Margaret Rose Realy is a contemplative lay hermit. She grew up near 8 Mile and Woodward outside Detroit, sharing a home with her maternal grandmother where the love of gardening flourished. Margaret reveals her love of nature, learning about the Creator through his creation, with a Benedictine spirituality in her books, columns, and presentations. She blogs at Morning Rose Prayer Garden. Her third book, A Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac: Cultivating Your Faith throughout the Year, will be released on March 23 by Ave Maria Press.
Read more entries in the How I Pray series.
Who are you?
An excitable joyful worm…
What is your vocation?
…trying to make compost fruitful. I want to make purposeful what is discarded in the world.
What is your prayer routine for an average day?
Throughout the day, or night when I’m awake, I chatter a lot with Our Lord, Mother Mary, my Guardian Angel, a saint—whoever will listen, really. I send up ejaculatory prayers at the slightest hint of intercessory need or in thanksgiving and gratitude. The prayer board in the oratory helps me keep track of prayer requests. I love morning prayer. It’s my time for coffee with Christ—usually half a pot over nearly two hours (I’m a slow starter in the morning). Then, as often as I can, I attend morning Mass. A couple times a week I pray the Office for the Dead. I also visit the Adoration Chapel with frequency.
When I became a Benedictine, it was (and still is!) a challenge to follow a regular prayer routine. I use a schedule matched to the monks’ at St. Benedict Monastery in Oxford, Michigan—the monastery to which I belong. The Divine Office adds structure to my prayers, but I struggle—mightily—not with stopping what I’m doing to pray but with the wrote manner of the Office’s construction. I’m accustomed to personal or affective prayers. The liturgical prayer of the Divine Office still feels stifling. I suppose any impulsive child accustomed to freely running about, would have a hard time learning to stay focused.
How well do you achieve it, and how do you handle those moments when you don’t?
The Liturgy of the Hours? Still working on it. Living as a hermit, I often lose track of time and tend to be late more often than not for sext and vespers. I tried using a kitchen multiple-set timer to call me to prayer, but it shattered the silence with such force that the following adrenalin rush was counter productive. I need a soft bell…and I don’t own a cell phone on which to download an app.
When my focus wanes in prayer I imagine Mother Mary, like any parent would do, cupping her hand under my chin and gently turning my attention back to where it should be.
Do you have a devotion that is particularly important to you or effective?
When I use the home font of holy water and make the Sign of the Cross, I trace the sign on my forehead, lips, and chest and say, “Be in my thoughts, and on my lips, and in my heart. Bless my coming and my going, and these hands to do your will.” If I’m having struggles in my day, an extra dip and the words “Jesus, I’m lost and helpless without you.”
Adoration. There is no other place that brings so great a joy as being with Jesus present in the Blessed Sacrament. Second to that is Reconciliation every two weeks.
I am particularly devoted to the precious souls in Purgatory and enjoy saying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, and the St. Gertrude prayer.
I love the rosary, pray it regularly, and am a daily member of a living rosary prayer chain for priests. I have recently added praying it daily for an end of the evil that is ISIS, for the conversion of the terrorists’ souls.
I am also devoted to the act of Spiritual Adoption. I don’t know if this is a teaching of our Church, though for me it is a long standing practice. It’s the taking on of another’s soul in prayer and petition for a year. I’ll light candles, say rosaries, bring them to Adoration, offer ejaculatory prayers all on their behalf—I try to hold them up to Our Lord and ask him to let them feel embraced in holy love throughout their days and especially in their trials. I try to never tell the person that they have been adopted, but sometimes, for their own reasons, they may need to hear that someone is praying for them 365.
Do you have a place, habit, or way of praying?
My habit of prayer is with silence in the oratory at set times. The small altar is dressed in the liturgical color of the day with my grandmother’s fourteen inch1940s iron crucifix standing on top. In front of the crucifix is a hand-sized IHS medallion from a repurposed chasuble (I used to make altar cloths incorporating garment material). I place my hand upon it before beginning to pray. I recall how, for so many liturgies, this medallion was on the back of a priest as they offered Mass. I think about the millions of unspoken prayers from the congregation that were flung upon the back of the priest as he brought Christ to the altar. I am humbled to be able to continue its lineage of prayer.
Hanging above is the image of Divine Mercy, Our lady of Guadalupe, and an icon of St. Michale the Archangel.
When entering the oratory I lay my hand on the medallion, look to the images, ask St. Michael for his protection, and cheerily greet Mother Mary and Jesus, chattering with them a bit while I settle into my chair and prayer routine—opening the breviary for the Divine Office, my Rule of St. Benedict, and usually pick up the rosary beads.
Do you use any tools or sacramentals?
Any and all. They’re definitely a part of my prayer life.
What is your relationship with the rosary?
The first memory I have of my grandmother is of her sitting on a small aqua velveteen settee looking out a window praying a rosary. I was quite young but perceived that she was—deeply—somewhere that I wasn’t. She noticed I was watching and silently motioned me to sit at her side. I remember being very still, feeling happy, and watched her leathery finger tips move over the blue crystal beads.
Not until I was in my 40s did I fully reconnect with the peace of the rosary. Now, I always carry one—old and wooden—hidden in my pocket, and pray it waiting in lines or for appointments, or handle it when in conversations for guidance. I frequently pull it out while I’m driving—lots of people get highway decades as I motor along.
I made rosaries for years. Each was imbedded with prayers as it was strung and once more before it was boxed up to be gifted or sold.
Like the crucifixes and images, there is one in every room.
I think my favorite rosary is the plastic glow-in-the-dark that hangs on the shade of a small lamp beside my bed. I love praying it as my last motion of the day. I don’t worry if I fall asleep while praying it, assured that my Guardian Angel or a saint will carry on. I look at it this way—I don’t imagine we are ever fully matured spiritually until after death. So we are always children, and if a child is resting in your arms and falls asleep mid sentence, would you mind it so terribly much? I thought not…
Are there any books or spiritual works that are important to your devotional life?
Daily readings include Magnificat, which has been at my side for over a decade, Divine Intimacy by Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen OCD (moves me spiritually every single time), the Rule of St. Benedict, and the Liturgy of the Hours.
Also picked up with some frequency are the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Bible, and recently Manual for Spiritual Warfare. St. Francis deSales, Introduction to a Devout Life and St. Faustina, Divine Mercy are on my list to be read again. Gosh, it’s hard to not list everything!
What is your most recent spiritual or devotional reading?
I’m about finished with River Jordan’s delightful book, Praying for Strangers, and will read Beginning to Pray by Anthony Bloom after Lent.
In the tradition of the Benedictines, my assigned readings for Lent are McKeown’s book Essentialism (meh, business related, but hoping for insights), and Athanasius which I hope will help me with the Psalms.
Are there saints or other figures who inspire your prayer life or act as patrons?
There’s a whole family of them that I pray with!
In the morning the litany includes Mother Mary, St. Benedict, St. Pio, St. Faustina, St. Mary Magdalene, St. Bakita, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Hildegard, St. Brigid, Bl. Mother Teresa, St. John Paul II, Bl. Margaret of Castello, and my Guardian Angel. Lately there are a lot of pregnant women needing prayers so St. Gianna Molla is asked to pray with me for their intentions.
One of my patron saints is St. Mary Magdalene who has been with me since I was four. A few years ago I was blessed by artist Richard Stodart and his wife Nancy with his image of this saint. I loved the image and emailed asking if they sold prayer cards or had an extra marketing post card—I shared that she had been a favorite saint since childhood. After a few emails were exchanged I learned that neither were available. About two weeks later, I was surprised when a large tube arrived containing a 16 x 20 signed and numbered litho from the Stodarts. Need I say that they will be prayed for well into my eternity?
A recent patron, St. Hildegard, about whom I have much to learn, is connected to my oblation. She was suggested by two dear friends when, three days before my Final Oblation, I was told of the requirement to pick a Benedictine saint for my name, and I had no idea who to choose! I trusted the Holy Spirit had planted Hildegard’s name in the hearts of each of those women—Elizabeth Scalia in New York and Joanne McPortland in California—and so went with this recently canonized Doctor of the Church.
Have you had any unusual or even miraculous experiences as a result of your prayer life?
Those remain between me and our Lord.
I would like to see _______________ answer these questions.
Cecile Richards (Ha!)
Anything else you’d like to add?
I must be deprived as a hermit—I’ve said far too much already.
Final comment: Prayer is the effort of one’s life, not so much the words.