Depending on who you are and where you live, the arrival of May can mean the Kentucky Derby, muddy footprints, sprouting tulips, sports banquets, proms or Mother’s Day.
For me, a product of Catholic schools of many long years ago, May will always be about Mary, May crownings, and the rosary. But when it comes to the rosary, I have a confession to make: among the decades–20 now, where there used to be 15, thanks to Saint John Paul II–I tend to play favorites.
The new ones, the Luminous, are a happy tracing of Jesus’ public life and I always like it when it’s Thursday, the day to pray those. Wednesday and Saturday are the Glorious, full of joyful triumph. I get an oh-darn feeling on Tuesdays and Fridays, the days for the Sorrowful Mysteries, because, quite frankly, I’d prefer not to dwell on those painful times in Jesus’ life. I know I owe my eternal salvation to them, I pray them with gratitude and love. But, they hurt.
I think the Joyful Mysteries, prayed on Monday, are my favorites because they’re the ones with which I can identify the most. These are about family life, about the ups and downs, the surprises, the expectations, that every family faces. They’re the ones that keep my own thoughts, fears and worries in perspective when dealing with family issues.
The Annunciation, for instance. You know the old saying, “life is what happens when you’ve made other plans”? Mary and Joseph had nice, normal plans for marriage and a family and then along comes an angel and says no, God has other plans, if you’ll agree. Mary did, and Joseph did, perhaps in the midst of confusion. They weren’t all-knowing, but they were all-trusting, and heaven knows my own life has demanded that of me over and over again.
Then comes the Visitation. Mary is always portrayed as going to visit her aging and pregnant cousin Elizabeth out of the kindness of her heart, and I’m sure that’s true. But I have to wonder if it wasn’t also a little moral support she sought. Mary, whose pregnancy was far from “normal,” may have wanted to share that with someone who surely would understand as no one else could, since her own pregnancy was a bit out of the blue. Two women both being borne along on the breath of God, part of a bigger plan like they had never imagined.
It’s that moral support all families need, that fellowship with other believers who are struggling to live in the same world, deal with the same probems, and hopefully do it guided by the same Holy Spirit, even in the face of the world’s skepticism. Oh yes, definitely a mystery for families.
The third mystery, the Birth of Our Lord, keeps me grounded in my station in life. In the midst of financial challenges, or the temptations to try to live up to all that the television commercials tell me I can be (and have), or the expectations that God will give me an easy life because I’m following him, all I have to do is look at the Bethlehem birth to adjust my sights. Somehow, I can’t see Mary and Joseph fretting because they weren’t providing good enough “things” for the son of God. I can’t see them railing at God for not taking better care of them since “Jesus is, after all, YOUR son.” No, they showed the true humility that accepted whatever came after they had done their best. They didn’t expect God to take away their troubles, but rather to help them through them.
They didn’t expect any favors when it came to practicing their faith, either. In the fourth mystery, we see them bringing Jesus to the temple to be offered as the firstborn son, accompanied by the sacrifice of two turtle doves, the poor man’s gift. They didn’t try to rationalize the rules away because they were “special.” They didn’t see themselves as having outgrown the old traditions. They accepted them as being from God, and anything from God was good enough and reason enough for their family to obey. If obedience was a virtue in the holy family’s life, it should be a virtue in mine.
Anyone with children, or who has taught children, can identify with the fifth mystery, when Jesus wanders off in big-city Jerusalem, getting distracted by what was admittedly his true calling, but frightening his parents in the process. Even Mary and Joseph didn’t always understand their child, and I won’t always understand mine. I can only pray that they will respond with the same trust and obedience Jesus did, now or eventually.
After praying the Joyful mysteries, I always feel like I’ve just been looking at a map for my own life. The Holy Family didn’t exactly have smooth sailing, but smooth sailing isn’t necessarily the guarantee for those who follow God. What he did guarantee was to always be with us, and to give us strength and courage to weather the storms and grow in virtue and holiness.
So, the Joyful mysteries are my favorites, because whatever challenges life brings me, it probably brought to them first. I figure if they can do it, I can, too.