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. 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 heartily welcomed Pope John Paul II’s introduction of the Luminous Mysteries as a means of encouraging the faithful to prayerfully contemplate Christ’s public ministry.
Love for the Church
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 their depths. In particular, I recommend Tim Gray’s Bible study entitled Luminous Mysteries: Biblical Reflections on the Life of Christ, with a foreword by Archbishop Raymond L. Burke. This dynamic study is available at www.emmausroad.org.
Today, however, I would like to briefly mention two refrains that run through all the Luminous Mysteries that I think are extremely important for Catholic laity today.
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 Luminous Mysteries help us to see the Church as our Mother (cf. 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
The other refrain running through the Luminous Mysteries is the virtue of obedience. 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.” This message calls forth our obedience. This theme runs through the other mysteries as well. The proclamation of the kingdom calls forth from us an “obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5). 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. 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, and notably through 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 not 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 the faithful 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.
On Wednesday, I will provide further reflections on the second Luminous Mystery, the Wedding at Cana.