Tag Archives: Rosary

Memorials of faith under oppression in a Baltic state

Guest post by Dr. Chiara Bertoglio.

It is only very rarely that I have time for proper holidays, that is the idea of packing, flying and then enjoying a journey just for the sake of it. Much more frequently, I have to travel for my job, but – whenever possible – I try and make the most of these journeys, particularly attempting to know the places and people I’m visiting.

This happened in the past week, when I had to go to Vilnius, the capital city of Lithuania, for a conference. I was very curious, because I had never been to a Baltic country before. What will follow is just a kind of diary of what I saw, and, of course, I have no pretension to write as an expert of Lithuania or of its history. I’m merely a traveling musician who happened to spend a few days there.

The first thing I discovered was that Lithuania, along with its sister Baltic countries, Latvia and Estonia, is celebrating this year its 100th birthday. These countries declared their independence in 1918, though the following hundred years were marked by systematic violation of that independence and freedom. They experienced occupation and the deprivation of freedom and democracy, particularly during the long Soviet era.

Though the anniversary celebrations are stressing very strongly that the country’s independence is a hundred years old, and therefore that there is substantial continuity between Lithuania in 1918 and in 2018, they are also not hiding the country’s history and what it suffered in this century.

Just in front of the Academy of Music, where our conference took place, there is a building which immediately caught my eye. It is rather imposing, occupying one whole block; between the Academy and the building there is a small monument, in the shape of a little hill made of rocks, surmounted by a cross and with many flowers and candles spread around and above it. This tiny memorial invites attention, as does a block-long exhibition of drawings by children and teenagers – some of which are really beautiful – and which illustrate the history of Lithuania’s occupation. In fact, the large building a few steps away has had the debatable privilege of being the prison and operational centre of both the Gestapo (during the Nazi era) and of the KGB (during the longer Soviet occupation).

The building is covered in large square stones, on which the names and dates of birth and death of Lithuanian heroes are sculpted; many of them share the year 1945 as the second of the two. Inside the building is the Museum of the Genocide. I must admit that at first I had no intention to visit it. I can’t stand the sight of violence, I never watch horror movies, and I believe that one can learn enough about history without indulging in what I think are voyeuristic descriptions of torture and sadism.

In spite of this, in the end I convinced myself to enter, thinking that I would certainly not miss a visit to Auschwitz if I had the opportunity of going there, and so I had to take courage and enter here too. I was rewarded for this minor act of courage. The museum was by no means a chamber of horrors, even though it was more than a chamber of horrors. In the cellar, the KGB prison has been left as it was; and it is something one has really to see in order to believe it.

For example, you see what looks like a grim but not particularly terrible prison cell, about three by five meters, with three beds with no mattresses. The point is that up to a hundred prisoners were crammed into one of these cells. When you see it and think “well, this must be a cell for three people” and then you learn that a hundred people lived there… it makes you feel how inhuman their condition was. Then you see the showers, which are nothing to write home about, but when you learn that prisoners could take one shower a month you realize how terrible that was (and, incidentally, how the smell of a hundred unwashed people must have been).

There was, indeed, the display of some means of torture, of which I won’t write, but it was not like a splatter movie; rather, it made me deeply touched, sad and intensely moved. I was on the verge of tears when I descended into the execution room. I knew that thousands of people had died there; and while I felt the immense sacredness of a place like that, where heroes, martyrs and common people had been shot and had left this earth, I was also impressed by the “practical details” which made those killings so vivid in my eyes – such as the hosepipe used for washing the blood after the executions. It was like perceiving the reality and the truth of it all, not in the form of a tale, but as a true experience of life.

Similarly, I will never forget some small items which I saw in the museum in the upper floors, where tiny objects from the prisoners’ and the deportees’ lives were displayed. Many unsung heroes of the Lithuanian resistance were in fact sent to Siberia and other pleasant holiday places in the USSR, and, once more, the living truth conveyed by these objects was much more impressive for me than descriptions of tortures or other horrors which these people experienced.

There were handkerchiefs on which a married couple embroidered the portraits of their children: the parents had been sent to Siberia and this was a way for keeping the beloved features of their offspring with them. There were Christmas cards written on birch bark; small bags in which a handful of Lithuanian earth was kept by the deportees. But what most impressed me were the numerous examples of how faith kindled courage and hope in these prisoners.

A rosary made of bread, which belonged to the political prisoner Elena Kirlyte, Kazakh SSR, circa 1954.

There were rosary beads made of breadcrumbs (and one can only imagine how precious a breadcrumb could be for these people in forced labor at the end of the world); tiny holy vessels with which the priests celebrated Mass, sometimes even on the trains which brought them to Siberia, as witnessed in a “Mass diary” kept by a priest; minuscule crucifixes made from toothbrushes (!); portable altars carved in wood, or Lilliput prayer books written by hand. There were also some exquisite Christmas decorations which a deported bishop, from his internment at a kind of lunatic asylum, sent to his little niece; her picture was found in his own portable altar, so that he celebrated Mass for this little child.

I emerged from this visit with a full heart. I was impressed by some dates, telling me that some of these events happened during my own lifetime; in fact, I can distinctly remember the fall of the Berlin Wall, though I had forgotten about the human chain made by some two million inhabitants of the Baltic republics in 1989 (the “Baltic way”).

Outside the museum, I found a vibrant city, with a wonderful Old Town which is part of the Unesco World Heritage and modern shops like those I find in the major Western cities (though whether this homogenization is a positive aspect is debatable). But I also found an elderly man who sold simple bunches of homegrown flowers, tied with a shoelace – a touching reminder that freedom is not the same as well-being, and that consumerism is not the antidote to past abuses. The true antidote, I think, is in the deep faith and values of the Lithuanian people, some of whom I saw praying in the Cathedral church of Vilnius. I will not forget an old nun, who was so beautiful in her prayer that I couldn’t resist taking a picture of her.

The country, along with the other Baltic countries, will be receiving a visit by Pope Francis in a few days; possibly he will also go on pilgrimage to the Hill of the Crosses, a place I longed to see but which was too far from Vilnius to be compatible with my schedule. But I hope to be able to visit it in the future: it is yet another living witness of the power of faith and love to heal the deepest and most painful sorrows of humankind.

Dr. Chiara Bertoglio is a musician and theologian moonlighting as a journalist. She writes from Italy. Visit her website.

Originally published at MercatorNet.

Featured image: Hill of Crosses, Lithuania / PD-US
Photos: Chiara Bertoglio.

Lost and Found

One Saturday morning I reached for my watch, my saint bracelet, my ring and my necklace — only to realize that the necklace wasn’t there.

“I’ve lost my necklace!” I cried in dismay over the phone to my boyfriend.

“It’ll turn up, it’s there somewhere,” he said comfortingly, which only served to increase my annoyance.

“No it’s not!”

Indeed, after searching high and low through all the places I had visited the day before, I had to concede defeat. It was especially saddening because I had worn that silver chain with a Miraculous Medal for almost 10 years, and the medal was a turquoise hue which is no longer stocked in the cathedral bookshop here. I also lost a Jerusalem Cross given to me on pilgrimage last year by a kindly Orthodox gentleman at Jacob’s Well.

“I hope that Miraculous Medal changes someone’s life!” I quipped to the man behind the counter of St Vincent de Paul’s (Vinnies) charity shop.

My friend Heather at the Cathedral bookshop took pity on me. “Have this instead, it’s been sitting here for weeks with no-one claiming it!” she said, handing me a Seven Sorrows rosary.

“And you can have this too — your boyfriend can fix it,” she said, fishing out a broken rosary bracelet.

“Oh, and take this as well…”

I lost two precious sacramentals, but I gained three beautiful rosaries in return. I guess God wants me to pray more this Lent, and practice detachment from material things, even though they be sacramentals! Also, now I may not have a Jerusalem Cross to wear, but I’m finally wearing a crucifix. Have you experienced similar blessings in losing things?

Fr. Douglas Bazi: Praying the Rosary in ISIS Captivity

Fr. Douglas Bazi (a.k.a Abouna Douglas Joseph Shimshon Al-Bazi) recently spoke at the 2017 Spirit in the City conference in Brisbane. He spoke of how his people, our Christian brothers and sisters, have been systematically killed or driven out of their homeland since the 2003 Iraq War destabilized his country. He told us how his church in Baghdad was bombed while he received a gunshot to the leg; he carries the bullet in his leg today.

He said, “I am going to tell you my story, of how I was captured by ISIS. It is not easy for me to tell.”

In November 2006, Fr. Bazi was kidnapped by ISIS militants (“Maybe because I look like Robert De Niro”, he joked). They bound him in chains, blindfolded and gagged him. In a room where the Quran was broadcast on television all day long, they broke his nose, tortured him with cigarettes, and smashed his face, knees and back with a hammer. He was deprived of water for four days.

Yet, like St. Paul, Fr. Bazi continued his priestly ministry in his chains. One of the terrorists came to the bound and gagged priest for advice about his wife, who kept sending him multiple messages a day. The blindfolded Fr. Bazi calmly advised the terrorist to be more loving and attentive to his wife.

Fr. Bazi realized that the chains binding his hands had exactly ten links. He admitted that under normal circumstances, he sometimes found the rosary tedious, but as he lay aching in the darkness, the scriptural prayers of the rosary illuminated his imprisonment, bringing comfort and sustenance amidst the uncertainty and pain. He was prepared to die.

Using a chain he had bought upon arrival from New Zealand, Fr. Bazi demonstrated to us how he had prayed the rosary, kissing the lock that kept him at the mercy of his kidnappers.

He also showed us his bloodstained shirt.

After nine interminable days, Fr. Bazi was released.

He said to us, “You must be our voice. You must tell our story. Our children go to school, and we don’t know if they will come back. We go to church, not knowing if that is the day we will die.”

Here in comfortable Australia, it was sobering to think of our Middle Eastern brethren living from day to day in fear of death or the loss of their family members, or their homes.

Fr. Bazi has started Project 52, aimed at bringing 52 disabled Iraqi children to New Zealand. With our donations and prayers, we can help make his dream a reality.

Marian Battle Plan for World Peace: Consecration and Salvation

Last year, I finished Fr. Michael Gaitley MIC’s book, The Second Greatest Story Ever Told.

I am sure some of you know about his book 33 Days to Morning Glory sold by the Marian Fathers. The Marian book talks about Marian consecration according to St. Louis de Montfort, St. Maximilian Kolbe, Pope St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Calcutta.

In The Second Greatest Story Ever Told, Fr. Gaitley talked about how they printed 1 million Spanish copies of the Marian book and gave 100,000 for free to Mexico.

This was very important because the drug war there led to a lot of killings. One reason why there were so many killings is because of their devotion to “Santa” Muerte, aka “Saint” of Death. The devotion is practiced by gruesome killings. They do this to gain power from the demonic spirits.

He said that this was very important because Marian Consecration in the US and Mexico is being promoted by their bishops etc to combat the killings and abortion. The Mexican bishops consecrated their entire dioceses to Mama Mary.

Does Marian Consecration work? Yes! How do we know? Let me give you two concrete examples in recent history.

Before WWII, Mama Mary got St Maximilian Kolbe to promote Marian consecration throughout Poland. Through this, she strengthened her children for the coming war. The Poles were heroically charitable and generous even in the midst of inhumane persecution and oppression. St Maximilian also went to Nagasaki, Japan to promote Marian consecration there. He also passed by Manila en route back to Poland. Notice anything about these places? Warsaw, Poland and Manila were the most devastated cities of World War II. Nagasaki was the site of the atomic bomb. Mama Mary sent him to prepare the places that would be most devastated by promoting Marian Consecration.

In more recent history; my country, the Philippines, received the best proof of this during the 1987 EDSA People Power Revolution.

In 1985, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines dedicated the year as a Marian Year. All throughout the country, there would be posters of Mama Mary. There would be conferences about Marian spirituality. Parishioners were encouraged to pray the Rosary.

This renewed devotion to Mother Mary was in the midst of Martial Law, Marcos’ dictatorship where thousands were arbitrarily abducted, tortured and killed.

From February 21 until 25, 1986, thousands of people congregated along EDSA street. In the face of tanks and soldiers, they prayed the Rosary, asking for Mama Mary’s intercession for peace in the land. They offered flowers to the soldiers. And miraculously, there was no bloodshed. The soldiers lowered their weapons and accepted the flowers. The dictator Marcos fled to Hawaii. Peace and democracy was restored to the Philippines.

Our Lady of EDSA (Our Lady of Peace)
Our Lady of EDSA (Our Lady of Peace)

It remarkable that EDSA is short for Epifanio delos Santos Avenue, “Epiphany of the Saints.” Yes, this was its name even before the peaceful revolution! The day that manifested the power of everyday saints and Mama Mary’s protection and intercession.

In the world today, there is much confusion and chaos. ISIS, Syrian war in the Middle East. Migrant crisis and economic uncertainty in Europe. Abortion and euthanasia in the United States and Canada. The genocide of drug suspects in the Philippines. In the midst of so much uncertainty, the only way the world can find peace is if it turns with trust to Mama Mary. If the Catholics throughout the world consecrated themselves to Mama Mary, her Immaculate Heart would triumph once more.

Remember that this was her promise at Fatima: that if Russia was consecrated to her Immaculate Heart, the world would find peace. St John Paul II accomplished this at Fatima on March 25, 1984. But now our Lord and our Lady are calling us to do the same. We can find peace and healing if we consecrate ourselves to Mother Mary, entrusting ourselves to her perfect care; she will bring peace back to the world as only the gentlest of mothers could.

So now as we near the 100th anniversary of Fatima, I encourage everyone to make take advantage of this special season of grace. Pray the Rosary and consecrate yourselves to Mama Mary. As she has shown throughout history, she can bring about peace in the midst of the greatest adversities. And should God permit us to suffer, she will give us the grace, courage and strength to love one another as Christ loves us on the Cross.

Images: PD-US

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Leia Go is a Filipina law student. She graduated in 2011 with an AB in Interdisciplinary Studies, focusing on Literature and Philosophy from Ateneo de Manila University (Loyola Schools). Her patron saints are Mama Mary, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux and Saint Faustina. She has been a lector and altar server in her schools’ campus ministry offices since high school. She also loves volunteering at the Good Shepherd Sisters baby orphanage and is discerning a vocation to religious/consecrated life.

Not Alone: At the House of Mary Near Ephesus

I was a solo traveler in the pilgrimage I joined to the Holy Land and Turkey. Most of the others in the pilgrimage were traveling with their spouses, their friends, or their relatives. Those who were not seemed to have known each other previously. Although everyone else was very nice, fun even, at times I acutely felt the lack of a traveling companion.

Actually, the pilgrimage chaplain was a relative of mine both distant and close at the same time – distant, because he is the third cousin of my mother; close, because he has been my spiritual director for quite some time now. I anticipated, though, that during the pilgrimage he would be too busy attending to the pastoral needs of the group that any chances for uncle-and-niece bonding moments would be out of the question. I realized too that it would not have been right for me to hog his company and deprive the other pilgrimage participants of the attention of the pilgrimage chaplain.

There was neither reason nor opportunity for me, however, to wallow in self-pity over being alone. There could never have been, given the hectic schedule and the good fortune of being in the same places where Jesus, Mary, and Joseph walked when they were on earth.

One of such places we were lucky to have visited was the house near Ephesus where, according to tradition, Mary spent her last days on earth. It is located on a hill overlooking fertile plains and with a view of the Mediterranean Sea. Trees abound on the slopes of the hill. According to our guide, a forest fire occurred at the slopes of the hill last year; however, the flames stopped right before reaching the house of Mary.

The place was full of life. I saw birds and squirrels. There is a spring that provides water. The weather was pleasantly windy and cool, at least for someone like me who comes from the humid tropics. I imagined how painstakingly St. John the Apostle must have picked and prepared this spot for Mary.

We had Mass at a chapel located in the grounds, and according to the plan, we were to say the Rosary inside the house of Mary. We couldn’t say the Rosary together as a big group, though, as we might disturb others. So we were advised to say the Rosary in pairs or in small groups.

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After entering the house of Mary, I fished out of my knapsack a special Rosary of mine, a pearl Rosary given to me by my paternal grandfather the last time I saw him before he died. I then commenced praying – alone.

Upon finishing the second mystery, the custodian of the house of Mary requested that we move out of the house to give a chance to others who want to pray inside, since the house is small. We were constrained to finish praying the Rosary at the grounds surrounding the house.

As I was about to continue praying the Rosary, the pilgrimage chaplain – my uncle – approached me, and asked me at what part I was in. When I told him that I was already in the third mystery, he invited me to continue praying the Rosary with him.

Praying the Rosary in front of Mary’s house was very consoling. I felt Mary was encouraging me to tell her about my worries and trials, so that she could make things right. I felt all the more consoled praying the Rosary together with my dear uncle. I had been hoping for some uncle-and-niece bonding moments with him, and here, Mary had arranged for uncle and niece to pray together that prayer she loves so much, by the place where she herself dwelt.

After praying the Rosary, we walked around the grounds for a while, soaking in the beauty of the place. I found myself telling Mary how beautiful her place is, and it was as if I could hear her tell me, “I brought you here because I knew you would like it here, because I know you need to rest.”

Our next stop for that day was the ruins of the ancient city of Ephesus, which included the ruins of the church where the Council of Ephesus was held in AD 431. There, the dogma of the theotokos – that Mary is the Mother of God – was defined.

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I privately prayed a “Hail Mary” since I know that the title “Mother of God” is the highest honor bestowed upon Mary.

Then, it occurred to me – this same Mary who was declared in this spot to be the Mother of God is the same Mary to whom my uncle and I had been praying to earlier, the same Mary who, just a while ago, had been mothering me and reassuring me that I am never alone in my journey towards God.

From then on, whenever I feel alone, I turn to Mary to remind me that I am not. For God in His infinite wisdom gave me His own mother to be my own as well. He knows, after all, that none of us can journey to Him alone, that we all need others to help us, and that we all need a mother especially – all of us, including supposedly intrepid single female travelers like myself.

The Eyewitnesses of Fatima

With 2017 comes the 100th Anniversary of the Fatima event which is an extraordinary part in the Church’s rich history and so, as with most historic moments, it will be tremendous to celebrate its centennial. However, it is also richly significant to note that this October 13th will be the 99th year since the Miracle of the Sun in Fatima, Portugal, an event witnessed by tens of thousands. Why is 99 significant? Maybe it is simply unusual, but I find it amazing because 99 is the product of 33 x 3. So we have the number of years that Christ lived with the number of Persons in the Blessed Trinity. Is this related at all to the Year of Mercy? I don’t know, maybe I read too much into it, but what I do know is this:

“As the sun danced at midday in Fatima” is the translation of the article printed in the anti-Catholic Lisbon newspaper, O Seculo, reporting on the events that occurred in Cova da Iria, a field where the shepherd children of the apparitions pastured their sheep, in Fatima, Portugal on October 17, 1917. The miracle of the Sun, as it has come to be known, was witnessed by an estimated 70,000 people and the voice of one of those eye-witnesses belonged to the chief editor of O Seculo, Avelino de Almeida.

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The crowd gathers in Cova da Iria on October 17, 1917.

Almeida was present for the claimed apparition of Mary in hopes to embarrass the Church and report a story opposite of what he did write. What he did publish was a detailed account of a miraculous event.

“From the road, where the carriages were crowded together and where hundreds of persons had stayed for want of sufficient courage to advance across the muddy ground, we saw the huge crowd turn towards the sun which appeared at its zenith, clear of the clouds. It resembled a flat plate of silver, and it was possible to stare at it without the least discomfort. It did not burn the eyes. It did not blind. We would say that it produced an eclipse. Then a tremendous cry rang out, and the crowd nearest us were heard to shout: ‘Miracle! Miracle! Marvel! Marvel! Before the dazzled eyes of the people, whose attitude transported us to biblical times, and who, dumb-founded, heads uncovered, contemplated the blue of the sky, the sun trembled, it made strange and abrupt movements, outside of all cosmic laws, ‘the sun danced’, according to the typical expression of the peasants …”

Dr. Jose Maria de Almeida Garrett, professor at the Faculty of Sciences of Coimbra, Portugal, reported something similar,

 “During the solar phenomenon, which I have just described, there were also changes of colour in the atmosphere. Looking at the sun, I noticed that everything was becoming darkened. I looked first at the nearest objects and then extended my glance further afield as far as the horizon. I saw everything had assumed an amethyst color. Objects around me, the sky and the atmosphere, were of the same color. Everything both near and far had changed, taking on the color of old yellow damask. People looked as if they were suffering from jaundice and I recall a sensation of amusement at seeing them look so ugly and unattractive. My own hand was the same color.”

“Then, suddenly, one heard a clamour, a cry of anguish breaking from all the people. The sun, whirling wildly, seemed all at once to loosen itself from the firmament and, blood red, advance threateningly upon the earth as if to crush us with its huge and fiery weight. The sensation during those moments was truly terrible.”

This is a supernatural event reported by an atheist reporter trying to discredit the Church, a Science professor at a University, and a crowd 70,000. Of course, claims are made that the whole event was merely a case of psychological experience in which many wanted badly to see a miracle, they were tired, wet, and excited by the crowd and so all collectively, besides an apparent few who reported nothing or others reported slight variances of the miracle, experienced a hallucination of some sort. Basically, the anti-claim is that the miracle is a product of mass hysteria.

However, what about the two reports earlier mentioned? One was definitely hoping not to see a miracle, the other was well versed with science enough to be a university professor. Can we truly discredit the whole event with this amount of information, simply because a few people say, “no way”?

I recently had a chance encounter when I was at a friend’s house: I personally met the daughter of a man who was present in the field of Fatima on October 13 to witness the Miracle of the Sun. I was told that everything handed down to us about the event is absolutely true. “It’s exactly as they say”, said her husband in a classic Portuguese accent. Moreover, he shared with me that there was such a great number of people in the usually small populated Fatima due to the fact that the O Seculo paper had reported that the children said that The Lady promised that there would be a miracle on October 13, 1917.

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My wife and me with Maria Gomes, daughter of the eyewitness of the Miracle of the Sun, and her husband, Louis.

This promise was made during the month or so that the children were kept in an adult jail. They had already been interviewed by their parents, priests, and the Bishop. Now the police placed them in a holding cell, threatened them that they were to be boiled alive if they did not tell “the truth”. However,their story never changed.

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The three shepherd children, Lucia, Jacinta, and Francesco, of the Fatima Apparitions.

And so we have a supernatural event given to the world to call us to pay attention to what was spoken by the Heavenly Visitor over the course of the 6 months in which Mary appeared to the shepherd children of Fatima. This can be likened to the miraculous deeds of Christ that He brought about to affirm His own Teaching.

So what then was the message that Our Lord wanted us to hear through these appearances of His Mother? Simply stated, we are instructed to pray the Rosary, offer sacrifices for the reparation of our sins and the sins of the whole world, and practice devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Furthermore, on the same day as the Miracle of the Sun, she tells us that we all need to strive to live well as she states,  “People must amend their lives and ask pardon for their sins. They must not offend Our Lord any more for He is already too much offended.”

So let us remember Our Lady’s message as we continue on in this valley of tears. In it she gives us a gameplan to live in peace. Not peace that is freedom from struggle, but true peace that transcends our struggles, lifting us ever higher to the Source of Peace, Jesus Christ.

 

2 Sides of the Same Coin: The Annunciation & The Agony

A while back, I published a meditation on the Joyful Mysteries of the rosary. In revisiting that piece recently, having just prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries, I was struck by the parallels of many of the mysteries. The approach of God to ask for something important, the “fiat” of both Jesus and Mary, the journeys they both undertake immediately afterward, and the birth of Christ into life – Earthly, and later, Heavenly.

However, today I want to focus specifically on the Agony in the Garden and the Annunciation. It seems fitting to me that the Agony would be the first of the Sorrowful Mysteries not solely because it marks the beginning of Our Lord’s passion. The Agony in the Garden perfectly mirrors, or parallels, the Annunciation in the joyful mysteries.

In the Agony, Christ is faced with God asking to use Christ’s body to accomplish His salvific work. Christ must decide to say yes or no, just as Mary was asked by God to use her body and had to say yes or no. Just as Mary, conceived without sin, would of course say yes, so too we know that Christ will of course submit Himself to the will of the Father.

Yet this almost makes the experience worse. In meditating on Agony, we are the audience observing a Greek Drama. We see the end, we are helpless to stop it, and we know it must happen. (We are blessed in a way that Greek Dramas aren’t in that we know that the end is really the most wonderful end there could be, but the process of getting there is pretty hard to take in. Go re-watch The Passion if you need a reminder!). By meditating on the Agony, we begin to see those places where the Lord is asking something painful and necessary of us. In reflecting on Christ’s words: “let this cup pass from me” we all feel vindicated in not wanting to assent to the Lord’s will. In the next breath, however, we learn to assent to God as Christ said “yet not my will, but yours.”

Now, the Annunciation was a joyful and heartfelt yes that resulted in a physical experience of God in our lives. Christ was made incarnate in Mary’s womb. When we say “yes” to God the first time it is often a very physical experience. We feel joyful and excited to get to know God!

However, in the “yes” of the Agony, we experience a loss of God. While the Lord is still with us, He removes Himself so drastically that all we experience is the strength to continue, something we are often unaware of. Christ suffered the extreme separation of Himself from His Heavenly Father, which we see in His cry on the cross – “My God, why have you forsaken me?” – yet we know that the Lord provided Him the physical strength to continue through the Passion.

Indeed, the Lord was so close to Christ throughout the Passion, providing heavenly strength to continue, that Christ could not see Him! So the same may be true of us. When we accept the Lord’s plan and feel abandoned in the process, we are closer to Him than ever before. Even when we feel the most abandoned, or the most confused (“I said yes and now everything is terrible”), we can know that it is not the feelings of closeness that bring us close to God, but the faith that He will not abandon us even in times when we are alone with our cross.

We also see in the Agony in the Garden the maturation of the spiritual life. The Joyful mysteries take place before the Sorrowful mysteries.

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Joy before pain.

So too, the annunciation of our own lives often occurs before an agony experience. When we first encounter the Lord, it is a joyful and exciting occurrence, if a little scary. Only when our spiritual life has matured and we are intimate with the Lord, does He ask for “everything” in our own Agony in the Garden.

Yet, the two are not separate experiences. Every Annunciation comes with an Agony. The Agony in the Garden is simply the other side of the “Annunciation coin.” Just as God eternally presents Himself to us in an on-going annunciation, continually asking to be made present in our lives, so too He is eternally asking us to sacrifice everything for love of Him and His people.

Mary knew what she was getting into when she said “yes” in her garden. She knew her child was coming to save His people, and that meant a pretty painful end. Yet there was joy in embracing the Lord’s plan, a joy so great that there is a whole set of mysteries devoted solely to that virtue. So too, when the Agony in the Garden is presented to us, and we meditate on our own “Agony experience,” we can trust that the other side of that painful, lonely, agonizing, torturous decision is the hidden joy of the Annunciation and the promise of God made manifest in our lives.

Book Review: Mysteries of Salvation History

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“I have my Bible in my pocket,” said Edgardo C. De Vera, a Filipino apologist, to a group of three Protestants with whom he was discussing. Intrigued, they asked to see it.

De Vera then fished out his Rosary from his pocket and declared, “The Bible is in the Rosary and the Rosary is in the Bible.”

Startling as this statement may be, it is logical. If the Bible is centered on, and points to, Christ, and if praying the Rosary is a way of contemplating the events in the life of Christ and His mother Mary, then it follows that the Bible and the Rosary complement each other. Indeed, Pope Paul VI also said, “The Holy Rosary is a compendium of the Gospel.”

In his book Mysteries of Salvation History, De Vera explains the biblical basis for each of the mysteries of the Rosary, linking the New Testament accounts of the mysteries with the relevant typologies from the Old Testament. “My intention…was to show how biblical typology could be employed as a meditative aid in praying the Holy Rosary,” De Vera writes.

For example, in his discussion on the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery, the Carrying of the Cross, De Vera discusses the Gospel accounts of the event and correlates them with Isaac carrying the wood for his sacrifice up Mount Moriah (Gen. 22:2-9) and the carrying of the sin offering during the Day of Atonement liturgy out through the sheepgate in Jerusalem (Lev. 16), as well as the passage in Job 31:36 which reads, “Surely I would carry it on my shoulder, I would bind it to me as a crown…”.
De Vera analyses all the mysteries of the Rosary in a similar way, adding his own insights, comments from some Fathers of the Church and other saints, and historical explanations. The mysteries of the Rosary are arranged in chronological order – Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful, and Glorious. Illustrations accompany the text.

The book is short and concise. De Vera himself acknowledges the limitations of his brief work and mentions that he had to exclude some insights for the sake of brevity.  He encourages the reader to explore the mysteries in all their richness by studying the Bible further on his or her own and by habitually meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary. He stresses the need to explore the Bible in the context of the liturgical readings of the Mass and in conjunction with the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

I personally find the book helpful. I sometimes struggle with the Rosary because I run out of things to think about when meditating on the mysteries and end up getting distracted as I force myself to mechanically recall what happened in each mystery. I welcome tips to help me get more out of praying the Rosary and De Vera’s book has suggested to me a fresh approach to this timeless devotion.

De Vera’s book made me appreciate the Rosary more. It showed me that the Rosary combines, to use the words of St. Josemaria Escriva, “the piety of children and the sure doctrine of theologians.” With the Rosary, we repeat loving words to God and to Mary while studying the Bible at the same time. De Vera’s book showed me how the Rosary involves both the heart and the mind, thus fitting in a unique way the definition of prayer as “the lifting up of the mind and heart to God.”

At the same time, De Vera’s book motivated me to become more familiar with the Bible. It also showed me that Bible study should not just be an intellectual pursuit (although that in itself is an important endeavour), but an activity that nurtures piety.

I recommend Mysteries of Salvation History to anyone who, at one time or another, has struggled with boredom while praying the Rosary, and to anyone who wants to learn more about the Bible but does not know where to start.

The book has been praised by foreign apologists such as Steve Ray and Tim Staples, and by prominent local preachers and priests such as the late Fr. James B. Reuter, S.J., who, in an article he wrote on June 2, 2007, listed the book as a “rare book”.

Indeed, both the Rosary and the Bible are necessary: they help us know God more, which in turn helps us love God more.

For more information about Edgardo C. De Vera’s Mysteries of Salvation History, you may contact Totus Bookstore & Publishing House at info@totusbookstore.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joyful Mysteries and the Christian Life

I have always experienced the Rosary and its fruits as independent items, that is, when I meditate on the carrying of the Cross, I grow in the fruit of patience by exploring how patience corresponds to the act. I then move on to the Crucifixion and grow in fortitude as I contemplate His death.

And so on.

However, when praying the Joyful Mysteries the other day, I realized how much the mysteries and their corresponding fruits tell us about daily life and our relationship with Christ over time.

The first Joyful Mystery is the Annunciation and the fruit is humility: when Mary received God’s will and said “yes” fully to His entrance into her life. It begins the entire meditation of the rosary. All other mysteries follow accordingly.

This is fitting. Nothing in God’s providence can follow in our own life if we do not first have our own “personal annunciation.” We must first experience Christ asking to enter our lives and we must respond “yes,” before God’s other joys can come to fruition.

Only when we have accepted Christ’s plan for us, can we then move to love our neighbor – the fruit of the second mystery, the Visitation. By taking the joy of Christ which now resides (quite literally in Mary’s case) within us to our neighbors, we may become the vessel for another person’s “personal annunciation,” as well as “Mary” to our “Elizabeth” friends.

This “personal annunciation,” seems to result in an “eternal annunciation,” of sorts. God continually approaches us to ask if He may enter more fully into our lives. When we say “yes,” we repeatedly imitate Mary in her response. In humility, we receive the Lord, and in receiving the love of God we are able to bring Christ into the world.

In this way, our own life echoes the act of the Father and the Son from which proceeds the Holy Spirit. The communion of our love with God bears a third fruit in our own “personal nativity.” That is, just as the Father, eternally pouring love out onto the Son, and the Son, eternally receiving the love of the Father creates the Holy Spirit, so too do we create our own trinity with God which brings about a birth of Christ in our lives and in the world.

The first two mysteries and their fruits (Annunciation and humility and the Visitation and love of neighbor) then work together in us to bring about our own nativity – third mystery.

This “personal nativity,” then leads us to our fourth mystery- the Presentation. It is fitting that we give all of our work back to Him, as it is not really our work, but rather, it is the work of the Father done through us. Thus, we each experience the Presentation in the Temple in the faithful fulfillment of our vocation and in the act of returning to God that which He lovingly gave to us and did through us.

In our obedience, the fruit of the Presentation, we align ourselves ever more with God’s will, so that in the fifth mystery we are able to wondrously experience the Joy of Finding Jesus in the temple of our work again and again.

Then it begins again. When we have full joy of finding Jesus in our daily life and work, we are faced with His eternal annunciation again: May I come ever deeper into your life?

We choose, once again, whether or not to allow Him in, to allow Him to repeatedly transform us until we, just like Mary, make Christ flesh in us. When we say “yes” to Him enough that we are no more, it is Christ made flesh in us that goes to our neighbor, gives birth to more love, presents His work to God (on the Cross), and finds the joy that comes from loving Him alone.

The life of the Christian is truly a joyful one indeed!

The Expectant Couples Guide to Praying the Joyful Mysteries

As my wife and I await the arrival of our second child, our first daughter, we have been filled with many similar emotions and feelings that stirred within us during our first pregnancy. In May 2012, we found out we were expecting our son, Noah, who was born in January of 2013. As I reflect on that nine month journey, I call to mind the various experiences and how closely they are linked to the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary. I’ve developed this guide for couples preparing to have a baby and wish to share it with others who are expecting.

 An Expectant Couple’s Guide to Praying the Joyful Mysteries

  1. The Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38)

Receiving the news that you are pregnant can elicit a range of emotions from excitement and happiness to anxiety and nervousness. This is completely normal and is to be expected! The idea of “my whole life is about to change” becomes very apparent to the expectant couple. While there certainly are numerous questions and uncertainties, the joy felt is unexplainable.

As we can see in Luke’s Gospel, Mary’s “troubled” reaction is brought about by the circumstances – an angel appearing before her, the fact that she had never been with a man, etc. One can imagine the uncertainty and questions that arose in Mary’s mind, all the while still desiring to do God’s will.

As you pray through this mystery, ask the Lord for the grace to trust in His plan for your life regardless of the circumstances surrounding your pregnancy. Ask Him, through the intercession of Mary, to replace your fears and doubts with faith and trust, so that you can experience the unexplainable joy of pregnancy.

  1. The Visitation (Luke 1:39-45)

Keeping the news to yourself is sometimes the hardest part in finding out that you will be welcoming a little one into the world. The general rule is to wait until the woman is twelve weeks along before making any major announcements as doctors and experts feel that is a “safe zone” due to the limited number of issues that may occur during the second and third trimesters. Often couples share the news with relatives and close friends before making a larger announcement to the world.

Mary immediately goes (in haste) to visit her relative Elizabeth to share the news! Elizabeth, who was with child as well, is overcome with happiness as Mary visits her. The presence of Jesus in Mary’s womb served as a source of hope and brought about this joyful exchange. Even in the womb, Jesus was sharing the Good News!

As you pray this mystery, pray for those closest to you who you will share the news with. Ask the Lord to bless them who are struggling with their own questions and doubts. As you tell your closest family and friends that you’re expecting, may it serve as a way for you to enter into the scene where the child in Elizabeth’s womb “leaps for joy.” Perhaps you will want to praise God and echo Mary’s words, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior…” (Luke 1:46-55)

  1. The Nativity (Luke 2:1-20)

Throughout the pregnancy, you can easily get caught up in the little (and not so little) details: nursery furniture, baby names, doctors’ appointments, choosing Godparents, etc. Before you know it, you are counting down the days until the due date. The birth brings about an entirely new set of questions and concerns, and some serious anxiety, waiting to finally meet the little one. The thoughts of who will they become? What will they look like? Will they be right or left handed? What will the world be like when they are older? All these questions creep into your mind. This paired with questions about labor itself can be unsettling.

Imagine Mary and Joseph as they traveled to Bethlehem and Mary began to labor. Being far away from home, with no place to stay, in the middle of the night is not the ideal place to bring a child into the world. Yet our Lord chose the most trusting and humble of circumstances to bring forth our savior, Jesus Christ.

As you pray this mystery, call to mind the “darkness” in our world, the troubled regions, those in need, and the various dis-unities around the globe. Pray for these people and pray for your child, asking that he or she may do their part to bring about peace on earth.

  1. The Presentation (Luke 2:22-38)

After the baby is born, you may have many visitors in the hospital and at your home. People might bring small gifts, outfits, baby books, and tell you how precious the baby is. As parents you will feel so blessed to have the precious gift of God in your arms. As parents, you begin to think about baptism and raising their child in the faith. The planning of the baptism can be stressful but it doesn’t have to be, it’s about recognizing that this child is not your own.

Mary and Joseph were faithful people and planned to raise the child Jesus in the faith. According to the custom, they bring Jesus to be consecrated to the Lord in the Temple. Mary and Joseph wanted to raise Jesus to be a man of faith, to observe the laws, and lead him to holiness. They were to be a Holy Family.

As you pray this mystery, call to mind that your child is a gift from God and he or she is a son and daughter of God entrusted to your care. Pray that the Lord will help you in being the best parent you can be and that you will have the strength to lead them to the Lord. Ask the Lord through the intercession of Mary and Joseph that your family will be holy.

  1. Finding Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:41-52)

The entire pregnancy can be a learning process. From the moment of conception to the birth and beyond, parents learn to be parents. It is the ultimate “on the job training.” The husband will learn how to provide in new ways for his wife’s needs – from taking on more responsibilities, to helping her in and out of bed. The wife will learn, in the most profound way, what it means to be in cooperation with God’s creative act.

Mary and Joseph are not exempt from a parental oversight. They begin their journey home and become unaware of where He is. Even in this instance of error and, no doubt, panic, Jesus is teaching. He is teaching the elders in the Temple area, but He also teaches Mary and Joseph a little bit about who He is – He is God’s son first and foremost.

As you pray this mystery, think of the different things you have learned through this journey. Just as you were learning to be a married couple, you find out you are pregnant, just as you learn to be a parent of one child, you are blessed with a second and so on. Embrace the parental learning curve and ask the Lord to teach you through the various experiences this journey brings. Take each moment as a gift and allow yourself to “find” Jesus within it.

Experiences of the Rosary

file000546070711The rosary primarily is a personal prayer which comprises the devotional life of the Church and is not a liturgical prayer. The people of God oftentimes pray the rosary collectively in many different forums, be it before Mass, after Mass, at the funeral home, in a meeting room, or perhaps in the living room of one’s house. We have all had many experiences of the rosary. In this brief article, I would like to reflect on these varied experiences of the rosary.

In the Church: Before or After

With the dawn of the month of May in sight, parishes will take up the custom of praying the rosary as a community. This may take place before or after Mass or at some other appointed time.

I have often been troubled with the devotional rosary before Mass. I commend its recitation but when prayed before Mass, there may be some who are not familiar with the rosary prayers. One favorable insight is that those present while the rosary is recited may pray the Hail Mary for the first time in a while. I always emphasize the weight and power of the Hail Mary.

Recall the invocation at the end of it: pray for us sinners NOW and at the HOUR OF OUR DEATH. This is quite a powerful invocation. The people in the pew who do not regularly pray the rosary offer this prayer and we can only hope that Mary will honor their invocation; that she will pray for them throughout the course of their earthly sojourn to the Heavenly Jerusalem.

I have struggled with the dynamic of the rosary before Mass because, as a seminarian, when I go to Mass I like to pray to the Liturgy of the Hours before Mass. It’s not that I don’t love the rosary, believe me I do, but I like to pray a full rosary. Maybe I just arrived at the Church fifteen minutes before Mass and the rosary pray-ers are already on the third mystery. That means I have not prayed the first two mysteries. My preference is to pray the rosary in one sitting or, if spread out throughout the day, in proper order. Joining the rosary midway leaves me with a feeling of longing.

Another point about communal rosary before Mass is the reconciliation of private devotional prayer within a community. There may be people who are not at a point spiritually to pray the rosary. Imposing the rosary in this setting could turn the person off from praying the rosary in the future because it leaves a bitter taste in their mouth.

For me, I appreciate the groups that pray the rosary after Mass. This leaves an element of choice about whether or not an individual would like to participate. It is praiseworthy to make a thanksgiving after Holy Mass in order to more fully commune with God after having received the Eucharist. Following this thanksgiving, the rosary is a perfect way to continue that prayer and ask Mary’s intercession to help a person throughout the day.

The challenge this approach to the communal rosary presents is that not many people may choose to stay afterwards. If its a morning Mass, maybe the individuals have to head off to work or if its the afternoon or evening, people may have to go home and dine with their families at a specific time. The timing of the after Mass rosary may not be the most opportune.

The Funeral Rosary

In the parish I lived at this past summer, the funeral wake service proposed in the Order of Christian Funerals had been replaced with a communal rosary for the deceased at the funeral home. In this case, the rosary has replaced the Church’s liturgy for the dead which should not be forgone with.

At other times, if the deceased was a member of a fraternal organization like the Knights of Columbus or a woman’s altar society, members will gather at a certain time to pray the rosary at the funeral home. This would seem to be the appropriate approach to praying the rosary at the funeral home.

Again, the rosary is not a liturgical prayer and should not take the place of a liturgical ritual. Thus, if the rosary is desired at the funeral home, it should be in addition to the wake/vigil service.

The Family Rosary

Fr. Patrick Peyton, known as the rosary priest, was well known for his phrase, “the family that prays together stays together.” In years past it was a common practice to pray the rosary after dinner as a family.

In doing this, children were introduced to prayer in the home, which allowed the home to become a domestic church. Unfortunately I have known some people who grew up with this practice who have since abandoned the rosary because of those long grueling nights with the family.

Praying the rosary is a laudable custom for the family. As a suggestion, a gradual introduction to the rosary would be most appropriate. Begin on Saturday and pray the rosary at a grotto of Mary in your yard or at the parish or pray the rosary together during the month of May and October. A gradual introduction to the rosary will allow all the family members to make the decision to pray the rosary freely, out of love.

The Commuter Rosary

Many Catholics desire to pray the rosary each day but finding time amidst the craziness of life sometimes is difficult. If there is a morning commute to work, some have decided to take advantage of this time to pray the rosary. Radio stations often air the rosary at certain times and there are many CD recordings of the rosary available for one’s use.

Sometimes on long road trips I have prayed the rosary. When I do so, afterward I always ask myself: Did I just pray the rosary or not? Was I completely focused on the prayer? Did I meditate? Am I just praying the rosary in the car to check it off of my daily prayer list?

These questions were my own reflection and I pose them for reflection to others. Don’t get me wrong, it is great that people want to pray the rosary and find this to be most convenient. Maybe though, this should not be the ordinary way of praying the rosary, but should happen only occasionally. I’ll leave it up to the devotee and their spiritual director.

Conclusion

Our experiences of the rosary are varied and occur in many different contexts. When it comes to the rosary, we have all had specific experiences, thoughts, and opinions. Over the years I have reflected on my own experiences of the rosary and the struggles I face with the communal aspect of praying the rosary and propose them to the reader for dialogue in the comment box. I don’t know if there is any solution to what I have raised except to continue to strive toward holiness at all times.

Sorrowful Mysteries and Sin

It was a Friday evening as I sat in line for confession. I thought to myself, “This certainly isn’t how the average twenty-something gal spends a Friday night.” I sat in a quiet church with the Blessed Sacrament exposed, waiting for my turn to get my soul scrubbed clean. As I waited, I pulled out my rosary and began to pray the sorrowful mysteries. While I prayed and prepared myself to come face to face with my sins before God’s mercy, I couldn’t help but connect Christ’s suffering and passion to the choices I make when I sin.

sorrowful mysteries and sinMore often than not I know something is a sin before I do it. There are even times when I reason with myself and try to “logically” convince myself that what I’m about to do isn’t in fact a sin, despite the fact that I’ve confessed it before without a priest stopping me to tell me otherwise. In meditating upon the sorrowful mysteries I realized that Christ already gave us the perfect solution to sin: imitate Him. I know it sounds obvious, but the sorrowful mysteries shed new light on what it means to imitate Christ when we are faced with sin.

Agony in the Garden

Our agony in the garden moments come when we wrestle with ourselves. Is this really a sin? Or, my other go-to favorite: Well, I’ve already done X once since my last confession, why not enjoy it a few more times before I go to confession again? Christ’s agony in the garden shows us that there is a temptation to go one way or the other. He desired for the cup to pass from Him, we desire to give in to that sin just one more time.

Scourging at the Pillar

Christ made the decision to choose God’s will and freely suffer for us. When we find ourselves agonizing in the garden we have two choices: give in to the sin or fight temptation. The holier choice, of course, is to fight the temptation. But, as C.S. Lewis describes, “We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it.” When we try to fight the temptation we often find ourselves being scourged: the temptation increases, begging us to give in, to surrender. However, like Christ, we are invited to hold fast to His love and strength as we endure the temptation to give in and give up.

Crowning with Thorns

The pain and the agony increase as we fight temptation. Sometimes, as it takes all of our might to fight the temptations before us, it can feel like a crown of thorns is being forced on to our heads. In fact, sometimes we put this crown there ourselves: thinking like God and choosing what God wills over our desire feels like thorns being driven into our will as the temptation to sin slowly leaves.

Carrying the Cross

At what seems like long last, we pick up our cross. Our desire for whatever sin we are most tempted with is buried under the weight of the cross. Following Christ’s command, we pick up our cross and follow Him, not sin. He shows us that even though the weight of the cross is massive, God will always send us help along the way. Whether that comes in the form of a Veronica who wipes our faces and encourages onward, or a Simon of Cyrene who shares the weight of the cross with us, the Lord will provide.

The Crucifixion

When we feel tempted we look to Christ and see the perfect answer for our temptation: spreading out our arms and commending our spirit into His hands. When we spread out our arms it is a physical reminder that there is something bigger than us out there, something our hands and arms cannot hold. When we tell God, “This is too much for me, I thirst, into Your hands I commend my spirit” He comes to us with His grace, mercy and strength. He holds us under the shadow of our wings, but we have to be willing to surrender our desire to His will.

St. Teresa of Avila said, “You pay God a compliment by asking great things of Him.” Invite Him into the temptation and invite Him into your sin. Lay your burdens on Him as you take up the words of Jesus, “Into Your hands I commend my spirit.” The choice to run to or away from sin is ours.