Rosary Reflections – The Sorrowful Mysteries

April 2, 2010

The Sorrowful Mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary:

First Decade: The Agony of Our Lord in the Garden (Matthew 26:36-56)
Second Decade: Our Lord is Scourged at the Pillar (Matthew 27:26)
Third Decade: Our Lord is Crowned with Thorns (Matthew 27:27-31)
Fourth Decade: Our Lord Carries the Cross to Calvary (Matthew 27:32)
Fifth Decade: The Crucifixion of Our Lord (Matthew 27:33-56)

My favorite mysteries of the Rosary are the joyful mysteries. I’ve always liked happy stories. Chris’s favorite mysteries are the sorrowful mysteries. When he first told me this, I didn’t quite understand. They are hard for me to pray and think about. It’s uncomfortable to dwell on this deepest of all tragedies. Then a couple things happened to change my perspective and draw me into the depths of the sorrowful mysteries.

Chris sent me a link to a blog post written by Fr. Dwight Longenecker about the difference between Protestant and Catholic understanding of the life of Christ. In essence, he describes the liberal Protestant approach as focusing on Jesus as a good person and nearly ignoring his death. The conservative evangelicals, he says, focus on the redeeming sacrifice of Christ’s death and nearly ignore his ministry beforehand. All this rang true to me, consistent with my experience. Then Fr. Longenecker says:

“The Catholic approach to the Life of Christ begins with the Paschal Mystery–the Cross and Resurrection, then looks back to the life of Christ and sees every aspect of the human life of Jesus as mystery that reveals the Son of God… In other words, every aspect of Christ’s life from the Annunciation through the Ascension was redemptive and charged with the grandeur and mystery of God’s work of salvation.”

This view of the life of Christ was strange to me. I was used to looking on His ministry as “proof” that He is the Son of God. His death paid for my sins, and that was that. I was grateful, but didn’t like to think of it much. It’s such a gruesome and sad story after all. There was little more to it than that for me, but when you think about it that doesn’t much make sense. Christ didn’t just die for our sins. The sorrowful mysteries refuse to let you retain that perspective. Christ was humiliated and suffered the worst physical abuse before He died. Thinking about that apparently senseless tragedy was just plain depressing. It only left me with a “people are so mean” impression.

Another thing that happened to aid my understanding of Christ’s suffering is that I saw Chris willingly humiliate himself, suck his pride up in one of the hardest ways, in order to have the charity he thinks God wants of him, and only by saying “If Christ can suffer the humiliation of the cross, I can do this.”

Christ did suffer the humiliation of the cross, and I had never paid any attention to it. If every event in Christ’s life meant something, then certainly this humiliation and suffering means something. I prayed the sorrowful mysteries looking for how these seemingly senseless events reveal Christ to me.

In the agony of Our Lord in the garden, Christ surrenders His will to that of God the Father, saying “Yet not as I will, but as you will.” He doesn’t just align his will with the Father’s, he surrenders his will. He does not want to suffer the horrible death that he knows is coming, but He humbly and obediently does so out of love for the Father and for us all. The depth of this action is properly understood when Christ says, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” He doesn’t have to go through this. Most of us are powerless pawns, and although we may not accept the things that happen to us, we cannot stop them. Christ can stop His own suffering, and still accepts it. “A death He freely accepted.”

The second sorrowful mystery is Our Lord scourged at the pillar. This is the only event in Christ’s death that I ever heard commented on by Protestants, and that was to say “by His stripes we are healed.” This, to those I heard comment, meant not a spiritual healing, but a physical one. This, to them, meant that if we have enough faith to claim this healing, we should never suffer sickness or injury. That idea stands in stark contrast to the Catholic view of all suffering being a part of our unity with Christ. Though I find it hard to understand, this mystery tells me that in imitation of Christ, we too must take our lashes. It is not us that lives, but Christ that lives in us. His suffering has redeemed the world, and His life in us does the same when we suffer.

Then Our Lord is crowned with thorns. He is the king of kings, and he is mocked. The mockers do not see the truth, they do not give Him the respect, awe, praise, and glory that He deserves. Instead, they throw it back in His face. Christ doesn’t loose His bonds and heal His wounds, revealing His glory. He doesn’t argue with them, telling them how wrong they are and that they’ll be sorry when He shows them. He takes the humiliation. The one man on Earth who most ought to have been listened to was not. The one man on Earth who didn’t have to take it, and he did. Makes it seem a little insignificant when we are mocked and ignored.

Our Lord Jesus Christ goes on to carry the cross to Calvary. It’s the long trek in which Christ not only accepts His own death, but makes it happen. He carries it out His own death sentence, a terrible humiliation for a man even deserving of that fate, but this is God Himself. It is only in the gospel of John where Christ is portrayed as carrying the cross Himself, I’ve heard John wrote this to convey Christ’s absolute control over the event. In the other three gospels, Simon of Cyrene shares in Christ’s journey. Earlier, before all these events, Christ has told us “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” (Matthew 16:24) His listeners didn’t know that He would die on a cross. They didn’t know that it is the cross of Christ’s death that we must bear, like Simon. Christ has told us it is necessary to suffer humiliation and pain, to give up our own desires and stop demanding that everyone else treat us like royalty. Instead, He shows us Himself how we are supposed to live by dying, by obeying the Father’s Will, by giving Himself for others, and not just accepting but bringing about this fate himself.

In the final act, Christ is crucified on a cross. Many Christians focus on our sins redeemed by Christ’s death, but forget about the cross itself. It’s not a noble death, fit for a king. It was reserved for the worst of criminals. Yet God Himself was held high for the world to see in a slow, painful, humiliating death. Christ redeemed us, and not only paid for our sins, but gave us the way of reconciliation in Him. “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor 5:21)

Through these mysteries, Jesus is revealed as loving, humble, obedient, and a completely self-giving servant of all to the point of humiliation, suffering, and death. We are supposed to be like Christ, and the sorrowful mysteries tell us this means being loving, humble, obedient, and a completely self-giving servant of all to the point of humiliation, suffering, and death. Though that seems like a grim prospect at times, there is an up side. “Do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Rom 6:3,4) His death is our death, His life is our life, and “[we] have been crucified with Christ and [we] no longer live, but Christ lives in [us].” (Gal 2:20) Because we are made one with Christ in His death, we are given His life. We share His suffering so that we can share in His glory, and that glory is worth all the suffering and humiliation along the way. (Rom 8:17, 18) In fact, this suffering and death teaches us the point of life in Christ. It is imperative that we love others and live for them, selflessly as a servant. Otherwise, as C.S. Lewis demonstrates so eloquently in The Great Divorce, we will get what we want, and it will all be about us to the effect that we are utterly and hellishly alone with our desires.

Fr. Longenecker says about this unity with Christ:

“We enter into [mystery of Christ who is God revealed through his humanity] not through theological speculation alone, but through a sacramental fusion with the mystery. It enters into us and we enter into it. Christ in me and me in Christ…. The result of this sacramental transaction is ‘theosis’ the transformation of ourselves, our souls and our bodies into living icons of Christ.”

It is absolutely beautiful that our God has lovingly led us by the hand and shown us the way, has become the way, for our reconciliation with Him. Our God was not exempt from these sorrows, but instead was held to the cross by His love for us. I was familiar with the idea of “imitation of Christ”, but generally thought this meant be good and nice to people. Catholicism has taught me that the Christian way is one of suffering and submission, sacrificing our pride in humility. It’s an awesome mystery that I hope to someday not only understand better but live out in my daily death to self. I’ve already had a taste of the grace in the sacraments through Reconciliation. Tomorrow I’ll be confirmed and receive the Body and Blood of Our Lord, entering deeper in to this sacramental fusion and, I pray, becoming more like Christ.


Thy Will Be Done

January 26, 2010

Because of the generous gift from “cyurkanin” to his readers, I have a copy of He Leadeth Me and am in the middle of reading it. Already, I can recommend the book for those who struggle to find God in suffering. It is written by an American priest Fr. Walter Ciszek who spent 23 years in Soviet prisons and labor camps, with (at least at this point in the book) very little outward profit to show for his sufferings. It was only by being broken in these experiences that he learned to totally rely on God.

When I was young, my parents would talk about people having to “hit rock bottom” before they would turn their lives over to God. They were right. And this is one reason why suffering is such an integral part of our redemption. It seems that all too often, we have to be lying in pieces and completely unable to control our lives before we finally give up trying and let God work. Our pride must be crushed, and our insufficiency revealed before we let go. Ah, if it only wasn’t so. But my new theory is that all saints goes to purgatory. It’s just that sometimes it’s here on Earth where we are scorched by purifying flames.

Fr. Ciszek says in his book, “We are afraid to abandon ourselves totally into God’s hands for fear he will not catch us as we fall.” This describes me perfectly. I’m a control freak, although less so now than I have been. In the past, I had a “plan” and an idea of how things should go, what the good life was, and what things were of value in this world that I would spend my time chasing after. It was remarkably similar to the plot of a romantic comedy. This wasn’t anywhere near an attitude of total abandonment to the will of God.

I chased and I grasped at an illusion and made a big mess for myself. Horrendous story short, I ended up in pieces, heartbroken. I was destroyed by my utter failure to find love and happiness and my inability to control or even trust others in my life. I was in the place that Fr. Ciszek describes:

For my part, I was brought to make this perfect act of faith, this act of complete self-abandonment to his will, of total trust in his love and concern for me and his desire to sustain and protect me, by the experience of a complete despair of my own powers and abilities and abilities that had preceded it. I knew I could no longer trust myself, and it seemed only sensible then to trust totally in God.

I had certainly made stupid decisions that led to my downfall. It was my fault, and through it I knew I could no longer trust myself. I had nowhere else to turn, but to God, and so I did. It’s not that I was perfectly surrendered to Him, or even that I could recognize His will for me at that point. I had so far to go. But I will forever remember my utter despair in my own abilities and my simple, earnest, even urgent prayer. Show me what you want God. Your will, your truth. I don’t want anything else, because everything else falls apart.

It was a beginning for me, in which I asked God to take over and lead me forcibly in His will. I actually asked for that, because I knew I’d kick and scream against it, but didn’t want to be allowed the power to resist. It was less than two months later I met Chris. I was nowhere near spiritually strong or even stable, but there was something about marrying Chris. I knew I should do it. It was natural, peaceful, a decision made without effort or anxiety. It was God’s will. Once the decision was made, I began the kicking and screaming process. I fought God’s truth in the Catholic Church. I fought motherhood and giving up a career. I fought the obscurity and tedium of staying at home. Despite all the fight I put up, God has answered my prayer perfectly because it was my only perfect prayer. A heartfelt “Thy will be done.”

Now it’s so easy to lose sight of. I was talking to Chris last night about how we don’t make many big decisions anymore. We’re in a place where we’re just living out our path, day after day. I don’t tend to seek God’s will so much now that I just climb onto the hamster wheel every morning, because there doesn’t seem much will to be sought. Yet, Fr. Ciszek says, “God’s will was not hidden somewhere “out there” in the situations in which I found myself; the situations themselves were his will for me.”

God’s will comes to me now in the form of petty spats over the toy triceratops that roars, my 3 year old is screaming on the step, cleaning the mud off our spastic dog when she comes inside now that the snow’s melted, my 1 year old tackling my 3 year old to the floor like a linebacker, a constant barrage of “mom, mom, mom, I’m hungry, could you get me some crayons please? mom…” It’s frustrations and demands on my patience, done in obscurity. It’s the perfect opportunity to relinquish my own idea of how the day should go and eradicate the “self”, learning to see myself “in proper perspective before God and other men” as Christ himself showed me how on the cross. Hopefully, God will continue to answer my prayer and teach me humility, because “humility is truth, the full truth, the truth that encompasses our relation to God the creator and through him to the world he has created and to our fellowmen.” This is what all our struggles on this Earth, though they come in wide range and different forms, are leading us to. The ability to humiliate ourselves and pray, “Thy will be done.”


Don’t knock the Rosary till you try it

October 14, 2009

The Rosary is not what you think. Well. Since most of the readers of this blog actually are Catholic, it probably is what you think. But for Protestants coming from a stereotyped perspective like I have, it’s not what you think. I prayed my first rosary only three nights ago with Chris. We decided to do this after a particularly trying day where the kids were running around screaming, I was constantly pressed to thwart Chris Jr.’s life-risking escapades, and Isabel had more than one fit lasting too long for stubbornly refusing to say “please”. Days like that make me feel like I’m either working in an insane asylum or I’m losing my own mind. I get lost and dejected. It’s hard to focus and keep your patience with tedious, boring, and thankless work. I had half a mind that a better devotional life would help, so that night Chris busted out the rosary and we prayed.

I went into this, even in my converted state, thinking that Marian devotees and the rosary in particular were very superstitious. I hear people say that Mary will not fail to save those who are devoted to her, and that the rosary will “obtain” all sorts of miracles or favors. Before we started, Chris told me that the rosary is the most powerful devotion in the Church. I was skeptical. It sounded like some sort of holy spell casting or something. It turns out I didn’t understand the rosary at all.

Chris has printed off the New Advent rosary instructions, which we used and I highly recommend. Each day, there are five different mysteries that we meditate on while praying the five different decades of the rosary. I knew about the mysteries, but didn’t really understand how it worked. The New Advent page lists the mysteries and gives Scripture readings for each, which I love. Reading these scenes from the life of Christ beforehand help me recall things lost in time and memory. Surprise! It is Christ-centered. As a result, we were praying, not only to Mary, but also praying the “Our Father”, “Glory Be”, and “Oh My Jesus”, contemplating the person of Christ, who we are in Him, and our relation to Mary as our Mother since as adopted sons and daughters of God we are like Christ to her. This is more profound than I ever could have imagined! We better understand who Mary is by contemplating Christ and vice versa, and begin to understand our own place in life.

For instance, in the sorrowful mysteries, the first of which is the agony of Our Lord in the garden, Christ is facing horrible suffering and tells God the Father, “Nevertheless, not my will but your will be done.” Following Christ’s example, we begin to understand how our surrender to God’s will is a divine thing, especially in the face of suffering. Praying the Hail Mary while meditating on this reveals more of who Mary is–truly the Mother of God–an acknowledgment of Christ’s divine person, not some assertion that Mary created God.

I could go on rather incoherently explaining more of my contemplations during the rosary, but if you want to understand it, try it. I tend to think the best effects of devotional prayer are that it focuses our minds on the things of God and aligns our will with His will. That is the power of the rosary. I can definitely see how done daily it will change your life, not because it contains hocus pocus, but because faith changes you and the rosary is a tool of faith. Irenaeus (the commenter on this blog, NOT the Church Father) said once that the rosary is addictive, and I think I might already be addicted.


The Catholic Heart

May 4, 2009

In my semi-long absence, I’ve lost my trains of thought. I planned to update my thoughts on Redeeming Love since finishing it. I have several posts about Calvin’s use of the Church Fathers percolating. There’s a lot I’ve planned to write, but here’s what’s been on my mind recently: the heart of the Catholic Faith is unlike anything I’ve seen before, and it’s beautiful.

What I mean is that the deep root of Catholicism is surrender to Christ. We are called to deny our selves, take up our cross, and follow Christ. (Matt 16:24,25) Seeking to be our own master is at the heart of our separation from God, and at the heart of reuniting us to Him is rejecting our own desires, submitting to God’s plan, and accepting His way for us in Christ. We are even called to submit to those in authority over us here on Earth, regardless of their behavior. Contrary to what Luther taught (see his bio), this includes those in authority over us in the Church here on Earth.

In the Catholic Faith, every belief, every practice, every prayer, is permeated with submission to God’s will. This is acted out in submission to Christ’s Church and His way for us here on Earth. It is a practical submission, whose efforts are not confined to the spiritual realm, nor are the commands to which we submit. Once the Catholic Church is recognized as Christ’s Church, the dogmas and practices of the Church are to be obeyed and believed as if Christ Himself is speaking to us. For the good Catholic, this includes attending mass every Sunday, believing in the Real Presence, going to confession and accepting penance, obeying your priest in matters of confidence and your bishop and Pope in matters of faith and morals. This includes not getting an abortion if you should find yourself inconveniently pregnant, or not giving into the temptation of homosexuality if that is present. The list goes on, but these are practical things that a faithful person may not always want to obey, but does, not for fear of men in an institution, but for love of our Lord and the desire to do His will instead of our own.

This submission carries over into the attitude that Catholics have in life. Remember when my manicurist asked if I was Catholic? It was because he recognized (or so I believe) my acceptance of God’s will in my family life and faith in His grace. The good Catholic surrenders control of their daily life to God, gladly accepts their calling, and does all work for the glory of God. If you need proof of this, consider the “Universal Call to Holiness”, Opus Dei, Josemaria Escriva, Thomas A. Kempis, Brother Lawrence, and so many others. Also, like in no other faith, Catholics can accept struggles along the way because they put value in it! Every thing is offered to the Lord, so that we may be united to Christ in our suffering, and so become co-heirs and share in His glory. There is merit in our actions, value in our suffering, and reward for faithfulness, unlike anything acknowledged by the Reformed faith and Protestant theologies.

Some may not have read about my ecclesiastic past, so I’ll briefly describe my parent’s Word of Faith beliefs. Besides believing that there is power in words, by virtue of speaking them, Word of Faith-ers also generally believe in “name it, claim it” or “health and wealth” theologies. My parents deny this sort of theology that demands what it wants of God, yet they still believe since we are adopted sons and daughters of God, Christ has already suffered all that we must suffer and God’s riches are our inheritance in this life. They believe prosperity and health are for the taking, freely distributed by God to those who have enough faith, all for the purpose of His glory and to win converts. Although the Word of Faith ideas that my parents adhere to are extreme, I watch them live out such a violent resistance against the struggles in life. I believe this resistance is characteristic of Protestant faith. They lose any benefit they should gain from their struggles and fall into despair, believing that they should overcome their sins and afflictions in this world and not the next. I so much desire for my parents to find peace in these things that I believe they can only find as Catholics.

Protestants may have good intentions to submit to God’s will, and although there are good Protestants who may seek His will in all that they do, the beliefs and actions of the faith are not helpful and in fact hinder growth in surrender to Christ. Consider the once saved, always saved idea. Not only does this lead people to believe that they should be immediately and permanently changed, it nullifies the value of any efforts on their part to change after salvation. The struggle with sin becomes a struggle to prove your salvation experience was real, instead of a process of working out your salvation in fear and trembling (Phil 2:12). On a side note, I was listening to a Protestant radio show a couple weeks ago and found myself listening to the Catholic “saved and being saved” message of justification. It seems there are plenty of non-denominational Protestants returning to Catholic ideas to avoid Reformed pitfalls.

Catholics are more equipped to live out the imitation of Christ and share in His suffering because of the Catholic view of ongoing salvation. Our struggles not only unite us to Christ in our suffering, but we also become co-redeemers with Christ, by God’s grace and through the merit and sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Every step matters, and like a faithful marriage which can’t be called faithful unless it is faithful every day until death, faithfulness to Christ throughout our entire lives is what we must strive for. With this perspective, it becomes delightful to submit to your calling in life, and valuable to bear burdens of sickness and frustration, that we may have been justified and are justified still. Even in their darkest struggles, the good Catholic can say, like Job, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, may the name of the Lord be praised.”

Keep in mind that I’m talking about the good Catholics. Every religion will produce faithful followers and lazy followers. There are those who take their faith to heart and live out their beliefs. Then there are those who go through Sundays like most of us go through high school. All they were supposed to get out of it is lost, and they’re just happy to leave when the bell rings. The rules of any faith have a life of their own; it’s the personality of the institution, and it is seen in the best of the faithful. The form of Catholicism is seen in the Catholic saints. This is the heart of the Faith that I’m talking about.

The submissive Catholic heart is exemplified in one of her saints, Mother Teresa (obviously one of my favorites, and for this very reason). She experienced a call, in her early closeness to Jesus, to go and love the poor of India and to win souls for Jesus. She felt this call intensely and earnestly, but constantly sought the direction of her spiritual superiors – first her priest, then her bishop. In every step, she did her best to obey their advice, even in remaining silent and “forgetting” about her call for some time. I’ve since learned that this is a common Catholic test of the validity of a call in someone’s life. Those in authority test the spirit of those under them to see if they are obedient, the first sign that their call is from God. I can’t help thinking that if Martin Luther’s superiors tested him in such a way, that he failed miserably. Mother Teresa’s submissive faith continues in her later years, when she experiences a separation from the presence of God, she continues to follow His will for her faithfully. I want to be that kind of saint.


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