Having learned the Hail Mary I was prepared for the Angelus when it came along at my first Anglo-Catholic parish, and the rosary popped up with some frequency thereafter in ecumenical and Roman Catholic circles. It took a few years till the Hail Mary became a regular prayer in the car, perfect for repeating over and over, and later I built in the rosary proper as a feature of any driving day, preferably near the beginning.
The road rosary took hold thanks to missionary friends in Mexico, who would pray it on the way to far-flung ranchos for impromptu services of an evening, built around testimony to the transforming power of the gospel, songs set to guitar, and intercessory prayer with the laying on of hands. I hope not to forget watching the sun set over the Mexican desert from a van packed with fired-up undergraduates from south Louisiana plus our missionary hosts, praying the rosary as an earnest of the evangelization to come. In an hour’s time these impressive young people — mostly charismatic Roman Catholics, whom I had seen poring over the Scriptures in their spare time, when they weren’t prostrate before the blessed sacrament and a giant crucifix — would be sharing their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ with the rural poor who might not see a priest for a year, though they would see many persuasive Jehovah’s Witnesses.
As a missionary myself several years later, serving in South Africa, I recall embarking on a day-trip with a bishop friend who suggested that we start our journey with the rosary. “Whenever I drive around my diocese,” he told me, “I always pray the rosary with whomever is with me in the car. I don’t ask for permission, but simply invite them to join in,” he laughed. And we both were pleased to find that our temporary home, the College of the Transfiguration, still rang the Angelus bell twice daily, at noon and at 6 p.m., an apparent remnant of Anglo-Catholic origins. I didn’t notice an observable piety around the practice, but since my class started at noon, I told my students we would begin by reciting the Angelus, which we did.
At The Living Church, our offices sit alongside Milwaukee’s Cathedral Church of All Saints where the Angelus is rung twice each day. And because I live across the street, there is no escaping the bells. At work and at home, I stop what I am doing, stand, and pray for the grace to be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
What might this mean? The unmistakable subject, and principal actor, of the Angelus — and of the Rosary — is the Word of God himself. All is ordered to his arrival and its consequences, and Mary’s Fiat subsists in surrender. Be it unto me according to thy Word, she says, as prologue to the third versicle: And the Word was made flesh: And dwelt among us. As we repeat these words, taking them to heart, we follow in the footsteps of Mary and Jesus, even to his cross and passion on the way to glorious resurrection.
It’s Ash Wednesday and I’m just back from a long road trip that took me on Living Church business to Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, South Carolina, and Washington, D.C. I can’t list all of the faithful folks whom I met and with whom I engaged in ministry, fed by worship and mutual encouragement. (If you’re on Facebook, you can see a few of the photos I snapped along the way; visit my page.) I am truly thankful to the saints who provided extraordinary hospitality. The trip included an organizing meeting of the Cranmer Forum, being a collocation of younger leaders: stay tuned (cranmerinstitute.org); the conclusion of the current round of the Anglican-Roman Catholic Consultation in the U.S. (ARC-USA): watch for an agreed statement on “Ecclesiology and Moral Discernment” this spring; and first visits to several parishes — All Souls, Oklahoma City; Trinity Cathedral, Columbia; and All Saints, Chevy Chase.
I did a lot of praying on the road, right the way along. I followed the Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious mysteries, and I held the special intentions of folks I had just been with and for whom I had promised to pray. When I remembered I prayed the Angelus at noon and 6.
As we travel, and as we arrive again at home, our missionary vocation remains the same. We are pilgrims on a journey. We are called out of ourselves and sent to follow the incarnated and crucified One, to share the good news of his gospel with the nations. Our job is to say yes, not knowing where we are being led. Fiat: Let it be done; so be it; amen.