It’s October, the second of the “-Ber” months, the month of my brother’s birthday, and less than three months to Christmas. It is also the month of the Holy Rosary. Recently, a young friend came up to me to proudly show me the treasured rosary he wore around his neck. “Blessed by the Pope in Rome,” he said happily. In the not-too-distant past, it was the mark of an Atenean that he carried a rosary in his pocket. Ateneans were then all males. Since then, Atenean pockets have become dainty purses, rugged backpacks or tote bags for females, males and otherwise. Rosaries have since evolved from wooden beads, to pearls of great price, to plastic beads of lesser value. I am not too sure how many full-length rosaries would show up today in these carry-all bags or in those tight pockets of slim fits. Meanwhile, all sorts of – what shall we call them – rosarettes? – have appeared on the persons of devotees, some now worn as rings, others as bracelets, even as anklets! My driver, Loygue, wears a wooden decade of the rosary around his right wrist. Meanwhile, so do I.
Those bracelet rosaries: they can be used for many things: as worry beads to finger away stress, or lap counters for jogging around a track, or simply as a snare for romantic conversation. (Like: “Love, have I ever introduced you to the mysteries of divinity’s embrace of our contingency…?”) Of many possible uses, they are actually useful for saying the Rosary. You know, recalling one of the joyful, luminous, sorrowful or glorious “mysteries,” followed by the “Hail Mary” mantra on each bead, and a prayer of praise to the Trinity. The bracelet’s infinite circle allows the mysteries to merge into each other seamlessly. Try it! No snazzy Apple App needed!
Catholics have been criticized for chattering their rosaries to death, or loving them more than Sacred Scripture, or saying their beads at Mass, and so missing the deep, religious significance of the Eucharistic Meal. There may be a point to all of this. Even Jesus railed against chattering as prayers: words, words, words that presume to manipulate divinity by the promethean mysticism of multiplied words. Reading, studying, and responding to the Word of God always trumps any devotion (especially when God’s word becomes profoundly inconvenient to my way of doing things!). And at Mass, one should truly be focused on God’s Word being spoken to us today, and entering more profoundly as a believing community into the mystery of his Suffering, Death and Resurrection which took place once and forevermore “for us.”
One can also speak worlds about the spiritual advantages of an hour of prayerful contemplation or of a meditative retreat over prayers of rote. In the end, however, especially when hectic schedules or diminished energies don’t afford the material and inner silence for this, there still remains an abiding value in going daily over twenty mysteries (yes, twenty!) of the complete, in prayerfully recalling the stations in the economy of salvation, beginning from the Incarnation through to Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth, in the course of the events, routine or otherwise, of one’s daily life. As Philippine culture, once deeply “religious,” becomes more secularized or (as Fr. General Nicolas warns) superficial, recalling the relationship we have with our God needs to become more of a reflected decision – a counter-cultural commitment to the Holy in our less-than-holy lives. For this, a reminder around one’s wrist may be of help.
In this context, in trying to live meaningful lives as some laugh, others weep, some wage war, others pursue peace, some inflict evil, others suffer it, some corrupt, others cleanse, some ravage the environment, others weep in its devastation, one is not lost to the mystery of the Incarnation, the Birth of our Lord, and the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple as Light. In suffering the consequences of sin, – sickness and death, violence and suffering – one is not lost to the mysteries of the Passion and Death of our Lord – his agony, his scourging, his way of the Cross, his Crucifixion and Death; in confronting the reality and culture of death, one is not lost to the ultimate Good News of the Resurrection, the hope of new life in the Spirit, the hope of a Queen of Heaven mediated through her self-subjection to her God, “Let it be done to me as you will.”
Using one’s rosary to pray the Rosary daily is to recall daily the Father’s love for us in Jesus Christ. Otherwise, why would there have been an Annunciation of an Incarnation, why would there have been a first Christmas, why would there have been a Good Friday, an Easter, an Ascension, a Pentecost, an Assumption all recalled in the Rosary’s mysteries? Perhaps here it may be said that in praying the whole Rosary daily, one really need not go through all the twenty mysteries, if in tarrying on one mystery one can enter it more fully and fruitfully. Even in praying the Rosary, St. Ignatius’ insight is helpful: it is not quantity that fills and satisfies the soul, but the grace to enter it in depth, taking time to savor its truth.
Let me end by expressing my personal gratitude to Pope John Paul II, who added to the Rosary’s formerly 15 mysteries the five relatively-new Luminous Mysteries, the mysteries of the Lord as Light. These fit well between the Joyful mysteries and the Sorrowful Mysteries. They are the mysteries of the public life of our Lord. In Ignatian spirituality, they would be the mysteries of the life of Jesus Christ proposed for the Second Week. The first is the Baptism of the Lord. Here, the focus is not on the baptism of John the Baptist, remarkable as it is. The focus is on the Trinitarian self-manifestation, where the Father introduces Jesus as his Beloved One and enjoins all to, “Hear Him!” – “Listen to him!” “Do not ignore this light!” The second is the marriage feast of Cana. Here, the Lord’s Light is manifested in his compassion for the pair just married. They are out of wine, he acts to provide wine. That goodness acting to help people in need is light. The third is the proclamation of the Kingdom of God. Jesus proclaiming the primacy of the Kingdom – “primum regnum Dei” – is the Light. This is Light against worldly forces of darkness, despair and sin. The fourth is the Transfiguration. The Lord is transfigured in Light. When the proclamation of the Kingdom clashes against the powers of the world causing discouragement, fear, and desolation, the Light of divinity breaks through. It is wonderful light! Then finally the fifth luminous mystery, the sublime light of the Last Supper, when Jesus bows down to wash the feet of his disciples and institutes the Eucharist. “Take and eat: This is my Body given for you….” “Take and drink: This is my Blood shed for you.” This is the Word of Light that overcomes the darkness of the Passion and Death, that transforms it from an ignominious manifestation of human evil into a eternal sacrament of divine love.
It’s October – the month of the Holy Rosary. Time again to use the rosaries around our necks, in our pockets or bags, on our wrists to pray the Rosary – even among the sophisticated and educated of the Ateneos. With beads in our hands, let Mary quiet our pride and lead us to Jesus. Let her teach us to allow him to transform our water into wine.