“Pray the Rosary every day”
– Our Lady of Fatima
I have written on many occasions previously about the prayer of the holy Rosary, looking at it from a number of different perspectives. It is the most exquisite of prayers, the one the Mother of God repeatedly asks us to pray.
Why does She do this?
The answer is very simple. Whilst the Rosary is a very simple prayer, suitable for both children and adults alike, it is also incredibly deep and profound. It is like a deep well of prayer, the depths of which we will never really reach – there is always somethine new to be found there.
In praying the Rosary, it is not just about us and what we bring to the prayer – more importantly, it is about the grace of God acting within us; that divine grace enlightens us and helps us to meditate deeply on the Mysteries of the Rosary.
This meditation is what really brings the Rosary to life. We meditate on the life, mission, Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus – and by doing so, we come to know Him better. We are not alone in our prayer – His own Mother helps us, obtaining this necessary divine grace for us, and none knows the Son as well as His own Mother.
The Rosary is a pathway; to achieve it’s benefits as fully as possible, we need to walk that path repeatedly, and this is why the Blessed Virgin asks us so very often to “pray the Rosary every day”. In doing so, our meditation becomes deeper and fuller, assisted by that divine grace. The Mysteries take root in our souls, as seeds do in fertile soil – they germinate there, producing beautiful flowers whose fragrance will never fade.
As this occurs, we may find that we become ‘lost’ in the Rosary in a sense – our recollection increases, our prayer deepens and it becomes more interior and more profound, such that we are thinking less about praying and simply praying. Saint Francis of Assisi used to say that when this happens, we ‘become’ prayer.
And in this sense, the Rosary begins by being vocal prayer, moves into meditative prayer and may lead us into contemplative prayer if the Lord wills it and grants us that grace.
The Saints throughout the centuries have greatly recommended the Rosary, because they have known that it is indeed a path to true sanctity when it’s Mysteries begin to take root within us; even the little children of Fatima, responding to the requests of the Mother of God, found the Rosary to be a path to holiness. You will be doing well to find a Saint who was not dedicated to this heavenly prayer.
All that said, the only thing that remains is that we take up our Rosary beads, and pray.
“At the Cross, Her station keeping
Stood the mournful Mother, weeping.
Close to Jesus to the last..”
– ‘Stabat Mater’
It’s easier for us to imagine the joys and the glories of the Blessed Virgin Mary, rather than Her immense sorrows. And yet, it was through Her intimate correspondence to and participation in the sufferings of Her Son, that She gained for Herself a never-fading crown of glory in Heaven.
I suppose this should not really surprise us; after all, in the Gospels, Her Son tells us very clearly that if we wish to follow Him, then we must take up our own cross first. In all of human history, no-one picked up their cross and carried it as faithfully as the Mother of the Lord. No-one, then, ever followed Him as perfectly as She.
Having given Her ‘fiat’ at the moment of the Annunciation, She repeated this constantly throughout Her earthly life. In every moment, Her will was so perfectly attuned to the will of God in everything, even to the point of consenting to the death of Her Son upon the Cross – this was, after all, the very reason for His coming into the world. It is near impossible to fathom the intense suffering this must have caused Her, standing there beneath His Cross, constantly repeating in Her sorrowing Heart a silent ‘fiat’ over and over.
And yet, we celebrate the ‘exaltation’ of the Holy Cross; the feast reminds us that terrible though the event of the Crucifixion was, it was – it is – the means of our redemption. The Blessed Virgin knew this, too. This allowed that terrible pain to be bearable – knowing that because of His Death, the gates of Heaven were opened again to all of us, and His Resurrection would shortly follow.
That is why we celebrate the exaltation of the holy Cross – it is not the tree of death, but the Tree of Life; and from it, the possibility of eternal life flowed down abundantly for every one of us.
“Your birth, O Virgin Mother of God, announced joy to the whole world, for from You has risen the Sun of Justice, Christ our God..”
– Benedictus antiphon, feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
There are really two broad reasons for celebrating the birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The first is a very human reason. We celebrate the birthdays of those we love, because it is a special day for them, and a day of joy for us – because of their birth, we have those we love in our lives and they enrich us with their presence. These people give our lives meaning and value. Celebrating their birthdays is a simple but lovely way to express all of this. The Blessed Virgin is the Mother of Our Lord and we love Her very much; She is kind and She loves us and helps us, and She brings us to Her Son. So how much more will we celebrate the birthday of this sweetest of mothers.
The second reason is a spiritual one, and that reason is captured in the quotation above from the Benedictus antiphon from Morning Prayer. The birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary is the second glimmer of divine light falling upon the world – the first was at Her Immaculate Conception. In these two events, a ray of light from Heaven begins to pierce the darkness of the world, and that light is a sign of something wonderful to come, that the promnise made long ago by the Lord is ready to be fulfilled – the moment is at hand. The Blessed Virgin is the means but not the end; and so Her birthday is a step along the way to Her Son’s coming – He is the Light, and She is the first sign of His dawning; “from You arose the Sun of Justice, Christ our God”, as the Church puts it. Now that She is born into the world, we know that He is very close to coming into the world, also.
It is customary to give a little present to the one who is celebrating a birthday – who doesn’t love to receive such a gift? And so that leaves us wondering – what will I give today to the Blessed Virgin Mary, on this Her birthday? What prayer, what sacrifice, what little act of devotion can I offer Her, that it might please Her?
“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love”
– Mother Teresa
Sometimes it can seem to us that the Saints were great individuals who always accomplished the most amazing things; performed miracles everywhere they went; were adored by everyone thye met; and always spoke as though a poet had written all their words, such that they always said exactly the right thing at the right moment. And lovely though all of that might be, there is a downside – it can make them seem very remote from us, and this places them out of our reach as models in the spiritual life.
Saint Teresa of Calcutta bucks that particular trend.
Part of the reason for this is that she is a Saint from within our living memory, and not some ethereal figure from centuries ago – in other words, she is still very real to us. We remember her appearing on the evening news, speaking in interviews, and proving herself to be a remarkable and feisty lady, whose small stature could not hide the stregnth and resourcefulness within.
Another part of the reason is that in being reasonably well acqainted with her, we could see for ourselves that she really did have absolutely nothing – nothing at all. Despite this, she achieved a great deal for so very many poor people. She did what she could.
I think we also remember Mother Teresa fondly because of the quotations we have now and which came from her. Amongst them, there is one which really stands out for me – “We cannot all do great things; but all of us can do little things with great love”. For all of us living in the Twenty First Century, this is a salutary lesson – it is not about what we have or don’t have, it’s about how we live in relation to others.
Every single one of us is capable of achieving good – even a diminutive nun with not a penny to her name – and of treating others with great love and respect, doing for them whatever we can because we see the Face of Christ in them. This essentially sums up the message of Mother Teresa; I think it also expresses succintly her legacy to us in the present age.
May all of us learn this lesson from her and put it into practice.
“Mary is the ‘Consolatrix Afflictorum’ – the Consoler of the Afflicted”
– Cardinal Newman
In his beautiful little book of collected writings, meditations and thoughts which is entitled ‘Meditations And Devotions’, St John Henry Cardinal Newman has a short piece entitled Our Lady’s Dolours. Here, he begins by noting that St Paul had written that the Lord had comforted him in his own distress, so that he might be better able to comfort others in theirs. He says this is the secret of true consolation – that we are able to give it to others when we have ourselves already received it.
In other words, it becomes more powerful when we really understand what it is that we are giving.
The Cardinal goes on to note that this is the reason why the Blessed Virgin Mary is truly the ‘Comforter of the Afflicted’ – She is able to console us more than any other, because of the suffering She bore at the foot of the Cross. And it was also at the foot of that Cross that the Lord gave Her to all of us as our Mother and our Consolation.
Speaking on the same subject in his ‘Our Lady Book’, the holy Father Lasance speaks about those images of the Blessed Virgin which we refer to as the Pietà, depicting Her sorrows. He writes –
“That we may learn how hard it is to form any adequate idea of Mary’s sorrow, the Church applies to Her the words of the Prophet Jeremias – ‘To what shall I compare thee, or to what shall I liken thee, O daughter of Jerusalem? To what shall I equal thee, that I may comfort thee, O Virgin daughter of Sion? For great as the sea is thy destruction’ (Lam.2:13).”
What he writes is true. Who has not gazed upon an image of the desolate Virgin in Her sorrows, cradling the dead Body of Her Son, and not felt a piercing stab of empathy in the heart?
Father Lasance notes that this foreknowledge of suffering was always there for the Blessed Virgin, who had been warned of it’s approach by Simeon. But remember, too, that She was intimately acquainted with the Scriptures and the promise of the Saviour to come; but this knowledge meant that She also knew that He was destined to suffer, that it was for this He would come into the world. Father Lasance writes –
“So much at heart, indeed, had She the object of His sufferings, that She was constrained out of love for sinners and obedience to God to devote Him to those sufferings, while all the affection of Her soul inclined Her to save Him from them.”
This, then, was the terrible consequence of that ‘Fiat’ offered at the moment of the Annunciation; that as much as Her Divine Son was destined to suffer terribly, so would She, for She would have to consent to it whole-heartedly. Every suffering born by His Body, She would experience in Her Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart. In short, She spent every moment of the life of Her Son loving Him and waiting for the time of His Passion to arrive, knowing that She must continually love Him and let Him suffer, though to do so drove the Sword of Sorrow through Her Heart.
None except the Lord has suffered as She did.
And for this reason, none can console as She does.
“I invite everyone to join a universal day of prayer and fasting for Lebanon.“
– Pope Francis
Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has invited us to join him today in a day of prayer and fasting for the intentions of the people of Lebanon, who have suffered so grieviously over a long period and in a particular way since the explosion in the port of Beirut one month ago.
To ask the Church to pray in unison is a very powerful thing – it draws down enormous grace from Heaven, where the Lord always hears and responds to that prayerful appeal. The Catechism reminds us of this power –
“When Jesus openly entrusts to His disciples the mystery of prayer to the Father, He reveals to them what their prayer and ours must be, once He has returned to the Father in His glorified humanity. What is new is to ‘ask in His name’. Faith in the Son introduces the disciples into the knowledge of the Father, because Jesus is ‘the way, and the truth, and the life’.. In this new covenant the certitude that our petitions will be heard is founded on the prayer of Jesus.” (para.2614)
The great Saint Augustine says it a little more simply –
“He prays for us as our priest, prays in us as our Head, and is prayed to by us as our God. Therefore let us acknowledge our voice in Him and His in us.”
When the Church prays, the Lord prays with her, for she is His Mystical Body upon the earth. The Lord Himself reminds us in the Gospels that where two or three gather in prayer, He is there in the midst of them. How much more so, then, when the entire Church is united in prayer. The Church prays with the voice of Christ.
The Holy Father concluded his address with an invocation to the Blessed Virgin –
“I ask you to entrust to Mary, Our Lady of Harissa, our hopes and our fears. May She sustain all who grieve for their loved ones and instil courage in those who have lost their homes and, with them, a part of their lives. May She intercede with the Lord Jesus so that the land of cedars may flourish once again and spread the fragrance of fraternal coexistence throughout the entire Middle East.”
May this Divine Lord, Who is always attentive to the prayers that arise to His throne, hear and answer our pleas for the people and nation of Lebanon.
“..And unto dust, thou shalt return..”
– Lenten Liturgy
We often live under the delusion that we shall live forever. Reality then tends to get in the way, so that those we have unexpectedly left behind are reminded forcefully that we are, in fact, quite mortal. We are not the masters of time; it is a precious commodity and one that, for every one of us, is in finite supply.
The trouble with thinking that we have all the time in the world, is that we do precisely what good counsel tells us not to do – we put off till tomorrow what we could have done today, with the end result that much goes undone. And as another counsel also tells us – ‘the road to Hell is paved with good intentions’.
We are never guaranteed a tomorrow.
In the spiritual life, this ‘memento mori’ – a remembrance of our own mortality – is very necessary. It is something we are explicitly reminded of in the Lenten liturgy each year, as the Priest marks our forehead with ashes in the shape of a cross. But do we think about it at other times? Saint John Vianney, the Curé of Ars, reminded his listeners why this is important, when he said – “man dies once only, and upon this death depends his eternity – where the tree falls, there it shall lie”. And the Russian Orthodox Saint, Ambrose of Optina, counselled his listeners – “You must not be greatly troubled about many things, but you should care for the main thing — preparing yourself for death.”
Death is something we experience only once, at the very end of life, and for which we have had no practice. It is crucial, then, that we die well. To ‘die well’ means to have lived well, and to still be living well when death comes to take us.
The bare necessity of living well is to be in the grace of God – that is, to enjoy His friendship. Above this, is to have done good, to have been forgetful of self and mindful of the poor and of those in need of any kind, out of love of God; and in this way, to have loved our neighbour as ourself, as the Lord tells us. There is more besides, but these are the essentials.
After seeing the vision of Hell shown to her at Fatima in 1917 by the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Jacinta Marto was very much absorbed in the thought of Eternity and the loss of those poor souls who fall into Hell. She had reason to be so absorbed – she had seen those souls suffering there and she had been told that ‘many souls’ are lost. After this, she did everything in her power to prevent this loss of souls.
For us, we must do all we can to ensure that we are ready for that final moment, on which everything rests. But we must also do all we can to help other souls to be ready, too. If we arrive at the gates of Heaven alone, the Lord will ask us – “where are the others?”.
‘Now You dismiss Your servant in peace..’
– Luke 2:29
‘Now, You dismiss Your servant in peace,
according to Your word, O Master;
for my eyes have seen Your salvation,
which You have prepared in the sight of all the peoples;
a light for revelation to the nations,
and the glory of Your people Israel.’
There is something profound in these words of the holy man, Simeon, as recounted in the second chapter of Saint Luke’s Gospel. They are uttered at the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, where Mary and Joseph have taken the divine Child to give Him to the Lord. Immediately recognising the Child as the promised Messiah, Simeon takes Him in his arms and makes this declaration of praise. In saying these words, Simeon acknowledges that the promise of the Lord has been fulfilled now – that he would not die before seeing the Holy One of God. Simeon has waited a lifetime for this moment – always believing, always expectant – and it has now come. Simeon’s believing has been the first part of the process; the second part is his recognition when the moment arrives.
Known as the ‘Canticle of Simeon’ or the ‘Nunc Dimitis’ (from the initial words in their Latin form), this prayer is now part of the official prayer of the Church, recited during Night Prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours. For all of us who pray those words, it is a reminder that the Lord is always faithful to His word, that He always keeps His promises. But it is something else, too – it is a counsel that we, like Simeon, should always be ready to meet the Lord, that we are to anticipate His coming, which for each of us individually might be at any moment.
In living out our Catholic Faith, we are very blessed – we have indeed seen that salvation, that light prepared for all the nations, Whose name is Jesus Christ. More than anything else, our Faith is a living relationship with Him, a relationship that touches and encompasses every moment of our lives, transforming them. Throughout life, we see as though in a mirror; but one day, we shall see the Lord as He really is.
The Canticle of Simeon is a recognition and an anticipation of that moment. Pray God that when it comes, we, like Simeon, will be ready to take the Lord in our arms, and to let Him take us in His.
“And a sword will pierce your own heart, too”
– the Prophecy of Simeon
For a little while now, I have been reading posts by a lady who recently lost a child to suicide. It is still very early days for her and she is trying her very hardest to come to terms with this terrible loss and all the feelings of grief, loss, anger and powerlessness which her loss has brought in it’s wake. She is one of several such people I have contact with. Another is a very close friend of mine; she, too, lost a son to suicide – for her, it was a number of years ago, but it might as well have been only yesterday. As I see it, this particular grief stands alone amongst all the others. To lose a child is awful enough; but for it to happen by deliberate act of that child is, I think, an unimaginable and intolerable pain. It is also a pain from which the loved ones never really recover. It leaves behind such intense emotions, and so very many unanswered questions. And I wonder if that intense sense of loss is worst of all for a mother, who bore that child.
The death of a child, regardless of the particular circumstances – whether by suicide, sudden death, violence, or some other reason – is surely one of the hardest crosses any living soul can be asked to bear. I have no idea how hard it must be to bear this cross day in and day out.
And so this month, dedicated as it is to the Blessed Virgin under the title of Our Lady of Sorrows, is one of great meaning for many souls. One acquaintance noted that the Blessed Virgin alone understands her pain, always listens, is always there. She is absolutely right about that. Our Blessed Lady understands because She, too, has lost a child. She stood at the foot of the Cross and watched Him die, having accompanied Him throughout the long hours leading to that moment.
For any parent finding themselves in that terrible situation, I can only hope that they turn to the Mother of God and see reflected in Her Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart, something of the pain and loss they are experiencing in their own. Not only does She understand pefectly, but She can obtain the only thing that will begin the process of true healing – the grace of God.
I ask Her to look with eyes of compassion upon the souls who have died, and upon all those struggling to come to terms with their loss.
“Are we protecting our unity with prayer, our unity of the Church? Are we praying for one another?”
– Pope Francis
I recall visiting Rome in 2016 and having a great sense of unity. It was the Jubilee of Mercy and so very many thousands of people had come from every part of the world to be in the Eternal City. So many races and nationalities, so many skin colours, so many languages – and all there, together, for love of the Church. It left me with a deep sense of ‘oneness’, that no matter who we were nor where we had come from, and regardless of where we would then travel to, we were one people, if only for a little while.
Today, just a few short years later, things can seem quite different. The world has become so polarised – or at least, polarised in a more obvious way. This is the case politically, where national leaders do not always seem to be working for the common good, but for their own ends. And it is the case nationally, where regions and nations seek individualism rather than unity, divergence rather than convergence. And it is the case, too, within the Church, if a cursory glance at social media is anything to go by.
It seems it is no longer sufficient to be simply ‘Catholic’ – often, people feel the need to add some sort of qualifier to this, to offer an insight into their personal leanings of the practice of the Faith. Worse still, these qualifiers do not engender unity, but separation; all too often they wound, rather than heal. An inherent danger here is that the unity of the Church becomes fragmented. It is important to remember that all of this is the exception rather than the rule – social media is a very vocal place, marked by loudness more than anything else, and it can seem as though the goal is simply to be heard. But still, it does reflect something that is present.
Speaking of unity within the Church earlier this year, our Holy Father Pope Francis said –
“We today can ask ourselves: ‘Are we protecting our unity with prayer, our unity of the church? Are we praying for one another?’ What would happen if we prayed more and complained less? The same thing that happened to Peter in prison. Now as then, so many closed doors would be opened, so many chains that bind would be broken. And we would be amazed.”
This is perhaps a prophetic call-back to each and every one of us who profess to be Catholic. The word ‘Catholic’ means ‘universal’ – it encompasses a range of experiences, many of which are different to our own; but none are any less valid because of that so long as the central Faith is the same one that comes to us from the Apostles, and which is held together by the Pope and the Magisterium. As soon as we personally determine what is valid, what is good, what is better – we are moving into dangerous territory. This is for the Church to judge – not us. She alone has that charism.
Perhaps we would do better simply to put into practice what Pope Francis counsels us to do – pray for our unity.