Sunday, May 5, 2013

Reflections of the Rosary - Part I (The Joyful Mysteries)

As mentioned previously , since the month of May is devoted to Our Lady, my next few blog posts will be reflections on the Mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary.  
Of course, it must be remembered that these reflections are by no means exhaustive. After all, they are reflections on the Mysteries of Christ’s Life, Passion, and Resurrection. The very definition of a Mystery in Christian theology is something that, whilst revealed and knowable, it is beyond the powers of natural reason. So, we are able to meditate upon the Mysteries of Christ’s Life, but we will never be able to exhaust or fathom them completely. So, these reflections that I present are nothing more than a tiny scratch on the surface of the Infinite.

The First Joyful Mystery – the Annunciation
In the Mystery of the Annunciation (Lk 1:26-38), we are reminded, first of all, of the Angel Gabriel’s greeting to Mary: “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with thee”. We know from Scripture that angels do not speak their own words – rather, being the messengers of God, they speak His words. And this is how God chose to greet Mary: “Hail, full of grace!”

So, in one sense, the Rosary is an imitation of God Himself, as we greet Mary with the same words that He did.
But the Rosary is not primarily about Mary – just as Gabriel’s message was not primarily about Mary. Rather, Gabriel came bearing a message of salvation and hope. Gabriel presented to Mary the message of the Incarnation – that God would become Man to save His people from their sins...and that He would do this through the means of Mary, whom He had prepared for this purpose.

But Mary was not a robot; she was a free creature. And in this sense she was fully able to say “No” to God’s request. But, thanks be to God, Mary didn’t say “No”. Rather, she pronounced her “Yes” to God as she affirmed her desire to walk in humility and obedience to her God and Creator:
“Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done to me according to Thy word”.

The Church Fathers teach us that in this great act of obedience, Mary untied the cord of Eve’s disobedience – and so, as St. Irenaeus reminds us, Mary became Eve’s advocate.  
“...the knot of Eve's disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the Virgin Mary set free through faith.”

“As Eve was seduced into disobedience to God, so Mary was persuaded into obedience to God; thus the Virgin Mary became the advocate of the virgin Eve.”
In this way the First Joyful Mystery calls us to imitate Mary’s humility and readiness to accept God’s will in our lives. And given that we are all children of Eve, God calls us to accept Mary as our new Mother and Advocate as we seek to humbly obey His holy will.

The Second Joyful Mystery – the Visitation
Before the Angel Gabriel departed from Mary, he gave her a sign – he told her that her kinswoman, Elisabeth, would herself conceive a child despite the fact that she was already too old to be able to (Lk 1:7). What was Mary’s response to this message from Gabriel? We are told that she went with haste to the house of Elisabeth (Lk 1:39).

Why is this important? Mary could’ve adopted an introverted approach which focussed on her own needs as a new mother. But she didn’t. Instead, she rose up with haste, and risked a long and treacherous journey so that she could be with the aged Elisabeth in her hour of need.
Immediately upon hearing Mary’s greeting, the child in Elisabeth’s womb leaped for joy (Lk 1:41) and Elisabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, acknowledged the very Presence of Christ in Mary (Lk 1:42). But Jesus was not only in Mary in a physical sense (i.e. in her womb); He also filled her spirit with His very own.

We see this in Mary’s humility and willingness to deny herself for the sake of others. And it is this same spirit of Christ that this Joyful Mystery calls us to imitate.
The Third Joyful Mystery – the Nativity of Our Lord

The Third Joyful Mystery brings us to the birth of Our Lord in Bethlehem – the great event where Jesus Christ is born among men to fulfil His mission to redeem His people (Matt 1:21; Lk 19:10)
This mission was to take place in the context of God’s Kingdom. In his message to Mary, Gabriel said that Jesus would inherit the throne of David, and that there would be no end to His Kingdom. But what we see at the Nativity event in Bethlehem looks nothing like what we expect of kings and royalty. Jesus was not born with pomp and ceremony in the high palaces. No – He was born in Bethlehem, in the obscurity of a cave used as a shelter for animals.

So, this Mystery reveals the humility in Christ’s mission. Not only was His mission marked by the humble beginnings in the cave-stable; but even the proclamation of the Kingdom would continue in this humble vein, even as Christ – a man without a place to call home (Matt 8:20) – would later appoint unassuming fishermen to the high office of Apostles.
By virtue of our baptism, Christ continues to call each and every Catholic to proclaim the Gospel of His Kingdom. But as we meditate on this Joyful Mystery, we are reminded that we are to do so with the humility of Christ.

The Fourth Joyful Mystery – the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple
Under the Old Covenant, women were considered ceremonially “unclean” for a period of time following childbirth due to the discharge of blood. At the end of the time of her purification, the woman was required to bring an offering to make atonement so that she could be pronounced ceremonially “clean” again (see Lev 12). It was after this time of “purification” that Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the Temple, together with their offering of two turtle doves (see Lk 2:22-38).

Given that God preserved Mary from sin, Mary had not have been subject to the labour pains and bloodletting which came about as a result of the Curse (see Gen 3:16). This is a logical conclusion of the Church’s teaching of Mary’s Perpetual Virginity, which has been affirmed by the Church Fathers since the earliest times. Furthermore, St. John of Damascus affirms that the birth of Jesus “surpassed the established order of birthgiving, as it was without pain; for, where pleasure had not preceded, pain did not follow”.
If this is true, and Mary did not require purification, why did she succumb to this requirement of the Law? What we have already seen in the Second Joyful Mystery gives us a glimpse at the answer i.e. she was filled with the spirit of Christ. Since Jesus Christ was the Divine Lawgiver, He was, in principle, not subject to the Law.  However, to show obedience, He humbled Himself and made Himself subject to the Law. In the same way, Mary humbled herself to obey the Law of God, even though she could have argued that the way in which Christ had been born, without “tainting” her Virginity, repudiated her need for purification.

In imitation of Jesus and Mary, the Third Joyful Mystery calls us to subject ourselves humbly in obedience to God. Even when God’s requirements do not make sense, faith answers in humble obedience.  

The Fifth Joyful Mystery – Finding Our Lord in the Temple
The Fifth Joyful Mystery transports us from time of Jesus’ Infancy to his Young Manhood. When He was twelve years old, He accompanied St. Joseph and Mary to Jerusalem for the annual Feast of Passover (Lk 2:41-51). Once the Feast was over, they departed for Nazareth not realising that Jesus was not with them. At the end of the day’s journey they suddenly realised that He was missing and turned around to find Him. Three days later they found Him in the Temple in discussion with the learned Doctors of the Law.

Mary was no doubt puzzled by Jesus’ actions. The Boy had been lost for three days. Where did He stay? What did He eat? And yet, here he was, in the Temple, seemingly unconcerned about these things and that His parents had been frantically looking for Him.
Mary’s did what any mother would’ve done – she asked Him why He did what He did. At the same time, her question also surpassed any question a normal mother could have asked. The very way she asked the question seems to indicate that Mary remembered that Jesus was not an ordinary Boy. Rather than simply asking Him “Why have you done this?” she asks: “Son, why have you treated us like this?”  It wasn’t simply the question of a Mother to her Child – it was also the question of a creature to her God. Mary knew Christ was Divine...but she couldn’t understand why He would allow them to search for Him with sorrow and anxiety. It wasn’t a question asked in anger or disappointment. Rather, it was a question which, in humility, admitted a lack of understanding.

Jesus’ response was to remind her that they needn’t have searched for Him – they ought only to have looked in the place where He was most likely to be i.e. in His Father’s House. St. Luke tells us that Mary and St. Joseph still didn’t understand what Jesus meant (Lk 2:50)...but sometimes that’s still alright. Because even though they didn’t understand, Jesus went with them and remained obedient to them...and all the while, Mary treasured these things in her heart.
This Fifth Mystery exhorts us to humbly accept the limitations of our understanding, and to ask God to help us to understand better. And even though we may still not understand, we are encouraged to continue to treasure these things in our hearts. And when we feel like we have “lost Jesus”, we ought to search for Him in the place where He said that He would always be – if we want to “find Jesus”, we must look within His Holy Church.

Obtaining the Promises through Jesus Christ
As we meditate upon these Mysteries, we see that the common thread that runs through them is humility. And as we pray the Rosary, we ask Mary to show us more of the Lord Jesus so that we can be further encouraged in our imitation of Him.

As we persevere in imitating Christ, we can be sure of receiving the reward of our Heavenly Father. Elsewhere in Scripture, God promises us that if we walk in humility, He will exalt us:
“All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted” – Matt 23:12 (NRSV)
“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you in due time.” – 1 Pet 5:6 (NRSV)
St. Paul exhorts us to have the same mind as Christ who, when He humbled Himself, was exalted by the Father to highest place – where every knee would bow and tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil 2:5-11).

The degree to which we suffer with Christ, is the degree to which we will be glorified with Him (Rom 8:17b). There is no creature who has suffered as much as the Blessed Mother suffered for her Divine Son, and because she shared in His sufferings, He has also made her to share in His glory by crowning her as Queen of Heaven and Earth.
Not only is the Incarnate Lord an example of God’s promise kept, but so too is His Blessed Mother. If we are faithful in imitating Jesus and Mary in humility, we can rest assured that God will also exalt us to share in Christ’s victory!

For related posts on this topic, click the links below:

Reflections on the Rosary - Introduction

Reflections on the Rosary - Part II (The Luminous Mysteries)

Reflections on the Rosary - Part III (The Sorrowful Mysteries)

Reflections on the Rosary - Part IV (The Glorious Mysteries)

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