Saturday, 25 August 2012

Sorrowful Intentions

One of the great paradoxes of Christianity is found in the fact that the closer we get to holiness and the more Christ-like we become, the more keenly aware we are of just how far short we fall of His glory. When we grow in piety and fear of the Lord, coming to receive His Real Presence in the Eucharist with due reverence, our own unworthiness comes into clear focus. This is accentuated just before Communion when we pray the words of the Roman Centurion in the Gospel: "Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof; but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed."

The First Sorrowful Mystery: Jesus' Agony in the Garden
For True Contrition for Sin

When we meditate upon Jesus praying in Gethsemani, taking upon Himself the burden of the sins of mankind, we are filled with compunction for our own sins, for our own part in His Crucifixion. If we are guilty of having committed any sins for which we have not received absolution, such compunction leads us to the Sacrament of Confession, where we once more are made new in His grace, as St. Paul writes, "For the sorrow that is according to God worketh penance, steadfast unto salvation" (2 Corinthians 7:10). But even when we are not currently in a state of sin, such compunction is nevertheless helpful in keeping us from sin, and leads us to a life of penance for our past sinfulness, and on behalf of the sins of others. For the deeper we enter into this mystery, and the more united with Christ we become, the more sorrowful for the sins of others we become. We are not satisfied with penance for our own sins, but for those of others, in order to make reparation for them and hopefully bring them to conversion, themselves.

Our deep sorrow, or contrition, for sin leads us to say with St. Paul, "[I] now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for his body, which is the church" (Colossians 1:24). So through our penances, we are able to make satisfaction for our own sins, and reparation for those of others, and through so doing, become even more united to Christ our saviour.

The Second Sorrowful Mystery: The Scourging at the Pillar
For the Virtue of Purity

St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that of the Seven Deadly Sins, the sins of the flesh, gluttony and lust, are the "least" deadly, as they are sins primarily affecting the body, as opposed to pride, envy, and the like, which pertain specifically to the soul. And yet, Our Lady, in her apparitions at Fatima, told the three shepherd children that more souls are lost through sins of the flesh, than through any other sins. They might not be inherently as damaging, but because they're so available and instantly gratifying, our physical senses and passions are much more easily drawn to them. Penance, the depriving ourselves of something good (such as in fasting), or the infliction of some small suffering (such as kneeling without the kneeler or putting a small stone in your shoe, on purpose), help us to discipline our passions, just as an athlete disciplines his body through regular exercise.

And so as we meditate on Jesus' scourging (that quintessential symbol of penance), we ask for the grace to remain pure in body and in mind, uniting our own small penances with His, so that His grace may further equip our souls for growth in holiness.

The Third Sorrowful Mystery: The Crowning with Thorns
For Moral Courage

When we live a life of moral purity, living the Gospel and showing our faith in word and in deed, we will face hostility from the world around us. Our lives of love and charity, grounded in the Truth, will be called hatred and fear, grounded in backward thinking and superstition. Jesus warned us that if the world persecuted Him, that we should expect no less for ourselves. Our life of penance will have the benefit of preparing us to suffer at the hands of others, but in the third sorrowful mystery, we also pray for courage and fortitude. These two terms are synonymous, but I personally make a distinction--courage is that inner strength to overcome fear and begin to do the right thing in the face of opposition or danger. Fortitude is applying that same strength to persevering in the right thing which we have undertaken.

Many times, we know what is right, but the world around us tries to make the situation to seem grey and muddy. Through their language and sophistries, and downright peer pressure and bullying, our culture tries to make what's right seem wrong, and what's wrong seem right. We are often intimidated into not doing good, or speaking out against evil. We need the gift of Courage to be able to stand up and prophetically proclaim the truth to our culture. And having done so, we need the Fortitude to maintain that position in the face of adversity.

Against what Pope Benedict XVI refers to as a "Dictatorship of Relativism", we need the conviction to stand up for the Truth, proclaiming it lovingly, but firmly.

The Fourth Sorrowful Mystery: Jesus Carrying His Cross
For the Virtue of Patience

On our journey through life, we will meet with much suffering. It seems that this is more true for those who strive to follow Christ in everything--which, I suppose, is to be expected, for as our first pope told us, "For unto this are you called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving you an example that you should follow his steps" (1 Peter 2:21). This flies in the face, of course, of those who say either that serving Jesus will make us healthy and prosperous, or those who say that people only become religious because it makes them happy. Whether it be a result of standing up for the truth, or the natural course of life--sickness, job loss, betrayal, the death of loved ones, poverty, or a host of other problems--being a Christian not only doesn't safeguard against these things. Instead, it almost guarantees them!

Why is this? It goes back to the discussion of penance. St. Peter goes on to say, "Christ therefore having suffered in the flesh, be you also armed with the same thought: for he that hath suffered in the flesh, hath ceased from sins: That now he may live the rest of his time in the flesh , not after the desires of men, but according to the will of God" (1 Peter 4:1-2). Our suffering, if we let it, helps us to see what is really important--and it's not the passing pleasures of this world. When we are deprived of them, we more easily acknowledge our dependence upon God, and know that our true happiness lies in Him alone. When we've learned what we can do without, and what it's like to be without, we can more readily go without in order to serve God more completely.

And just like we can unite our penances to Christ's suffering for others, even those sufferings that come to us as a surprise, or as unwanted "blessings", can also be united to Christ's Passion. Remember that word, "Passion". It's related to "passive". Christ didn't save us so much by what He did, but by what He allowed others to do to Him. So also we can either become angry and embittered by the hardships of life, or we can allow them to purify us, and make us more holy. And that same purifying, penitential power behind our offered-up suffering can be of great spiritual benefit to others, as well.

The Fifth Sorrowful Mystery: Jesus' Crucifixion and Death
For Final Perseverance

In the sufferings and the trials of life, we can often be tempted to despair, to believe that there is no God, or that, if there is, He hates us or is punishing us for some reason. These thoughts are faith-destroying, as I have seen first-hand. Through the gift of fortitude we press on through the suffering. At other times, however, the goodness of life and the pleasures of this world can lead us away from God. We grow complacent and think we don't need Him. In all our trials and temptations, we must persevere. If we give up along the way, and abandon our faith for some reason, then we will not be saved. The heretical notion espoused by some Christians that once we are saved, we will always be saved no matter what we do, is ludicrous on the face of it. Time and again, Jesus warns us to keep faith until the end. As He says, "he that shall persevere to the end, he shall be saved" (Matthew 24:13 and elsewhere).

And so, as we meditate on Jesus' Crucifixion, in which He endured such enormous suffering for love of us, we ask for the grace of final perseverance in order to keep us from the presumption that we have already "made it", or that we can make it, on our own strength. We need to remember that our perseverance in faith is only ever the gift of God, and so in all humility and poverty of spirit, we beg Him to pour that grace out upon us.

The sorrowful mysteries remind us that life is not always easy. And as Christians we need to remember that God does not just take all our pain away. Rather, He uses it to make us strong in virtue and holiness, so that we have the fortitude to persevere. And as we press on to take hold of that for which Christ has taken hold of us, we continue to grow deeper in faith, hope, and love for Him, preparing us to finally enter into that Eternal Life with Him. And that is the focus of the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Luminous Intentions

The Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary, discussed in the previous post, correspond with the birth of faith in us, to the gentle call of God leading us into relationship, and with our first steps responding to that call. We respond first with humility, recognising our own frailty and littleness, and in so doing, truly begin to value and love others. In our humility we foster our poverty of spirit and our need for God, and begin to strive to obey His Laws. And yet, without the fullness of His grace in us, we recognise that we are incapable of living our lives in obedience to Him. We need God's help to really change and become the person He wants us to be. Through this process, we come humbly to the waters of baptism, where the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary begin. These mysteries, recently added by Bl. Pope John Paul II, correspond in their turn to growth in the life of Grace through entrance into the Covenant Family of God.

The First Luminous Mystery: The Baptism of Jesus
For Faithfulness and Submission to God's Will

When we meditate upon the Baptism of Jesus, we ask His Mother to help us to remain more faithful to those promises that we made (or that were made for us) at our own baptism. When we come to the waters of new life, the priest asks us (or, in the more common cases of infant baptism, he asks our parents on our behalf),
Do you renounce Satan and all his works and all his empty show?
Do you believe in God,
the Father almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth?
Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered death and was buried,
rose again from the dead
and is seated at the right hand of the Father?
Do you believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life,
who came upon the apostles at Pentecost
and today is given to you sacramentally in Confirmation?
Do you believe in the holy Catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting?
After which question, we (or our parents) answer, "I do." We are then baptised, and the waters of baptism sacramentally give new life to our souls, we are born again, and the Holy Spirit enables us to truly and freely cooperate with the grace that God had given us previously, which called us to this point. Now, He gives us "sanctifying grace" which further enables us to actually be obedient to His Law. However, since our passions still wrestle within us against our intellect and our will, in our freedom we often stumble and fall, seduced by those very works and that empty show of Satan, tempting us away from God and back into sin.

And so, having returned to God once more through Confession (as discussed in the Fifth Joyful Mystery), through the Rosary and with Mary's help, holding us up as our parents did at our first baptism, we renew our baptismal promises once more, and submit ourselves again to God's will for our lives.

The Second Luminous Mystery: The Wedding at Cana
For Greater Devotion to Mary

When we first come to faith, we don't always know how to pray as we ought, or how best to go about living for Jesus. This is why the Rosary itself is so important! Through it, Mary teaches us more and more about her Son, and through it, we ask her to pray to Him for our needs, expressing trust that she knows them better than we do, and that her motherly care for us knows how best to present them to her Eldest Son. And we know that Jesus Himself honours His Mother, and will readily receive our requests from her. When we ask Mary to pray for us, we further exercise that humility that we learned from her in the First Joyful Mystery. We continue to live and to grow in that foundational virtue, adding to it that virtue of trust. Even when we've grown in our faith and understanding, this growth manifests not as a greater self-sufficiency in our prayers, but greater trust in and honour of Mary, as even Jesus Himself as an adult honoured her so completely.

When we meditate on the Wedding at Cana, our trust in Mary's maternal intercession grows as we recall the fact that Jesus worked His first miracle at her behest, and Mary herself asked this of Him, not for herself, but for the happy newlyweds and their guests. And we recall as well, that the answer to the prayers of the servants came only when they obeyed her injunction to "Do whatever He tells you" (John 2:5).

The Third Luminous Mystery: Jesus' Proclamation of the Kingdom
For the Grace of Conversion

Of course, to do what Jesus tells us necessitates hearing His Words, so that we can then do them. And so we meditate on Jesus' preaching of the Gospel so as to internalise His words in the Sermon on the Mount, or in His parables, or in the many other passages in the Gospel where He proclaims the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven! I have personally found it quite helpful to meditate throughout the week on the Gospel from the previous Sunday when I come to this mystery. We pray that we might truly understand what Jesus is teaching us, that we might become more fully conformed to Him and know Him more intimately, and through our lives, become the vehicle for God to begin drawing others to Him, as well.

The Fourth Luminous Mystery: The Transfiguration
For Holy Fear of the Lord

The closer we come to knowing Jesus, the more we see of His absolute glory. Truly knowing Him inspires a reverence and awe at His power and majesty. This reverence and awe is what's commonly referred to as "the fear of the Lord" in Scripture. When Peter, James, and John saw Jesus transfigured before them, they were quite rightly terrified. They had come to Jesus because they recognised wisdom and authority in His teaching. As they journeyed with Him, they saw the miracles knew God was at work through Him. But with the Transfiguration, they came face to face with the majesty of God in Jesus. So too should our reverence for Jesus continue to grow as we ourselves grow in the spiritual life. For it is with reverence that we approach and receive the most precious gift that Jesus has to give us.

The Fifth Luminous Mystery: The Institution of the Eucharist
For Thanksgiving to God

The Eucharist, the Church tells us, is the source and the summit of our faith. This is because in the Eucharist, Jesus Himself is truly present, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. He makes His sacrificial death on Calvary present to us once more, and in receiving Him, we unite ourselves more fully and completely to Him. The word "Eucharist" comes from the Greek and means "Thanksgiving", and so when we meditate on the mystery of Jesus' institution of the Eucharist, we seek to be even more thankful to God for our salvation through Jesus' Crucifixion and Resurrection, but more so, to be thankful for every aspect of the life that God has given to us. When we have grown in humility, poverty of spirit, and the fear of the Lord, we are able to recognise that all that we are and all that we have are gifts from God. When we consider that above and beyond everything else, Jesus Himself would come to us in the form of Bread and Wine, that we might, through consuming Him, become so intimately united with Him that His very life of grace grows in us and nourishes our souls, how could there be any other response than sheer gratitude? It is this grateful love for Jesus that allows us to fully receive the graces that He has for us, so that we may grow into the Saints He wants us to become.

The graces we receive in the Eucharist help us to conform even more fully to the Gospel, and strengthen us to face the inevitable hardships in life. Through thanksgiving to God, and trust in His goodness, we can cling tightly to Mother Mary's hand, and with joy even in the pain, daily take up our crosses. This is the theme of the Sorrowful Mysteries...

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Joyful Intentions

We begin our reflections on the suggested intentions for the Mysteries of the Rosary with the Joyful Mysteries. They show us how we have to begin our spiritual lives, with humility, charity, poverty of spirit, obedience, and piety. This is true whether we are baptised into the faith as infants, or come to Christ later on. Yet even while we must begin here in our conversion to Christlikeness, we can never become complacent in our level of attainment of these particular virtues (or, for that matter, of any virtue). Even though we can never come to God without humility, we must always strive to grow in humility.

The life of faith always begins with God's prevenient grace. In the Rosary, this is exemplified by the introductory prayers--especially the three Hail Marys, which are offered for an increase of Faith, Hope, and Love, the "theological virtues", so called because they are given to us directly by God. They then symbolise God's initial work in our lives, and the mysteries and the intentions associated with them model our response as we strive to patter ourselves on the example of Jesus and His blessed Mother.

Our response begins with humility just as the Gospel begins with the Annunciation, but we must continually strive for humility just as we continually return to the recitation of the Rosary. Growth in the spiritual life is as repetitive and cyclical as the chain of beads on which we pray the Rosary.

The First Joyful Mystery: The Annunciation
For Humility

What is the foundational virtue? Faith? Love? I don't think so. While these virtues, and all the others, are necessary to cultivate, I believe humility must be and become the basis of all growth in the spiritual life. It precedes faith and love because unless you are humble, you will never allow yourself to believe in something you cannot know for certain, or rely on someone other than yourself. Without humility, you can never see another person as having equal or greater importance than yourself. You will never be willing to give of yourself for the good of another. In the Garden of Eden, the serpent tempted Adam and Eve away from God by appealing to their pride. If we are to undo the effects of their fall in our own lives, we must begin by overturning that vice into which Adam and Eve first fell. We must strive for its antidote: humility.

In the Angel's annunciation that Mary would bear the Christ into the world, we see humility modelled in both characters: in Gabriel, the angel who addresses a lowly human girl with a royal greeting; and in the Blessed Virgin Mary's trusting acceptance of God's will for her. Let us allow Mary to teach us through this Rosary to have her same humble submission to God's will: "Let it be..."

The Second Joyful Mystery: The Visitation
For Love of Neighbour

When we begin to learn humility, we are able to recognise other people as people, as others deserving of love, respect, and dignity. We begin to be able to live lives of charity--of a self-giving love for our neighbours. Without charity, all our acts on another's behalf are motivated by ulterior motives--how we'll seem to others, what we can get out of our acts of kindness. Meeting another's need is always accompanied by the ideal, whether thought or voiced, of "What's in it for me?" Charity, on the other hand, is humility in action. It seeks simply to work for the good of the other, because that other is a person who deserves our love and help--simply because they are a person. Clearly, like humility, charity is a virtue very difficult to attain, and so we need to return to the Rosary often, asking for the grace to grow in virtue!

In Mary's visitation to her elderly cousin Elizabeth (herself pregnant with John the Baptist), we see the charity of a young girl thinking less of herself, and more of the needs of her cousin, so much so that she would leave on a long journey and remain with Elizabeth during her likely difficult third trimester, and in so doing, she brings that first light of Christ to Elizabeth.

The Third Joyful Mystery: The Nativity
For Poverty of Spirit

Once we begin to live in humble charity, we begin to see our own imperfections and limitations. Se grow in greater awareness of the spiritual life, and recognise our own weakness and need. This is the spiritual poverty that Jesus refers to in the Beatitudes. We begin to recognise our soul's need for redemption, for love, for God. Through this awareness, we can really begin to let Him in to the poor and unworthy abode of our hearts.

The Mystery of Jesus' nativity reveals how God Himself, out of His great love for us, deigned to come to us as a man. And like every other man, He began His life among us as a baby. But as if that were too small a thing, He chose to be born in a stable and laid in a manger, because the family He chose as His own was too poor and unimportant to be able to afford proper lodging. Jesus chose to be poor, small, and helpless to show the depth of His love for us, and to make us realise that the poverty of our own spirits is not enough to keep Him away. Christmas invites us to remember tha God wants us to draw near to Him, to welcome Him, even into the poor stables of our own hearts, so that He can begin to transform them into temples for His Holy Spirit.

The Fourth Joyful Mystery: The Presentation
For Obedience

As God begins to move in our hearts, the desire to love and to know Him increases. We grow in the desire to know and to do His will. As we grow to love Him in return, that love works itself out in obedience to His will and to His laws. Recognising our need in our spiritual poverty, we recognise as well the answer to that need in living the way God designed and intended us to live. That is why He has given us His Law, to help us realise the beautiful and abundant life for which He has created us! The Laws of God become not burdensome, but delightful, not enslaving, but liberating!

Our Lady herself exemplifies this fact in her own obedience to the Law of Moses, when she presents her infant Son in the Temple. If anyone could claim to be above the Law, it would be Jesus, who is God Himself, and His Mother, whom He created free from all sin. And yet she brings Him to the Temple in perfect obedience to the Law He Himself prescribed. Her example is a sign to all of us of the paradox that freedom to be found in obedience.

The Fifth Joyful Mystery: Finding Jesus in the Temple
For Piety

In Romans 2:6-8, St. Paul tells us that God "will render to every man according to his works. To them indeed, who according to patience in good work, seek glory and honour and incorruption, eternal life: But to them that are contentious, and who obey not the truth, but give credit to iniquity, wrath and indignation." In our striving to be obedient to God's Law, we work for glory, honour, and incorruption. We seek after that goodness, truth, beauty, and freedom that is God, and the abundant life that He offers us. This striving for holiness is called "piety". But so very often, the distractions of the world tempt us away from the pure goodness, truth, beauty, and freedom, to pursue lesser goods, half-truths, imperfect beauty, and false freedom. When the things of this world tempt us away from the pursuit of God, we fall into error and sin, and need to turn once more to Him.

When Mary and Joseph took Jesus to Jerusalem for His first Passover, they left the city without Him, mistakenly thinking He was travelling among others in their caravan. After three days, they realise with horror their mistake, and return with haste to Jerusalem, frantically searching for Him. When they find Him, He is teaching the scribes and elders in the Temple! When His earthly parents question Him about this, He asks with the innocence of a child, "Why were you looking for Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father's business?"

In this fifth Joyful Mystery, we seek to continue to be about our Father's business--pursuing holiness of life. So we turn to His Mother, who found Him about His Father's business so long ago, to lead us to Him in our journey to redemption. Until we have been baptised, and entered fully into the Covenant Family of God, all our own efforts have only served to show us our own poverty of spirit and our need for greater humility. While we have cooperated with God's prevenient grace until this point, He is waiting to lavish upon us the fullness of grace, giving us His Spirit and adopting us as His children!

And after we have been baptised, we still get distracted and wander away. So we ask our Blessed Mother to lead us back to her Son, especially in the Sacrament of Confession. Through this opportunity of Grace, we again can resolve to piously be about Our Father's business.

As we continue our spiritual journey, we make our way toward baptism and entrance into the Covenant, or, for the baptised, we redouble our efforts to live our baptismal promises, and continue to grow in our faith. This is the theme of the Luminous Mysteries...