One of the greatest struggles associated with saying the Rosary is the struggle against distraction. This issue is not unique to the Rosary, however; it is certain that distractions will come with prayer.
There is a story of a man who accompanied St. Bernard was traveling with a poor, uneducated farmer, who noticed that the abbot kept his eyes cast downward. When the farmer asked why the saint wasn’t looking at the beautiful countryside, Bernard explained that he wanted to avoid distractions while praying.
In response, the farmer boasted, “I’m never distracted when I pray.” Bernard objected, “I don’t believe it. Now let me make a bargain with you. If you can say the Our Father without one distraction, I’ll give you this mule I’m riding. But if you don’t succeed, you must come with me and be a monk.” The farmer agreed and began praying aloud confidently, “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name . . .” Then, after pausing for a moment, he asked St. Bernard, “Does that include the saddle and the bridle, too?”How the Saints Overcame Distraction During Prayer FR. JOSEPH M. ESPER
Try it yourself. Even if you succeed at praying the Our Father without being distracted, simply checking to see if you are distracted is itself a distraction! Apart from Mary, no living human has ever been completely free from distraction during prayer.
… Faith must be strong and constant, that is, one must not be looking for sensible devotion and spiritual consolation in the recitation of the Rosary; nor should one give it up because his mind is flooded with countless involuntary distractions or one experiences a strange distaste in the soul and an almost continual and oppressive fatigue in the body. Neither feeling, nor consolation, nor sighs, nor transports, nor the continual attention of the imagination are needed; faith and good intentions are quite enough. “Faith alone suffices.”From – THE ELEVENTH ROSE: THE CREED
What a relief it is, then, to know that the inevitable distractions we face during prayer do nothing to reduce our prayers’ effectiveness. In fact, if we persevere in resisting such distractions, our prayer may grow even more powerful for our struggle.
When the Rosary is well said it gives Jesus and Mary more glory and it is more meritorious for the soul than any other prayer.
…But it is also the hardest prayer to say well and to persevere in, owing especially to the distractions which almost inevitably attend the constant repetition of the same words.
When we say the Little Office of Our Lady, or the Seven Penitential Psalms, or any prayers other than the Rosary, the variety of words and expressions keeps us alert, prevents our imagination from wandering, and so makes it easier for us to say them well. On the contrary, because of the constant repetition of the same Our Father and Hail Mary in the same unvarying form, it is difficult, while saying the Rosary, not to become wearied and inclined to sleep or to turn to other prayers that are more refreshing and less tedious. This goes to show that one needs much greater devotion to persevere in saying the Holy Rosary than in saying any other prayer, even the Psalms of David.
Our imagination, which is hardly still a minute, makes our task harder and then of course there is the devil who never tires of trying to distract us and keep us from praying. To what ends does not the evil one go against us while we are engaged in saying our Rosary against him.
Being human, we easily become tired and slipshod—but the devil makes these difficulties worse when we are saying the Rosary. Before we even begin he makes us feel bored, distracted or exhausted—and when we have started praying he oppresses us from all sides. And when, after much difficulty and many distractions, we have finished, he whispers to us: “What you have just said is worthless. It’s useless for you to say the Rosary. You had better get on with other things. It’s only a waste of time to pray without paying attention to what you’re saying; half an hour’s meditation or some spiritual reading would be much better. Tomorrow when you’re not feeling so sluggish you’ll pray better; don’t finish your Rosary until tomorrow.” By tricks of this kind the devil gets us to give up the Rosary altogether or else hardly say it at all, and we keep putting it off or else change to some other devotion.
Dear Rosary Confraternity members, do not listen to the devil, but be of good heart even if your imagination has been bothering you throughout your Rosary, filling your mind with all kinds of distracting thoughts—as long as you really tried hard to get rid of them as soon as they came. Always remember that the best Rosary is the one with the most merit, and there is more merit in praying when it is hard than when it is easy. Prayer is all the harder when it is (naturally speaking) distasteful to the soul and is filled with those annoying little ants and flies running about in your imagination, against your will, and scarcely allowing you the time to enjoy a little peace and appreciate the beauty of what you are saying.
Even if you have to fight distractions all through your whole Rosary be sure to fight well, arms in hand: that is to say, do not stop saying your Rosary even if it is hard to say and you have absolutely no sensible devotion. It is a terrible battle, I know, but one that is profitable to the faithful soul. If you put down your arms, that is, if you give up the Rosary, you will be admitting defeat and then, having won, the devil will leave you alone.
But at the Day of Judgment he will taunt you because of your faithlessness and lack of courage. “He that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in that which is greater.” He who fights even the smallest distractions faithfully when he says even the very smallest prayer he will also be faithful in great things. We can be absolutely certain of this because the Holy Spirit has told us so.
So all of you, servants and handmaids of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary, who have made up your minds to say the Rosary every day, be of good heart. Do not let the flies (it is thus that I call the distractions that make war on you during prayer) make you cowardly abandon the company of Jesus and Mary, in whose holy presence you always are when saying the Rosary. In what follows I shall give you suggestions for getting rid of distractions.From – FORTY-THIRD ROSE: FIGHTING DISTRACTIONS
Even spiritual dryness should not prevent us from completing our prayers in faithful awareness that they will never go unheard.
…You should be very careful not to do anything out of the ordinary nor to ask nor even wish for knowledge of extraordinary things, visions, revelations or other miraculous graces which Almighty God has occasionally given to a few of the Saints while they were reciting the Rosary. “Faith alone suffices”: faith alone is quite enough for us now that the Holy Gospels and all the devotions and pious practices are firmly established.
Even if you suffer from dryness of soul, boredom and interior discouragement, never give up even the least little bit of your Rosary—for this would be a sure sign of pride and faithlessness. On the contrary, like a real champion of Jesus and Mary, you should say your Our Fathers and Hail Marys quite drily if you have to, without seeing, hearing or feeling any consolation whatsoever, and concentrating as best you can on the mysteries. You ought not to look for candy or jam to eat with your daily bread, as children do—but you should even say your Rosary more slowly sometimes when you particularly find it hard to say. Do this to imitate Our Lord more perfectly in His agony in the garden: ‘Being in an agony, He prayed the longer,’ so that what was said of Our Lord (when He was in His agony of prayer) may be said of you too: He prayed even longer….From – FORTY-SEVENTH ROSE: PROPER DISPOSITIONS