesus and Mary.

We see a nice combination of very well-known names like Maximilian Kolbe, Padre Pio Josemaria Escriva, John Paul II, Fatima visionary Lucia dos Santos, and lesser-known (but equally important) names like Blessed Bartolo Longo and Servant of God Dolindo Ruotolo.

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St. Josemaria Escriva

The work is so well-researched that often we discover new facts about known lives. For example, there is a section dedicated to St. Josemaria Escriva (1902-1975), the founder of Opus Dei, and his dynamic Marian spirituality. I did not know that, as a child, St. Josemaria was on the verge of death but experienced a miraculous healing saving his life. Fr. Calloway explains:

“At the age of two, St. Josemaria suffered from an unknown illness (most likely epilepsy) and was expected to die. His devout mother took him to the Marian shrine of Torreciudad in Aragon, Spain, and earnestly prayed for him before a statue of Our Lady of the Angels that dates from the 11th century. Miraculously, he recovered. His mother attributed his healing to Our Lady. This event helped to form in him a strong, life-long Marian devotion.” St. Josemaria would encourage members of Opus Dei to make frequent Marian pilgrimages

The less-known names are also spiritual giants to discover. In this sense, the Servant of God Dolindo Ruotolo (1882-1970), someone who Fr. Calloway remarks as being “born in Naples and is almost unknown outside of Italy,” has been a real discovery for me.

“A devout priest and an avid scholar, Dolindo has been called the ‘Scribe of the Holy Spirit.’ He penned a 33-volume commentary on Holy Scripture, as well as many other theological works. He wanted people to read good books on theology and devotion, and so he founded the Apostolato Stampa press in order to publish orthodox theological works. He was an extraordinary musician, a Third Order Franciscan, and slept less than three hours a night due to his intense prayer life.”

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Servant of God Dolindo Ruotolo, priest, scholar, mystic

This was a 20th century priest. When pilgrims traveled to San Giovanni Rotondo to visit Padre Pio, he pointed to Fr. Dolindo, asking why were people visiting him (Padre Pio) when there is a saint in Naples. Fr. Dolindo, with a deeply contemplative prayer life, “regretted that Modernis had reduced the prominence of the rosary in the lives of many Catholics, and emphatically preached that the rosary was not a tedious prayer of repetition, but a method for contemplating the saving mysteries of the life of Christ.”

Fr. Calloway further explains: “Dolindo lived through World War I and World War II. He saw the rosary as a weapon in the spiritual life, referring to the rosary as a sword and a machine gun in our spiritual arsenal. In his homilies, he often informed his listeners that every Hail Mary was a shot fired at Satan and the forces of darkness.”

In Fr. Dolindo’s own words: “The rosary is a powerful prayer against Satan and against the assaults of evil. Our Church brought, and continues to bring, great triumphs because of this prayer. The decades of the rosary, from this point of view, are like the belt of a machine gun: every bead is a shot, every affection of the soul is an explosion of faith that frightens off Satan, and Mary once more crushes his head.”

In such spiritual gems, we see a much deeper understanding behind the reality of the rosary as a central weapon of combat for spiritual warfare.

Fr. Calloway’s book accomplishes a tremendous task, one that is threefold. It is probably the most thorough history of the rosary ever written. It captures the spiritual dynamism of Marian devotion and spirituality, especially conveyed through the lives of the men and women who reached heights of holiness through their Marian spirituality. And it also provides beautiful artwork about the Madonna and the rosary—many depictions of St. Dominic receiving the rosary, and of other saints with the Virgin. These artworks span from classics by baroque artists like Caravaggio to contemporary art commissioned by Fr. Calloway for the theme of the book, capturing a Madonna that is a mighty Queen with the rosary in one hand and a sword binding the devil in the other, surrounded by her army of saints.

The Bible begins with the Book of Genesis, where it is explained that the Woman would stump on the head of the serpent, and finishes with the Book of Revelation, where the Woman with a crown of twelve stars with her child would do battle against the dragon and his angels. Meaning, throughout salvation history, from the beginning to the end, Our Lady’s has been given a pivotal role—even being prefigured—in destroying the works of the devil, leading souls to a deeper intimacy with her divine son Jesus: being chosen by God for a singularly unique mission in salvation history. It is the Queen of Heaven who is leading the armies of light against the kingdom of darkness.

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Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC

Fr. Calloway explains: “I have written Champions of the Rosary to recap and pick up where St. Louis de Montfort left off. Three centuries have gone by since St. Louis de Montfort penned his monumental work, and many things have taken place. Many miracles, victories, conversions, developments, discoveries, and champions of the rosary need to be added to the story of the sword for the people of our times. Trust me: I know firsthand how the rosary can help a soul convert.”

Fr. Calloway, being someone who was saved from a life of sin and ruin as an adolescent—including addiction, crime, and promiscuity—through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, knows very well what it means to be saved from the grip of the enemy by the spiritual sword of the rosary. He has written a book in return that is a gift to the Church, speaking to a multifaceted and rich history of miracles, conversions, military victories, Marian apparitions, and holy lives who owe so much to the Virgin Mary’s intercession. The greatest compliment that a book by a Christian author can receive is that it’s a work that will lead readers to experience God and lead to lives of deeper devotion and conversion. Fr. Calloway’s book, an anointed work, possesses this rare capacity: it is a book informed not only by knowledge but also by the life of prayer.

The Face of Mercy

I highly recommend this new film, The Face of Mercy, which I recently saw at the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, DC. It is easily the best documentary I have seen on the Divine Mercy message and image, one of Catholicism’s most popular devotions based on the visionary experiences of Jesus to the Polish mystic and saint Sr. Faustina Kowalska during the 1930s in Krakow.

The film includes appearances from a number of prominent Catholics, including Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Fr. Donald Calloway, Fr. Michael Gaitley, Scott Hahn, George Weigel, John Allen Jr., and the Rwanda genocide survivor and author Immaculee Ilibagiza, among others, with narration by Jim Caviezel.

Please check out the film’s official Web site for more information. Here is also a link to the DVD. Again, I strongly recommend this moving and edifying film on one of the most important spiritualities of our time.

City of Saints: A Pilgrimage to Kraków

As World Youth Day 2016 approaches in Krakow, Poland, I would like to recommend City of Saintsa couple of works that really capture the beauty and rich Catholic heritage of the medieval Polish city, where I lived for a couple of years as a child. First, a great book has been written called City of Saints: A Pilgrimage to John Paul II’s Krakow by George Weigel, Carrie Gress, and Stephen Weigel. The book provides not only a rich history of the Catholic heritage of Krakow, and its influence on Saint John Paul II, but also provides vivid photographs of sacred sites from the city, providing a beautiful pictorial tour.

I also wanted to recommend this Youtube video series by Sister Gaudia Skass, who is a member of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Krakow, the same community that the Polish mystic and saint Faustina Kowalska, who received visions of Jesus in the 1930’s, belonged to. Here is a link to the American province of the community, in case anyone may be discerning a vocation to religious life – please check out the sisters! Below is the series of eleven short videos of Sister Gaudia sharing some of the sacred heritage of the Divine Mercy Center in Krakow, a landmark of Polish Catholicism:

Lent: Experience Transformation

TransformationDear Friends, as Ash Wednesday is upon us and the sacred season of Lent begins, it is important to remember that Lent is not just about renunciation but also transformation. Lenten fasting can be proactive, helping us to grow in virtue by fasting from negativity, gossip, sloth, spiritual laziness, unhealthy addictions, in order to become disciplined, prayerful, positive-minded, active, God-loving people for the transformation of our lives in Christ; sharing in His Resurrection by rising at the end of this time as new men and women of God, empowered and strengthened for deeper, more meaningful, lives that can touch and help transform other lives.

Here are two programs by two of Catholicism’s greatest evangelists — Matthew Kelly and Scott Hahn — that can help us transform our lives (through deeper conversion in Christ) this Lent.

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Matthew Kelly is helping to facilitate the process of transformation for countless Catholic’s through a program called “Best Lent Ever.” I encourage all readers to sign up for this free program, as I will be doing. Here is a description of the program from the Facebook page of the Dynamic Catholic Institute:

“Best Lent Ever is built around encountering Jesus—and yourself—in a deeply personal way, and developing (or nourishing) a habit of daily prayer. Based on Matthew Kelly’s new bestseller Rediscover Jesus, the free email program leads to a transformative Lent and everyday life.

“Beginning Ash Wednesday and continuing through the 40 days of Lent, participants will receive daily inspirational emails with short videos from Matthew, a New York Times bestselling author, and one of our incredible Dynamic Catholic Team members.

“These brief, personal reflections will give you simple ways to bring Jesus into your everyday life.

“So, will it really be your best Lent ever? That is entirely up to you. Sign up today and commit to doing something life changing this Lent.” Please sign up here!

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Part of transforming our lives includes, as St. Paul says, expanding our minds, growing in our knowledge of faith. Here is another special program, hosted by Scott Hahn, available this Lent: the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology will be offering free access to a new Bible series called The Bible and the Virgin Mary starting Ash WednesdayHere is a trailer of the program:

It is a rare opportunity to get this program for free. Please click here to register for the program. On their Web site the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology explains:

“Over the course of 12 lessons, beginning on Ash Wednesday, this study presents the participant an opportunity for growth in knowledge of Scripture and devotion to Our Lady.

“As part of St. Paul Center’s mission, we want to share this study with as many people as possible. Please tell your friends and share this resource. . . . New lessons will be posted each week and will be available for two weeks after the post date. Keep an eye out for a new email each week announcing that the new lesson is available. . . . We look forward to growing with you.”

It is true that Lent is a time of penance and fasting, as we partake in 40 days of abstinence and unite ourselves to the Passion of Christ Jesus, Our Savior and Redeemer. Traditional fasting from certain foods is always fruitful when united with prayer as an offering of sacrificial love to the Lord, and needs to be a part of our Lent. Furthermore, as these helpful series’ by the Dynamic Catholic Institute and the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology emphasize, the point is not only renunciation but also growth and transformation that should, through God’s grace and our response, happen during Lent, but also extend beyond it.

Catholic Priest will be Chaplain to Carolina Panthers at Super Bowl 50

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Here’s a great story shared by Gretchen Filz about the Catholic priest — Father Joe Mulligan — who will be going with the Carolina Panthers to Super Bowl 50 this Sunday, making sure the Catholic players on the team have the gift of the Sunday Mass, and being their spiritual chaplain throughout the experience. Gretchen shared the story, as reported by Charlotte’s Catholic News Herald:

CHARLOTTE — Father Joe Mulligan, a warm-hearted, gregarious Irish priest with 40 years of ministering to people in the Diocese of Charlotte, is seldom at a loss for words. But a phone call one week ago left him speechless.

That phone call came from the Carolina Panthers’ director of Player Engagement, Mark Carrier, who told Father Joe that the Panthers’ Catholic players had chosen him to go to Super Bowl 50 as their chaplain. Carrier said, the players were inviting Father Joe to accompany them on their historic trip to the Big Game in Santa Clara, California, and would Father Joe like to go?

Father Mulligan replied, “It’s a good thing I’m sitting down. As a person that usually has a lot of things to say, I’m just filled with gratitude and overjoyed to be able to go.”

“That was as much as I could get out,” he recalls.

Click here to continue reading full story.

Powerful: Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson on God & Prayer

Here is a great video of Tom Hanks and wife Rita Wilson talking about God and prayer, being Greek Orthodox Christians, and raising their children with prayer and the Church.

Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson are both members of the Greek Orthodox Church. Wilson has even written eloquently about the importance and beauty of Christian faith and ritual in her life. A few years ago she wrote a piece for the HuffingtonPost called “The Joys of Greek Easter,” in which Wilson shared:

“When we were kids, our parents would take us, and now as parents ourselves we take our children, to many of the Holy Week services including the Good Friday service where you mourn the death of Jesus by walking up to the Epitaphio, which represents the dead body of Christ, make your cross, kiss the Epitaphio, and marvel at how it was decorated with thousands of glorious flowers, rose petals and scents like incense.

Some very pious people will crawl under the Epitaphio. I have always been so moved to see this. There is no self- consciousness in this utter act of faith. There is no embarrassment to show symbolic sorrow at the death of our Saviour.”

Melissa Joan Hart Stars in “God’s Not Dead 2,” Talks about Faith & Prayer

We pray every night with the kids and at every meal. . . We go to church every Sunday. . . .I have a great life and I want to share that with people, and a lot of that, almost all of that, is my faith.” – Melissa Joan Hart

Actress Melissa Joan Hart, known for her roles in the popular TV series’ Clarissa Explains It All (1991-94), Sabrina the Teenage Witch (1996-2003), and Melissa & Joey (2010-15), is the star of the new Christian film God’s Not Dead 2, the sequel to the popular God’s Not DeadIn the video interview below Hart, who is a devout Christian, speaks about feeling called to star in the new film. “I felt very called to do this movie, really excited about it, and prayed a lot over it.”

In an interview with Paulette Cohn, Hart spoke about the importance of the Christian faith Melissa_Joan_Hart_2011and prayer for her and her family: “We pray every night with the kids and at every meal. . . We go to church every Sunday, and Mason [Hart’s son] goes to Sunday school while my husband and I are in the actual service. He is learning and coloring. He thinks he is having fun, but at the same time he is learning about Jesus, religion and prayer. Braydon, too, will start that in a couple of months. Mason also goes to a Christian pre-school, which I think is wonderful and helpful. They say a prayer before snack every day and do chapel once a week. I think it is nice. It puts him around a group that has the same beliefs as his family.”

In God’s Not Dead 2 Hart plays a teacher who is persecuted for responding to a student’s question by mentioning and quoting Jesus from the New Testament. In a video interview Hart speaks to the deeper reality that the film tries to convey in relation to the persecution that many Christians receive today. “I think this is a very relevant movie for right now, what’s going on in this country, in the world: a lot of Christians being persecuted… a lot of sacrificing the many for the one, and not taking into consideration what this country was founded on.”

Hart continued: “I think there is a struggle right now with religion, and in public it’s not easy to talk about, but hopefully this opens up some conversation.” God’s Not Dead 2 is set to come out in theaters April 1, 2016.

The Painting Leonardo DiCaprio showed Pope Francis

During Leonardo DiCaprio’s private audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican thisLeoPopeFrancis past Thursday the prominent actor gave the Holy Father an art book about the work of the Early Netherlandish painter Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516). DiCaprio turned the page to a recreation of Bosch’s famous work The Garden of Earthly Delights, a triptych altarpiece that includes a portrayal of God with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden in the first panel, a depiction of humanity’s sins in the second panel, and a portrayal of judgment through the damnation of hell in the third panel. Here is an image of the full work:

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DiCaprio explained to the Holy Father how a representation of the painting hung over his crib as a child, hinting at how this classic Christian work of art would inspire the actor’s future activism for the environment: “Through my child’s eyes it represented a planet,” DiCaprio told Pope Francis, “the utopia we had been given, the overpopulation, excesses, and the third panel we see a blackened sky that represents so much to me of what’s going on in the environment.”

It is fascinating how the artwork, so important to DiCaprio, portrays the creation story itself. When closed, the triptych has a portrayal of the earth and the creation story, with God the Father sitting on the far (upper) left creating the world:

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In the first panel, there is a portrayal of the Garden of Eden with emphasis on God walking with Adam and Eve in the earthy paradise:

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While the second (central) panel that follows presents a hedonistic, pleasure-seeking humanity, notably absent of God, it is the the third and final panel that presents God’s judgments as a result of humanity’s sins, with a vivid depiction of a “hellscape,” as seen here:

hellscape - Garden of Earthly Delights

It is fascinating how this work, even in the early stages of his childhood, represented to DiCaprio the beauty of God’s creation and of what humanity has done to it, following its denigration, inspiring the actor toward a life of activism fighting for the environment. Toward the end of the encounter, Pope Francis gave DiCaprio copies of The Joy of the Gospel and Laudato Si, the Pope’s environmental encyclical, adding “pray for me, and don’t forget.”