This post was intended for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception on Friday, December 8th, 2017. Two days later, I’m sure you’ll find it still as useful and relevant as ever. God bless!
Do you have a Nativity set in your home?
If so, and you’re nearby, take a look at it. What do you see? More than likely, it’s a very serene scene. Pleasant faces on Mary and Joseph, well-behaved animals, and eager magi. Personally, I own peg-doll nativity scene, with Mary, Joseph, Jesus, a shepherd, and angel depicted as ethnic Koreans in traditional Korean dress. It’s a lovely, homey scene that reminds me of my year living in East Asia. Yet, my own nativity scene that I love depicts a very clean, socially acceptable first Christmas.
Today’s (12/8/2017) Gospel reading is the Annunciation in St. Luke:
Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God.
Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you shall name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”
Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.”
The retelling of the Annunciation is a favorite: it fills Christians with hope and joy, the moment that it was revealed to Mary that she would become the mother of Our Lord. I often think about Mary on that day. What did she do after learning she would become the mother of God’s only son? While we can’t know what she was thinking, we do know from Scripture that Mary did not dawdle to accept her call as Jesus’ mother. After hearing the angel Gabriel’s news Our Lady replied, “May it be done to me according to your word.” While Mary may have been confused about this good news, she did not hesitate to say “Yes” to God. Her one “Yes” or fiat, changed the course of humanity’s salvation history.
Nevertheless, a little over 2,000 years later, Christians (myself included) are often guilty of transforming the stories of the Bible into Hallmark shop renditions. The story of Christ seems so distant from our era, that it’s easy to flip through our Bibles and think, “Yes, how nice!” Often, the Christian art in our homes is pleasant. Our religion, unfortunately, is sometimes reduced to pleasantries.
How can we avoid “Hallmark Mary”? Or worse, “Hallmark Jesus”?
I believe one answer to this question lies in the practice of praying the Rosary. For my Protestant readers, the Rosary is prayer based in Scripture that allows us to meditate on events in life of Jesus and Mary (often using beads). These events are called “mysteries” due to their miraculous and mysterious nature. There are four sets of mysteries: Joyful, Sorrowful, Glorious, and Luminous. Despite its criticism from non-Catholics for existing as a “vain repetition” with its over 50 Hail Marys and numerous Our Fathers, the Rosary is a powerful tool that helps us delve into an authentic understanding of the life of Jesus.
For example, in the Joyful Mysteries, the first mystery we ponder is the Annunciation (from today’s readings!). After meditating upon the Annunciation, the next four mysteries are The Visitation (Luke 1:39), The Nativity (Luke 2) The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:22) and the Finding of Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:41). All of these events are happy, wonderful times in the early life of the Holy Family. We meditate upon Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth, and extending all the way to when Mary and Joseph find Jesus in the temple after frantically searching for him in Jerusalem. When I pray the Joyful Mysteries, especially in the mystery of the Nativity, I like to ask Christ to be “born” anew in my heart each day.
On the other hand, the practice of praying the Rosary also acknowledges that Christianity is not a religion of perpetual, temporal happiness. On Tuesdays and Fridays, devotees of the Rosary pray the Sorrowful Mysteries. These mysteries include Jesus’ Agony in the Garden (Mark 26), The Scourging at the Pillar (John 19:1), The Crowning of the Thorns (John 19), The Carrying of the Cross (Matthew 27:31), and the Crucifixion (all four Gospels). With these mysteries, Catholics can meditate upon the events leading up to Good Friday, while also thinking about how we can unite our own suffering with the suffering of Christ. With Mary, we can stand at the foot of the cross as we pray through each sorrowful moment of Holy Week.
Finally, with joys, sorrows, and everything in between, Catholics are able to use the Rosary to combat the idea that life with Christ is like an idyllic Hallmark cliche. We recognize that yes, while there are joyful mysteries and glorious mysteries to our Faith, there are also sorrows. Luckily, we have Our Lord to carry and guide us along the way. And like our Blessed Mother, we too can say “Yes” to God without fear.
Don’t be daunted by the cross. The surest test of love consists in suffering for the loved one, and if God suffered so much for love, the pain we suffer for Him becomes as lovable as love itself. // St. Padre Pio
Never be afraid of loving Mary too much. You can never love her more than Jesus did. // St. Maximilian Kolbe
Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us!