Tuesday, May 21, 2013

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

The Rosary traditionally has consisted of three sets of Mysteries – the Joyful, the Sorrowful, and the Glorious Mysteries.

The Luminous Mysteries, or the Mysteries of Light, were first suggested by Blessed Pope John Paul II in his encyclical “Rosarium Virginis Mariae”, and were heartily taken up by the majority of Catholics. One reason for the Holy Father’s suggestion was that  it was fitting to include meditations on the ministry of Christ, given that the traditional Rosary jumped from His Infancy to His Passion...and there is so much that can be gleaned from meditating on the ministry of Our Blessed Lord.
It was no mistake that the Pope suggested calling these the “Mysteries of Light” because they reveal the Lord Jesus Christ (who is the Light) and His Kingdom in a special way.

The First Luminous Mystery – the Baptism of Our Lord
In His Baptism, the Lord Jesus teaches us total resignation to the will of God. When Jesus came to be baptised, John the Baptist wanted to prevent it. John’s message was one of penance (or repentance) i.e. turning away from sin and self; and turning towards God. We know that Mary and Elisabeth were kinswomen (Lk 1:36); so it is very likely that Jesus and John the Baptist knew each other. This means that John would have known what kind of person Jesus was; which makes sense of his response to Jesus’ request for baptism: “I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?” (Matt 3:14). John’s message was about turning from sin, and he knew Jesus well enough to know that he, a sinner, had need to be baptised by the One whom he had never seen given to sin.

But Jesus’ response to John was “Suffer it to be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness” (Matt 3:15). This is an interesting response in light of the fact that John’s message was about righteousness – and here is Jesus, the living example of true righteousness, which is total abandonment to doing the will of His Heavenly Father. The Father Himself attests to this when, after Jesus’ baptism, He declares “This is my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”.
As we meditate upon this first Mystery, we ask Our Lady to pray for us so that we can be Christ-like in being totally committed to doing the will of God. And when we imitate Him in this way, we are assured of God’s promise that He will be well-pleased with us, those whom He makes His beloved sons and daughters through the waters of baptism. Jesus tells us that when we do what God desires, His words to us will be:

“Well done, good and faithful servant...enter into the joy of your Lord” (Matt 25:23)

The Second Luminous Mystery – Our Lord turns water into wine
Many theologians regard the Lord’s Baptism as the start of His public ministry – and it is, to a degree. His Baptism was His commissioning by His Heavenly Father. But still His public ministry hadn’t yet begun, because He first had to undergo the forty day Temptation in the Wilderness.

So, what was the starting point of Jesus’ public ministry then? It was the performance of His first miracle at the wedding in Cana of Galilee – when He turned water into wine. It is no mistake that this miracle was performed at the request of His Blessed Mother. God, in His Divine Wisdom, saw it fit that the Lord Jesus would begin His public ministry with the commissioning of His Heavenly Father and the request of His Blessed Mother.
The narrative of the Lord turning water into wine (Jn 2:1-11) is an instructive one, because it shows us the nature of Mary’s role in the life of the Christian. Firstly, she sees the needs of her children, the children that God has given to her (Jn 19:27), and intercedes on their behalf. Secondly, she always points us to Jesus and tells us to “do whatever He says” (Jn 2:5). And thirdly, she reveals the glory of her Son so that people might believe in Him. Whilst it is true that Jesus performed this first sign to reveal His own glory (Jn 2:11), we must remember that He performed it at the request of His Blessed Mother. She knew that by this request, her relationship with her Son would be changed. Yet she requested it anyway – for the sake of others, and so that Jesus’ glory could be revealed.

As Mary points us to Jesus and tells us to follow Him, she does so by the example of her own willingness to say “Yes” to God in her Fiat. She is also our example in glorifying God, when we echo her words “My soul magnifies the Lord” (Lk 1:46).
As we imitate Our Lady, we can be assured that we, like her, will be conformed into the image of her Divine Son. Jesus’ promises to change us, just as He changed water into wine.

The Third Luminous Mystery – the Proclamation of the Kingdom
After performing His first miracle, Jesus went out and started proclaiming the Gospel. His message was a call to repentance for the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand (Matt 4:17; Mk 1:14-15).

As already mentioned in the First Luminous Mystery, repentance is turning away from sin and self; and turning towards God. But Jesus doesn’t just call us to repentance; He also gives us the means that we need to accomplish it. We cannot approach God in our own strength, for in our own strength we often stumble and fall. Rather, Christ calls us to embrace Him and His free gift of grace so that we might have our sins forgiven and be reconciled with our Heavenly Father.  
It has often been said that Jesus promised the Kingdom but gave us the Church. But the truth is that the Church is the sacrament of the Kingdom:

But what does the Church have to do with repentance and grace? It was to the Church that the Lord Jesus Christ gave the power to forgive sins (Jn 20:23; Matt 18:18). And it is through the Church that the Lord pours out His grace – specifically by the means of the Seven Sacraments.

As we meditate upon this Mystery, may we hear the voice of the Lord Jesus in the Holy Catholic Church calling us to a life of continual conversion and growth in holiness – because when we hear the Church, we hear Jesus (Lk 10:16). And as we listen to the Church, and make ourselves available to the Sacraments, we will grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
[For another reflection on the Third Luminous Mystery, click here.]

The Fourth Luminous Mystery – the Transfiguration
The episodes in Christ’s life that we meditate upon in the Luminous Mysteries are those where Christ revealed His glory. In this Fourth Luminous Mystery, we meditate upon that very visible display when His face shone like the sun and His clothes became dazzling white (Matt 17:2). As His three closest disciples gazed upon His unveiled glory, He was accompanied by the two great Old Testament Saints, Moses and Elijah. To the Jewish people, these men were the “icons” of the entire Old Testament Scriptures – Moses, the Law; and Elijah, the Prophets.

Peter, not knowing what to say, made the suggestion that three tents (or tabernacles) be erected – one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah (Mk 9:5-6). At this point, a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from heaven proclaimed “This is my Beloved Son; listen to Him!” (Mk 9:7). The disciples became so afraid that they fell to the ground; but Jesus came to them and touched them saying, “get up and do not be afraid”. When they looked up, they saw that Moses and Elijah had disappeared, and Jesus was standing alone before them.
One interpretation that the Church has given this passage is that the “disappearance” of Moses and Elijah was God’s way of saying that the Law and the Prophets are fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ (e.g. Lk 24:27). There was no need to make tabernacles for Moses and Elijah, because all that they had spoken about was fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ, when He made His tabernacle amongst men (see Jn 1:14 – where the word  translated as “dwelt” or “lived” is in fact means “to tent or tabernacle”).

It is interesting that the words spoken by the Father to the disciples were “Listen to Him!”; because just a few days prior, Jesus had prophesied His Passion and they would not believe Him (see Matt 16:21-22; Mk 8:31-32). The disciples overheard Moses and Elijah speaking to the Lord about His Passion (Lk 9:31). Now, the Father is basically saying to them: “You are prepared to listen to Moses and Elijah. There is one greater than Moses and Elijah here. Listen to Him!”
In the Second Luminous Mystery, Jesus revealed His glory through His first miracle, and we hear His Mother’s words “Do whatever He says”. Now, Jesus reveals His physical glory, and we hear His Father’s words “Listen to Him!”

If we listen to Jesus and do whatever He says, we can be sure that we will meet with persecution. After all, if the world persecuted Him, we can expect that it will persecute us. Moses and Elijah spoke with Jesus about His Passion. Listening to Jesus means that we will somehow be called to share in His Passion, for He tells us that if we want to be His disciples, we must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him (Matt 16:24). But that is not where the story ends. After His Passion, Jesus rose again in glory – and this is His promise to us – that if we suffer with Him, we will be glorified with Him (Rom 8:17).

The Fifth Luminous Mystery – the Institution of the Eucharist
In this Mystery, Christ reveals to us how He will remain with His Church until the end of the ages (Matt 28:20). Whilst the Fourth Luminous Mystery is about Christ unveiling His glory, this Fifth Mystery is about Christ continuing to dwell amongst His people with His glory veiled under the appearance of bread and wine.

The Luminous Mysteries really come to a climax in the Fifth Luminous Mystery, because the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith. Ultimately, this Mystery is about faith.
If we believe that Jesus turned water into wine, as we have already seen in the Second Luminous Mystery, then it shouldn’t be hard for us to believe that He can turn wine into His own Blood.

If it is by faith that we believe that the world was framed by the word of God (Heb 11:3), then it is by faith that we believe the words of Institution change the substance of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. If God says “Let there be light”, then there is light. In the same way, if God says “This is my Body” – then the bread that He holds becomes, by the word of God, His very Body.
As we meditate upon this Mystery, we are called to increase our faith in our Eucharistic Lord, who gives His flesh for the life of the world (Jn 6:51). And for all those who worthily share in the communion of the Lord’s Body and Blood, He assures that they will have eternal life (Jn 6:54) – because He is Life.

Obtaining the Promises through Jesus Christ
The Luminous Mysteries are about revelation – specifically the revelation of the glory of the Lord Jesus. That is why these Mysteries are called “Luminous” – because they are about giving light. Jesus said “I am the Light of the world” (Jn 8:12); but He also said that the Church is the light of the world (Matt 5:14). This is because His glory is not something that He keeps to Himself. His desire is to share His glory with His Bride and Body, the Church.

As we meditate upon these Luminous Mysteries, may we grow in our desire to share in Christ’s glory, mindful of the promise that we too will shine as bright as the Son (Matt 13:43).

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

Reflections on the Rosary - Introduction

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


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)