As I reach the steps of the capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin I pass a gentleman holding a vulgar picture of our Lord and an older woman holding a sign with an unmentionable slogan seemingly promoting female license. Others are standing by signs suggesting that our governor physically harms those with disabilities. I continue up the steps, unsure of what I’ll find, and as I reach the top of them, I inhale sharply, shocked at the sight. There above the steps of the capitol stand two large images of the Divine Mercy and of Our Lady of Guadalupe. An imposing-looking Dominican in a black habit is preparing to speak to the crowd. And the crowd, where I am now, has formed, holding rosaries, water bottles, and children. This is not the typical Madison scene.
The Dominican, Fr. Isaac Mary, is leading our diocese’s rosary rally tonight. With the encouragement of our bishop, we will pray all fifteen decades of the rosary for religious freedom to reign in this country. And rather than for just a fortnight, the rally will be held every Thursday until election day in November.
Just as I am wondering if this is all really happening, Fr. Isaac addresses the crowd in his rough New York accent. “Weah heah tonight to pray against ABORTION,” his thunderous voice echoing in the balmy evening air, “CONTRACEPTION—”
I’m going to get shot, I think, as I take some comfort in knowing that I’m in the middle of the crowd.
“and attacks against the traditional FAMILY!”
I inhale again and wait. No bullets. A good start. I settle into my place and try to communicate to my body that it will be here for the whole fifteen mysteries.
Fr. Isaac encourages the crowd by reminding them of the efficacy of prayer and penance (“which should sting a little”). In the background stands Fr. Rick Heilman, who himself had succeeded in ousting a strip club from a neighboring town by gathering the faithful to pray regularly in front of the establishment and who was also part of the prayer vigil that had succeeded in preventing a local clinic near campus from beginning to perform late-term abortions.
Fr. Isaac begins, “In da name of da Faddah, and of da Son, and of da Holy Ghost...” Most of the crowd drops to their knees. And one by one, we pray the mysteries as the air cools pleasantly and clouds drift past in the deep blue sky.
It does sting. The numbness of my knees is broken frequently by shooting pains emanating from my kneecaps, and Fr. Isaac accidentally repeats the third sorrowful mystery, and on that cement step I feel closer to the crucified Jesus than I have in a long time, and I beg His mercy for my sins and those of my countrymen. Hunched over, I feel acutely the pain of sin and my nothingness. And I consider my deep concern over the future of my country and I feel my poverty. Nothing can save me or my nation except Him. And we kneel with Him and meditate on His passion. In public. An occasional mocking voice cuts through the peaceful recitation, but the fifteen mysteries prove too long for most of those jeering.
I stand, unable to stand the pain. We pray the glorious mysteries. After, I touch my rosary to a first-degree relic of St. Dominic and return a small American flag that had been handed to me. I walk back down the steps, knowing I’ll be there next week. I’m looking forward to this becoming the typical Madison scene.