Image: Depiction of two William-Adolphe Bouguereau paintings, from Women of Grace.
The silence of Lent can be deafening. The pressure and privilege to strip it all away… to do more with less… to suffer in small, secret sacrifices… The season is striking. An intentional time of retreat, of penance, of desert-living. Its austerity is both alluring and alarming. Lent reminds us both of what we truly can do without during the year and the quiet, solitude, and stillness we have been longing for amid the bustle of everyday life.
The first couple of days are always tricky… particularly in the heart of South Louisiana. The abrupt switch from feasting to fasting often sends our hearts and heads spinning. How does one truly start fasting and sacrificing in the middle of a vacation week?? How often do we spit out our bacon mid-bite remembering it is a Friday? A friend asked me recently what I thought was the best way to just dive into Lent. Outside of daily mass and regular Confession, I offered this lesson I learned a few Advents ago:
In 2013, I attended a 5-day Advent silent retreat with our college students. I had never experienced a silent retreat for more than about 36-48 hours, and here I found myself among 25 of my college students. During our free time in the common areas they were watching my every silent move… how did I sit, what did I read, how did I pray. It was a lot of silent pressure. During that retreat I thought it would be a good time to recommit myself to praying the rosary—a practice I never really mastered.
Luke Arredondo posted a beautiful reflection on why to pray the rosary, today I’d like to offer you a how. This particular how changed my life and is something I plan to make part of my Lenten practice.
While I had mastered the prayers and even staying awake for all 50 Hail Marys, I never really understood what it meant to meditate on the mysteries. But with 5 days of silence ahead of me, this was my chance!
It was evening on our first full day of silence, and I can remember this desire for deep intimacy with God… I was so sick of being in my own head all day. Going over all of my petitions–the endless names of people I wanted to pray for, the questions, America, the memories, the unborn, the unending list of wants and desires. I wished for silence within my silence. To just shut off my brain… and then it occurred to me–(thanks Holy Spirit!)–now would be a good time to truly meditate on the mysteries of the rosary… probably for the first time in my life.
And so I did. I meditated on all of them. In one sitting. Beginning with the Joyful, then Luminous, then Sorrowful, and finally Glorious… I met Jesus again, almost as if for the first time. Only this time He was introduced to me by His most faithful follower, His Mother.
One of my favorite scenes from The Passion of the Christ!
It imagines the relationship between Mother and Son at home in Nazareth.
Mary took me by the hand and showed me her journey, from meeting the angel Gabriel–the smells of that garden, the warmth of the sun on her face, the fear, the awe, the peace, the Spirit… to the haste, the running to Elizabeth, the rocky path, the uncomfortable donkey, the questions that lingered, the excitement, anticipation, JOY, the leap in her womb, the Magnificat… to the hay in the manger, the lowing cattle, Joseph’s strength and love, the cold, the stench of the shepherds, the hopes and the fears of all the years… I learned about the sword that would pierce her heart, and the need to always be vigilant, the flight, the overwhelming responsibility… and His disappearance, the harrowing search, and the exuberant joy of reunion, the anticipation of something so much bigger to come…
I got to know Jesus and his cousin John, the promise of a Savior fulfilled, divine filiation, the desire to hear the words spoken to me one day that the Father would be “well pleased“… to drink the good wine, to know that something had changed, that finally we were on the path to the ultimate wedding feast, that “do[ing] whatever He tells me” is always the correct answer, to listen to my Mother… I found hope in the Kingdom that was already in our midst, but not yet, where beatitude would replace simple obedience, that we were meant for the good… I met not only the Son of Man, but the Son of God–the priest, the prophet, the king, the one for whom we and so many generations had been waiting; the fulfillment… I ate the Bread of Life, I sat on the hill in John 6 and in the Upper Room on Holy Thursday. I would not go hungry again.
I cried in agony in the garden, and felt the betrayal of his friends… I felt the flesh tear away with every strike, and felt each thorn draw blood… the crown and glory of the King on his truest throne, with his Mother sitting at his right hand, taking her place as Queen, there as Advocate to her people… I drug my feet behind Simon of Cyrene, and was told not to weep for Him but for myself and for my children’s children… I watched His breathing stop. There would be no more wine… I experienced more … the joy of Easter, the beauty and bittersweetness of the Ascension, the Spirit-drunkenness of Pentecost, and the exaltation of our Mother in all of her Splendor that meditating on the Glorious Mysteries can unveil [but more on that in 40 days].
This Lent I invite you to take up your rosary and really sit with the whole story… pray all of it… but stop at Calvary. Sit with the pain and glory. From the pain and the sacrifice of Mary in those first months to those final agonizing hours. The rosary is transformative. Let it transform your Lent.
Dear Jesus and Blessed Mary, Thank you for the gift of the Rosary. Open our minds and hearts to all of the beauty you desire to reveal. Mary, show us your Son, teach us to love Him like you do, teach us that we are loved as sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. Show us our worth through the blood of the Cross. Jesus, reveal the heart of your Mother to us. Teach us to love Her like you do. Break our hearts, ruin our lives, wreck our expectations, help us to be born anew.
This post was originally published on TheCatholicOutpost.com on March 3, 2017.