As the youngest of 14 children, I have much to be grateful for, including the fact that my parents didn’t have the good sense to stop at 13! Yet, even though I was raised in a large Catholic family and received 12 years of Catholic schooling, I left the Church as an undergraduate and didn’t come back until I was in my 20s.
Contemplating Christ’s Public Ministry
My newly rediscovered love for Christ not only led me to study His teaching, but also to take a fresh look at traditional prayers and devotions used by Christian disciples for countless generations as aids to growth in the spiritual life.
And so I enthusiastically embraced the rosary as the most time-tested and efficacious spiritual weapon in our arsenal after the sacred liturgy itself. Even so, it always seemed strange to me that we had an entire set of mysteries for Luke 1-2, namely the Joyful Mysteries, and then we had to jump to Luke 22 for the Agony in the Garden, the first Sorrowful Mystery. It seemed to me that Luke 3, Luke 4, Luke 5, and so on, up to Luke 22, also contained much solid meat for contemplation.
Therefore, I’ve welcomed the pope’s introduction of the Luminous Mysteries as a means of encouraging us to prayerfully contemplate the totality of Christ’s public ministry.
Yet, I’ve also heard a few people complain about the new mysteries. They liked the rosary as it was and see the new mysteries as some sort of novelty.
Surely the faithful are completely free to pray the rosary as they always have. It’s just that now we have another means of entering into the mystery of Christ. The pope’s apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, in addition to introducing the new mysteries, provides ample practical guidance for praying the rosary well. The pope’s goal is not to encumber the faithful, but to help us pray better, to help us contemplate the face of Christ.
Each of the Luminous Mysteries is inexhaustibly rich, and so I recommend obtaining good meditation guides and reflections on the new mysteries to help plumb the depths of the mysteries. I would, however, like to mention two refrains that run through all the Luminous Mysteries that I think are extremely important for Catholic laity today.
Loving the Church
The first refrain is “love for the Church.” We live at a time when many people are to some extent open to Jesus Christ, but want nothing to do with His Church. So what has the pope done? He has encouraged us, by means of the Luminous Mysteries, to contemplate the public ministry of Christ. What was at the heart of this ministry? Nothing other than the proclamation of the kingdom of God that it was “at hand.” Well, was it or not? And if it was, where did it go? About a century ago, French heretic Alfred Loisy bemoaned that Christ promised a kingdom, and all that we got was the Church.
We joyfully respond that the Church is, in fact, the kingdom of God on earth. The Church continues, despite our own human failings and weaknesses, to bring the light of Christ to all the world. It’s no accident that the central document issued by the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) on the mystery of the Church is called Lumen Gentium, or “Light of the Nations.”
The fifth and culminating Luminous Mystery is the Institution of the Eucharist. Pope John Paul II begins his 2003 encyclical on the Eucharist by stating that “the Church draws her life from the Eucharist.” The Eucharist is the most tangible and profound manner in which Christ keeps His promise to remain with His Church.
The Luminous Mysteries help us to see the Church as our Mother (see Catechism, nos. 169, 507), and not as a merely human institution or an outside force that’s imposing arbitrary rules on us. Now more than ever, especially given the horrible scandals that have afflicted the Church in this country, we need to affirm to proclaim from the rooftops our love for the Church!
Do Whatever He Tells You
Of the new mysteries, the one that I gravitate toward is the Wedding at Cana. Mary’s simple words are striking and still ring out today: “Do whatever Jesus tells you” (Jn 2:5). This message calls forth our obedience. This theme runs through the other Luminous Mysteries as well. For example, in the Transfiguration, our Heavenly Father declares, “This is My beloved son . . . listen to Him” (Mt 17:5). Even in the Institution of the Eucharist, the Church is commanded to “do this in memory of me” (Lk 22:19). In fact, Jesus bluntly tells us that if we don’t “do this,” we have no life in us (cf. Jn 6:53). So the stakes are high. The entire proclamation of the kingdom calls forth from us an “obedience of faith” (Rom 1:5). In short, we need to do what Jesus tells us.
Perhaps it would be easier if Jesus were in our midst telling us things to do. And yet, even though He no longer walks the earth, He does speak to us through His Church, notably the successors of Peter and the other Apostles. Jesus says if we hear and obey them, we hear and obey Him (cf. Lk 10:16). And further, if we hear and obey our Lord, then we are also obeying our Blessed Mother, who lovingly exhorts us to do whatever He tells us.
Many contemporary problems are rooted in disobedience to authority in the home, in society, and in the Church. Disobedience and dissent wreak havoc. Those in authority surely have contributed to the problem, but obedience is our virtue, not their virtue. Let me explain.
My daughter Brenda’s favorite verse (she quotes it for me all the time) is Colossians 3:21: “Fathers, do no provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” Fair enough, I will be judged on this verse and similar verses, as will priests and bishops, our spiritual fathers. I’ve encountered many Catholics who are angry, provoked, or discouraged, and those who so alienate them will be held strictly accountable by the Lord.
But I’m still ready for Brenda when she playfully cites her verse, as I counter with the preceding verse: “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” Those in authority will be judged on how they exercise their authority. We, on the other hand, will be judged according to how we obey legitimate authority.
Only God’s authority is limitless. Surely we’re not bound to follow laws or directives that are immoral or which go beyond the scope of one’s authority. But in general, our disposition toward Church authority should be one of respectful obedience. We must encourage our children to do whatever Jesus tells them and to hear the Good Shepherd’s voice coming from His Church.
And while we’re at it, we should teach them to pray the rosary.
Leon J. Suprenant, Jr. is the president of Catholics United for the Faith (CUF) and Emmaus Road Publishing and the editor-in-chief of Lay Witness magazine, all based in Steubenville, Ohio. He is a contributor to Catholic for a Reason III: Scripture and the Mystery of the Mass and an adviser to CE’s Catholic Scripture Study. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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