I heard the story as a teenager — long before I became Catholic. A young American soldier was carelessly thrown into his sweltering jungle prison. Sick, sweaty and malnourished, he lay semiconscious on the dirt floor. The beatings he endured now occurred daily and at times, hourly. As night merged with day and week gave rise to week, the steady brutality came without sense, without mercy and without end.
And yet, though collapsed under the weight of excruciating pain and feverish delirium, moments of lucidity found the soldier’s trembling finger tracing — etching — something onto the earthen floor. Ten dots were roughly connected in a circle and in the center, a cross. And then, almost imperceptibly, his swollen, bloodied lips began to mutter, Hail, Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee…
The Rosary, this soldier later recalled, was what kept him sane in the midst of a time of incomprehensible ruthlessness.
When I first became Catholic, I believed that the Rosary was a thoughtful, admirable prayer of devotion. Perhaps, I reasoned, it is something I should pray from time to time. But it was this soldier’s stirring witness that explicitly proved to me that the Rosary is so much more. It is an incomparable encounter with Christ that is capable of transcending the harshest of realities. It is a prayerful place where words soon fall away and “we shall be left in silence in the ocean of God’s love.”
A soldier enduring hellish torture came to understand and embrace the Rosary as a profound, life-sustaining encounter with God.