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.


The First Lashes

March 10, 2010

And so it begins. I had a feeling that the reason my parents took my joining the Catholic Church so well is that they didn’t realize how Catholic I am. Today, I was telling my mom that we will most likely put our kids in the Catholic school of our parish. It’s a good school that even Catholic-shy Protestants send their kids to. It doesn’t cost much more than public school and I’ve been really unimpressed with public schools lately. She wavered and stalled, then confessed she doesn’t like the idea of Catholic schools because they teach the kids things she disagrees with, like “praying to the saints and doing rosary beads for forgiveness.” I told her there are things she disagrees with that they teach, but Chris and I agree with them. It’s like I slapped her and called her ugly.

She stuttered, “You believe in things like praying to the saints????”

“Yes, mom. Why do you think I’m joining the Catholic Church this Easter?”

“But Jesus is our only intercessor!”

“He is our only intercessor in one way, but even you ask others to pray for us.”

“People who are alive and in the body of Christ!”

“Those who have died are still in the body of Christ.”

“There’s nothing in the Bible that tells us to pray to the saints.”

“There is the cloud of witnesses. If they can see and hear us, and they’re with God, there’s no reason to believe they can’t pray for us. They’re not spiritually paralyzed!”

“We’re supposed to pray directly to God.”

“I do pray directly to God. And I ask you to pray for me, and Chris to pray for me, and the saints to pray for me.”

“You are such a chameleon. You change your beliefs according to who you’re with.”

The last several weeks, since Fat Tuesday actually, I’ve had this tension headache/neck pain from stress. It gets worse when I’m more stressed. Right about this point in the conversation, my neck hurt. There’s really no reason for my mom to suggest that I just conform to those around me. There is never an instance in my past when I have changed my faith, let alone changed it to agree with the multitude of strange ideas from people I’ve come across. I’ve dated atheists (one who was “Catholic”), Catholics who believe everyone goes to heaven, a multiple personality ridden Protestant, and one guy who actually thought he was God, but I never changed the beliefs that I was raised with. I’ve been surrounded by nihilistic attitudes, scientism, “spirituality” rather than “religion”, and other religions. The most I had in common spiritually with any of my friends in college was with a Muslim friend of mine who agreed that science and religion are not at odds! And yet my own mother now thinks that despite all this resistance and adversity to my beliefs that I’ve gone through, my faith is week enough that I’ve just passively absorbed that of my husband. I’ve never changed my faith for anyone, and I still haven’t. I’m not becoming Catholic for Chris. Neither am I just becoming Catholic in the same way that my parents join different churches. I am Catholic.

She changed the subject a bit, “You believe in praying rosary beads for forgiveness?”

“That’s not why people pray the rosary, mom.”

My faculties failed me while I attempted to explain the power of forgiveness in confession. I recounted Christ breathing the Holy Spirit on the Apostles and telling them what sins they forgive are forgiven and the sins they retain are retained. She answered, “I’m not sure where you’re going with that.” I considered going through the whole Apostolic succession through the laying on of hands thing. The words that Father Andrew said last week at the RCIA class on confession ran through my head, “Well, how can they forgive sins if they don’t hear them?” The look on her face stopped me. Instead I ended it with “Oh look, Isabel wants to watch Star Wars.”

I think my mom accused me of being a chameleon because she was rather shocked, and couldn’t think of another way to explain the fact that I believe in praying to the saints. Unfortunately, all this came after a bad day in which I was rather frustrated and annoyed with the kids, perfectly demonstrating how Catholics shouldn’t act. I’m holding my breath, waiting for the phone call from my dad. And bracing myself for the next barrage of challenges to Catholic beliefs.


Lent and the Impending Rites

February 20, 2010

I know most bloggers did their Ash Wednesday/Lent posts on Ash Wednesday. Or the day after. I’m a couple days late, but that’s par for the course around here.

Because of Lent, I’ve been thinking about the nature of fasting. In RCIA, they said the main purpose of fasting is to break our attachment to created things so we can put our focus back where it should be, on the Creator. So for me, a very appropriate fast is food. I’m going to stop eating snacks during the day. I’m still allowing myself to snack at night. It may sound kind of lame to people who don’t know me, but I usually eat at least six times a day. For me, eating only four times a day is a difficult fast! I even stocked up on veggie and fruit juices to keep my calorie count (and my stamina) up. Chris has told me since I’m still technically nursing, I’m not required to fast. But I’m hardly nursing now, and I think this is a really good way to keep the purpose of my fast at the forefront of my mind all day long. If I can do it.

After all, I already screwed up fasting on Ash Wednesday. It was kinda funny, and a little embarrassing, when I was looking down at my plate of fish and rice at dinner time and realized I ate meat for lunch. I was all focused on how much I was eating, and didn’t even realize that my “just a light sandwich” (a gyro) had gyro… meat… in it. I did this last year, too, although I wasn’t the one fasting. I was trying so hard to make Chris a nice meal, and fixed up meatloaf, cornbread, and mashed potatoes. On a Lenten Friday. He refused to eat and I refused to speak to him, just for a little while until I had a chance to get over my mistake.

It’s strange that after a year of “inquiry” into the Catholic Church, there is still so much I’m not used to and haven’t experienced. Even the Ash Wednesday mass had me confused and hunting through the missal. I imagine I might feel that way a lot this Lent and Easter. There is a lot of new, uncomfortable experiences coming up. Easter is approaching. The Rite of Election is this Sunday. My first confession is soon. That definitely looming on my horizon. I think I’m more afraid of getting all the technicalities right than the confession part. I lived a long time with certain sins that are no secret to anyone, and telling a priest comes with the benefit of absolution. The hard part will be my nervousness. I want to write down my list (and bring a lighter to burn it afterward), so I don’t forget anything. I know different priests do different things, and some expect you to say the act of contrition there while others don’t. Getting all that right frightens me, but I’ll probably stumble through it like I do with everything else.

Overall, I’m eager to have the strangeness and newness behind me, when I’ll be “one of you”. I generally avoid leaving my comfort zone, and this is one big leap outside it. All done for the sake of the truth, and in effort to obey God’s will. If there’s any good reason, that’s it.


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.”


Personal Jesus

November 16, 2009

My grandma’s funeral was yesterday. My uncle, who is a pastor, ran the service, and my dad gave the eulogy. Although the two of them are different as “chalk and cheese”, they both did a nice job remembering my grandma. But both of them made me feel ragingly and compulsively Catholic. At every prayer I wanted to cross myself. When my dad spoke of my grandma praying for us all “right up to the end”, I wanted to add “why not now?”, especially since we all hope and believe she is a part of the great cloud of witnesses. Why would the witnesses be limited to only viewing? Why not hearing and praying for us? Why would souls who have gone to be with God not be able to speak to Him?

Please don’t think I was just sitting and criticizing the Protestant run funeral. I’ve had my time of mourning, but that’s not what this post is about. It’s about the spontaneous Catholic feelings that sharing time with my Protestant family has brought on, and me trying to sort them out afterward.

It’s been a while since I’ve participated in Protestant prayer and preaching and it brought on some reactions that were kind of hard to pinpoint. The way my uncle was talking about Jesus and praying to God was familiar to me. It was warm and personal, and I like it and have missed it. There’s also something about it that makes me uncomfortable and feels a little off. Last night I was asking Chris what this difference I was noticing might be, and I think maybe we’ve figured it out.

My uncle quoted a song by Misty Edwards called “See the Way”, which says “God is a lover, looking for a lover, and so he fashioned me”. This is such a lovely, personal view of our relationship with God. It’s attractive, but it’s not quite right. Maybe the reason there are so many evangelicals who believe Catholics don’t have a personal relationship with Christ is because Catholics don’t have a personalized relationship with Christ. This song, and the prayers I was listening to yesterday are very individual. They’re about me and Jesus.

In the Catholic Faith, it’s not about me and Jesus, it’s about us and Jesus. It’s always, always about the corporate Body of Christ and God’s loving relationship with them. Our prayers are said together, our confession is made in unison. Like Chris says, the Catholic view of the universal Church has a way of beating down the “ego” and that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

While Catholics are prevented from saying “me” instead of “us”, they are also prevented from viewing Jesus in whatever way they want to. Although Jesus is personal, He is not personalized. The Church reveals to us who Christ is in a non-negotiable way. Then we must change, with God’s grace, and conform to His image. As a Protestant, my view of God changed as I grew and got to know Him better. Of course, that’s always true to some extent, even for Catholics. At least for me, the difference is that as a Protestant my image of God changed. As a Catholic, the image remains the same but my understanding changes, because it’s not just me trying to figure out who God is.

It’s hard to explain, but that’s the best I can do. It’s strange experiencing this world I used to belong in, feel a draw to it, but at the same time feel completely separated from it. There’s no going back, even for the things I enjoyed, because I see everything differently now. It’ll be nice when I officially join and belong in the corporate Body of Christ.


Rosary Reflections – Finding Our Lord in the Temple

October 24, 2009

The fifth joyous mystery of the Rosary is the finding of Our Lord in the temple. For reference, Luke 2:41-52:

Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

When I think about these events, I can’t help but sympathize with Mary as a mother. Her child has run off, and she doesn’t know where he is, for three days! Of course, as any good mother would, Mary is freaking out. She wants to know why Jesus has put her through this. I can’t possibly understand the extent of her and Joseph’s terror though, knowing that they have lost not only their child, but their Messiah. Can you imagine the worst case scenarios going through their heads? They’ve lost their Lord. Has he perished? Will they ever be able to find him again? Have they screwed up God’s master plan and will He strike them dead in anger? They felt like this for three days.

There’s another time when Christ was lost for three days, his followers terror striken and alone. He was buried, leaving the disciples to wonder if God’s plan had been thwarted or if there was any hope left for anyone. Again, I can only imagine the despair they felt. Talk about the dark night of the soul!

Finding Our Lord in the temple after three days seems to me a clear foreshadowing of his resurrection. It is the unknown hope we are desperate for, and that God has planned all along. It is the dawn to end our dark night, which we never understood was possible. I think maybe everyone goes through dark times, feeling abandoned and alone and completely hopeless. Meditating on this mystery teaches me that God has a plan in our sufferings, that He is always in control, and that He will bring us out of the darkness in good time, whether we can see it or not.


Another Thing About the Rosary

October 19, 2009

I always used to hate praying in groups. I didn’t really hate being in a group that was praying, but hated me actually talking and saying the words of prayer out loud in front of others. It makes me all stage fright and nervous, and it’s impossible to focus on God that way. With Catholic rote prayers, that’s not a problem. Now it’s nice and easy to pray the rosary with Chris. We can pray together effectively, husband and wife. Good stuff.