Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Mysteries and Gifts: An Ash Wednesday Reflection

On October 16, 2002, I turned 39 years old and Pope St. John Paul the Great published his Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Maria, in which he inaugurated the Year of the Rosary from October 2002 to October 2003 (ending on the 25th anniversary of his Pontificate and coincidentally my 40th birthday.)

Ash Wednesday fell on March 5 in 2003, during the Year of the Rosary.  This is the day I decided to begin Lent by praying a Rosary every day.  I did it partly because I needed to learn the new Luminous Mysteries (the Mysteries of Light) that Pope John Paul II had just initiated, but also because up until that time I never really felt the Rosary was an important part of my life.  That soon changed.

One Spring morning in 2007 I was driving to work as I made plans in my mind to visit my dad after work.  Dad was in home hospice dying from the final stages of gallbladder cancer.  By the time I reached my office, I realized I had not gotten past my first Hail Mary of the Agony in the Garden decade.  How appropriate that my dad’s own agony was the distraction that prevented me from completing my morning Rosary.   I sat in my parking spot, initially feeling guilty for not finishing the Rosary before I arrived at work.  Then I realized that the work I would be undertaking throughout the day caring for patients and my family were just as much a daily prayer as my Rosary.  In fact, I felt that praying part of the Rosary first thing in the morning and concluding that awesome prayer at the end of the day allowed me to make my entire day part of my daily prayer to the God who loved me into existence and then suffered for my sins and sacrificed his life for my salvation.  I had an entirely new outlook on praying the Rosary.

One Summer evening in 2010, my seventeen-year-old son was on summer break and had the day off from lifeguarding the following day.  Several high school friends picked him up after dinner to see a movie.  I told him to be home by 10:00 and to call if he would be late.  Ten o’clock passed, then eleven o'clock, then midnight.  My phone calls went from unanswered calls and texts to going straight to voicemail.  I made phone calls to parents that did not answer and tried to figure a way to track his cell phone.  I called the cell phone company and the police by 3:00 AM, but they could not help.  I had to leave for work at 6:00 AM, but how could I work when I had no idea of my son’s location and well-being?  Sleepless and unable to rise from my living room chair, I began to pray that day’s Rosary.  As I began to pray the fifth Joyful mystery, I heard the back door open and ran to see my son enter our home.  As most parents of teens can picture, he was shocked that I was at all worried just because his phone died and he fell asleep playing Xbox with his friends.  For my part, I could only imagine the relief Jesus and Mary felt after days of not knowing where their young son, Jesus, could have been.

I always take Wednesday afternoons off.  On a late 2013 Autumn afternoon I decided to pray the middle of my Glorious mysteries as I drove home from work.  Since I was in no hurry, I decided to take all side roads home to avoid the congested highways.  As I passed through a quiet neighborhood, I felt sunlight streaming through the sunroof of my beige Camry.  I pulled over and looked up to see every shade of red-orange-yellow-green leaves flickering in the canopy of overhead branches to allow flashes of brilliant light to be quickly seen and then disappear just as quickly.  An overwhelming assurance of the certainty of God the Father and creator of all infused my body and soul to its core.  I felt the indescribable love of the Father for His Son, and that unearned, sacrificial, limitless love between them created the gift of the Holy Spirit, whom at that moment I experienced more tangibly than I ever had previously.  I completed the mystery of the Descent of the Holy Spirit slowly as I drove the rest of the way home.

At one time I felt the Rosary was merely a string of repetitious prayers, but the habit of saying it daily has made it an invaluable part of my life.  Frequently I find myself smiling as each mystery reminds me of the Gospel, but at the same time it brings up similar joyful, luminous, sorrowful, and glorious events that are occurring in my life every single day.  The prayers I entrust to Our Blessed Mother as I pray the Rosary, which I ask her to present to her son, become an integral part of future Rosaries. At one time I had little to relate to the Agony in the Garden, the Finding of Jesus in the Temple, and the Descent of the Holy Spirit.  Now I look forward to being surprised by the unique and unexpected ways God will use the Rosary to guide and comfort me.

Last Thursday was a face-hurting cold morning as I slid into my car, made the sign of the cross, and began praying the Rosary.  Stopped in highway traffic, I began the fourth Luminous mystery.  I smiled as I thought to myself how the Transfiguration has not had as much meaning in my own personal life as other mysteries.  I cannot even begin to imagine how that mystery might play a more significant role in my life in the future, but I have been surprised before.  He is a God of surprises, and even the Rosary has become one of the greatest, though unexpected, gifts in my life.



Jeffrey E. Mathews, MD, has been a Pauline Cooperator since October 11, 2009. He and his wife, Carolyn, live in St. Louis, MO, and are blessed with three sons and two daughters (two out of college, two in college, and one in high school). Dr. Mathews, a gastroenterologist, is trying really hard to improve his Spanish for his annual medical mission trip to Honduras.


Association of Pauline Cooperators said...

Thank you for sharing how the mysteries of the rosary grace us for the mysteries of our life. Sr. Margaret Charles

Association of Pauline Cooperators said...
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Rae Stabosz said...

Beautiful, Jeff! I come and go with the rosary, although one thing I found out cruising with my husband is that he prays it all day long, every day. That was great to find out. But it's still an on and off thing for me. I think this Lent I'll make it an On thing again. You are absolutely right about the wonderful way the rosary weaves into our daily lives. Thanks for the reminder.

Maryann Toth said...

Thank you for this wonderful article, Jeff, and for sharing how the Rosary impacts your daily life. You have inspired me!