Abuse, the Rosary, and an Old-Fashioned Social Media Pile-On

Abuse, the Rosary, and an Old-Fashioned Social Media Pile-On September 25, 2021


A friend, a devout Catholic, mentioned on that a new confessor had told her she had to pray the Rosary every day or she’d never be a saint.

This is patently ridiculous. Plenty of people became saints before the Rosary was even invented. The Rosary was developed as a way for illiterate people who couldn’t read the Divine Office to meditate, and it’s a beautiful, helpful prayer for many. But it’s not required. It’s not a sacrament. The Rosary is a private devotion. My friend prays daily, in other ways.

My friend made the mistake of remarking about this on social media. She mentioned that she prayed other prayers every day, but she hardly ever prayed the Rosary lately because a history of abuse by her mother made it hard to feel close to the Virgin Mary. And that’s when the pile-on started. Dozens of people showed up to tell her why she was wrong.

People with photos of Saint Pio for profile pictures came out of the woodwork to praise the new confessor and chide her for not praying the Rosary. People with ten-year-old profile photos and “proud father, devout Catholic” in their bios told her in the most patronizing tones that she might want to give the Rosary a try as if she hadn’t. People with weird meme sketches for profile pictures made fun of her trauma, accused her of self-pity. Someone even posted a PDF of True Devotion and the DeMontfort Consecration prayers. It went on for most of the day.

It’s always puzzling to me when people ask a Catholic trauma survivor if she’s tried the Rosary. What Catholic hasn’t tried the Rosary? What Catholic hasn’t tried their darndest to let the Virgin Mary fill their longing for a mother? We all have. We don’t all end up with pleasant feelings about it.

I was somewhere in the melee as well, mentioning that I don’t pray the Rosary either and have a hard time feeling cuddly with the Virgin Mary. When you grew up an Apparition Chaser, Mary is not someone it’s easy to get close to. The Rosary triggers panic attacks in me. it reminds me of the horror stories about Fatima, Medjugorje, victim souls, stigmata, the Three Days of Darkness, and Mary opening the pit of hell to traumatize children. I pray in other ways, through Ignatian Meditation or the Divine office, or by listening to the Small Paraklesis or O Virgin Pure while painting icons. But sometimes not even Eastern images feel safe.

I mentioned that a Byzantine Catholic priest who didn’t realize I’d been taking refuge at his parish because Latin Catholicism triggers flashbacks to my childhood once gave me a Rosary as penance in confession. I know I could have negotiated that penance but I felt like I couldn’t open my mouth. I went and prayed the entire thing, staring at the icons and trying not to panic, and it was excruciating.

People were not understanding, of me or of the original poster. It went on for almost twenty-four hours: chiding, lecturing, patronizing, posting PDFs of books, swamping my friend with nonsense.

I made a few crabby remarks about how the Rosary certainly didn’t seem to be turning any of these folks into saints, which might have been merited at the moment but isn’t fair. There are plenty of cruel people who don’t pray the Rosary as well. Cruelty isn’t the Rosary’s fault.

The next day, my friend deleted her tweets. “It’s funny,” she said.  “Since trads clamored through my mentions telling me I pray wrong, I’m just being negative about the parental abuse I suffered, and that I don’t understand the faith, there’s even more pain associated with the rosary. I’ll stick to the Divine Office and my Mary Magdalene chaplet.”

That’s yet another reason you shouldn’t pile on people who pray differently than you do, you see. It’s not only abusive and cruel, it’s also not an effective way to propagate the Rosary. I certainly don’t feel like trying it again any time soon after yesterday.

I have nothing to say to the trolls who just want to be angry and misunderstand on purpose. They have nothing to do with Christ and Mary. But if you’re a Rosary-lover who honestly want to help people who are traumatized and can’t feel close to Mary, please listen to me. Don’t lecture or try to catechize us. We’re not suffering from a lack of information. Trauma isn’t ignorance. Trauma is a physical injury to the nervous system sustained by being scared or hurt severely. We probably know just as much about the Rosary as you do. We don’t share your experiences.

Whatever you do, please don’t tell an abuse survivor that they ought to try True Devotion and the Louis DeMontfort Consecration. No, I don’t care what John Paul the Second said. I care that those prayers and meditations tell people that they ought to think of themselves as “toads and worms and creeping things” and have as much hatred and contempt for themselves as possible. They talk about the relationship of souls with Christ and Mary as slavery instead of care and nurturing. They instruct you to say daily prayers asking Mary to make you “suffer without human consolation.” They are horrendously toxic. People who have been abused do not need to be told that the Virgin Mary wants to be their next abusive mom. They don’t need to be encouraged to think of themselves in a worse way. They don’t need to be further brainwashed into thinking torture is a good thing. They need to be assured that God loves them, their pain is not something He desires, and they’re worthy of love.

If you really want to be an advertisement for the Rosary, the best thing you can do is be a kind and loving a person, while being a person who loves the Rosary. That’s the best evangelization there is. We don’t need a lecture. We’ve already read the catechism and memorized the teachings about Mary just as you have. But maybe we’ve never seen that ardent charity in action. It would be a lot easier to be close to Mary if we had an example of how she might act. So be charitable. Be patient. Be as welcoming and attentive as you think she’d be. And don’t pester us with advice we’ve already tried.

If you’ve been abused and are having trouble feeling close to Christ and Mary, please know that I’m with you. You’re not alone. Your experience isn’t uncommon and it doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong. The great mystery of Christianity is that we worship a traumatized God: a God Who became a human and suffered everything we suffer. When He was crucified He cried out “Eloi, Eloi lama sabachthani” and couldn’t feel anything good about God either. God Himself felt only coldness from God. God died and descended into hell. God was cut down from the cross and laid in the arms of Mother Mary, but He couldn’t feel Mary’s presence or any comfort from her just then. Your experience is a deeply Christian experience. God suffers it with you and will draw it into the mystery of His resurrection.

One reason praying the Rosary is a good thing for many, is because it encourages them to meditate on these mysteries. If we meditate on the mysteries, after all, we may imitate what they contain. But the Rosary is not the only way to meditate, and a lot of people seem to manage to plow through a Rosary without thinking about these truths at all. Maybe that’s why the prayer fails to make them compassionate.

Let’s all try to imitate Mary’s compassion and kindness, instead of the mess that happened yesterday. That would be a much better way to honor her.



image via pixabay

Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.
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