Struggling to stay concentrated while praying the Rosary? Your mind starts to wander like a runaway train as soon as you hear the words, “Thou O Lord will open my lips”? Hopefully this post will help! It provides a simple Scriptural key that digs deeply into each and every one of the twenty mysteries. A little bit of preamble first, however. Many saints, popes and spiritual writers have pointed to the Rosary as an important pillar of the spiritual life. In fact, it would be difficult enough to identify a canonised saint of recent centuries who did not have a devotion to Mary and the Rosary. Nevertheless, it remains a controversial prayer in some quarters. Many people find it long, repetitive and boring. Others feel that it is for “holier” types but not for an “ordinary lay person like me”. If someone is already struggling to find ten or fifteen minutes a day for personal prayer, then shouldn’t they spend that time with Lectio Divina, or some other more inspiring form of prayer?
The curious thing is that this “dry” and “boring” repetition can be transformed – in the words of St John Paul II - into “an outpouring of love”. The very repetition can become a tireless return to the Lord “with expressions similar in their content but ever fresh in terms of the feeling pervading them”. This was written in 2002, when, for the twenty-fifth anniversary of his election, he inaugurated the Year of the Rosary with the beautiful apostolic letter, Rosarium Virginis Mariae. The letter highlights the importance of the Rosary, considers the objections that people raise against it, and, most of all, discusses how we should pray it fruitfully. Among these suggestions, John Paul encourages us to read a relevant Scriptural passage, short or long, immediately after the announcement of each mystery and before beginning the decade.
The Parable of the Hidden Treasure
If you try praying the Rosary, however, as I do, while driving the car or on the public transport, it can be difficult to meditate on a relevant Scriptural passage before each mystery, even if you have a good knowledge of the Bible and are able to remember certain passages by heart. The incredible thing about Scripture, though, is that it is so deep that some very simple passages can provide a rich source of reflection for the entire Rosary. One such Scriptural key is the short parable of the treasure found in Matthew 13:
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matthew 13,44)
As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI writes in Jesus of Nazareth, the Kingdom of Heaven is not a political or social utopia of some sort, but refers fundamentally to the state of accepting the kingship of God in our hearts. In the Garden of Eden, humanity distrusted the Lord and rejected his Fatherhood. Whenever a believer trusts in the Fatherhood of God and acknowledges himself to be a creature, utterly dependent on the providential love of his creator, then the Kingdom of Heaven becomes a reality in that person’s life. This relationship with our loving Father is the treasure in the field for which we should be ready to sell everything. Let us go through the Rosary now and suggest how this passage can be of assistance in unlocking each mystery.
The Joyful Mysteries
1. The Annunciation. When the Angel Gabriel appears to Mary, the Lord is carrying out the most dramatic act of his loving Fatherhood. Humanity rejected the original Creator-creature relationship with the Lord, but God is sending his Son to restore that relationship. Mary responds to God’s invitation in the exact opposite manner to the way that Adam and Eve responded in Eden. She says, “I am your servant. Let it be done onto me according to your word”. In this way, she rejects everything else in order to possess that hidden treasure, that right relationship with God. In doing so, she permits God to take on human flesh. We too can permit the Lord to take flesh in us when we are open to his word.
2. The Visitation. When Mary visits her cousin, Elizabeth says, “Blessed is she who believed that the word spoken to her by the Lord would be fulfilled”. Here, Elizabeth pays testimony to that radical rootedness of Mary in God’s word. Mary only looked to the word God had spoken to her. She didn’t look at her virginity, or the apparent impossibility of conceiving. She made that treasure in the field her only treasure. Mary wishes to visit all of us during our recitation of the Rosary, carrying Jesus into our lives, pointing to the relationship with him as the only riches we need.
3. The Nativity. Humanity separated itself from God, but he has come in pursuit of us. Here he is lying in a manger, in a feeding trough, because he wants to become nourishment for our spirit. The core of our spiritual life is the relationship with God. It is a hidden treasure that is not nurtured in any way by material riches, power or pleasure. That is why Jesus is born in such humble circumstance, in the midst of nothing, because our spiritual life needs nothing except the relationship with him. May our hearts become a cradle for Christ! May our union with him be our only treasure!
4. The Presentation in the Temple. Humanity since Eden has been fixated with fulfilling its own appetites. In our consumerist society, the emphasis is very much on what I possess, what I can get. The custom of the presentation in the Temple was a way of restoring the right relationship with God, of bowing before him as our Lord. We do not own anything, not even our children. God has given us everything that we have, and in response we are called to offer him the most valuable thing that we possess, even our first-born children. It is a paradoxical kind of giving, however. By making God our Lord and King, by offering everything to him, by, as it were, “selling everything we own”, we actually end up possessing the greatest treasure in the world, the joy of right relationship with him. At the Presentation in the Temple, the Holy Family makes a perfect offering of submission to the Lord. It is the precursor of the Mass and a sublime expression of right relationship with the Father.
5. The Finding in the Temple. After three days, when Jesus is found in the Temple, he says, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” This effectively repeats the parable of the treasure in the field. Jesus renounces everything for that relationship with the Father. The existence of Jesus, his entire being, is inextricable related to the Father. With this difficult lesson, he is encouraging Mary and Joseph to deepen their own understanding of who he is. Jesus’ whole earthly existence is oriented to his Father. That will lead to his crucifixion and to three days of anguish before the resurrection. These tough three days for Mary as she searches for her little son will help to prepare her for the ultimate trial. We too, by making that treasure in the field the centre of our lives, by making the relationship with the Father the ground of our existence, must be prepared for some loss as well. Indeed, we should be prepared to lose everything in order to possess that treasure.
The Sorrowful Mysteries.
1. The Agony in the Garden. In the Garden, Jesus sees the entire consequences of the sins of the world, a burden that is being placed upon his shoulders. The most painful aspect of this burden is the separation it entails between Jesus and the Father. Humanity has distrusted God and rejected the relationship with the Father. If Jesus is to restore humanity to rightful relationship with God, then he too must be burdened with the anguish of separation from the Father. Just think of it! Jesus has made his bond with the Father - the hidden treasure in the field - everything in his life. He has sold everything and emptied himself to possess that treasure. Now he is being asked to undergo utter separation from the person that his whole being is rooted in. Paradoxically, by submitting to being separated from the Father, he is actually abandoning himself to the Father in the fullest sense: “not my will, but yours be done”.
2. The Scourging at the Pillar. It is in the concrete pains of the Passion that Jesus most radically abandons himself into the arms of his Father. Humanity went its own way, preferring to make itself master of its own destiny rather than accepting the Fatherhood of God. Humanity pursues pleasure and comfort in its drive to placate its insatiable appetites. Jesus does not wish to satisfy himself but “sells everything” in order to follow the wishes of his Father. Paradoxes abound in the spiritual life! By making ourselves first, by disrupting the rightful order of existence, we end up with pain and suffering. Jesus puts the relationship with the Father first, but endures the separation and pain that we had caused. Thus, “by his wounds we are healed”.
3. The Crowning with Thorns. This is perhaps no other event in Scripture that stands in such contrast to the parable of the treasure. In the parable, Jesus exhorts us to place the relationship with God first in our lives, to make him our only king, above possessions, fame and pleasure. We do the very opposite, making other things the centre and meaning of our existence. Thus, we crown the Second Person of the Trinity with thorns. Jesus accepts the crown of thorns with love, bearing in a human body the consequences of the rejection of the Kingship of God.
4. The Carrying of the Cross. Jesus tells us that, if we wish to be his disciples, we must take up our cross and follow him. Sometimes we might be inclined to understand this in a negative sense, but the meaning is actually joyfully positive. In the Garden of Eden, we rejected our relationship with God, distrusting his benevolence and choosing to believe Satan’s lies that we would be “like gods” if we followed our own way. Taking up the cross is nothing other than refraining from following our own way and putting ourselves in the arms of God. There is a challenge involved, because it requires overcoming the bad habits and vices that are part and parcel of our sinful alliance with Satan. But the cross itself is “easy and light” because it is nothing other than the treasure in the field of submitting to the providential designs of our merciful Saviour.
5. The Crucifixion. Here we see the fullest expression of a human being who places himself in a correct relationship with God, onto crucifixion and death. When Jesus utters the words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” we can be sure that he has endured the complete consequences of humanity’s sin. We separated ourselves from God, which should mean utter desolation and abandonment for us, but instead God himself, in Jesus, bears this desolation and abandonment in our stead. It is the desolation that is the natural consequence of not caring about the treasure in the field and instead seeking to fill our insatiable appetites with superficial gratification. Jesus made the relationship with the Father everything, but still suffered the desolation of one who had rejected that relationship. Christ is fully human and fully divine. When his heart is pierced, it is the heart of God overflowing with grace, bestowing on us once again that treasure of God’s benevolent Fatherhood, the treasure we had rejected in Eden. And it is also the heart of a human being who has sold everything he had to possess the treasure of right relationship with the Father.
The second part of this post can be found here.
This year marks sixty years since the onset of the visions of Garabandal (more here)