Novena

I began to say the Rosary as a child in the family home. Later when my mother was terminally ill we used to meet every evening to chat and do crosswords together. She got the first 70% right, I added 10% and she finished the rest. And we always said the rosary. It was a good habit and it’s always a good idea to reflect why it was such a good habit.

Mary of Nazareth is the mother of God! That’s the good news of the joyful mysteries. Mary gives us the best possible example of how to sing a song of joyful love along with the Lord. Mary emptied her heart of all other concerns and allowed the Spirit of God to breathe within her and to fill her with grace. The Spirit helped her find a cause for joy in all circumstances.

Joy is to be found:

in the voce of the angel proclaiming the coming of the Saviour

in the meeting of two women expecting their children

in the song of mother Mary rocking the child Jesus in the cradle

in the meeting of the elderly Simeon and Anna with the Saviour they had been expecting all their lives.

in the parents’ realisation that Jesus is preparing to do his Father’s work.

And yet there is little joy in our modern world. Every bulletin tells of death and disease; warfare in Burkina Faso, national disharmony.  Some families are facing very difficult restrictions and frightening prospects after Covid. The NHS is a marvellous organisation yet it cannot be expected to meet everyone’s demands. Are the joyful mysteries unrealistic about life’s cruelties and obstacles?  Let’s visit them again. At the Annunciation Mary had to give up on her autonomy. That was hard. At the Visitation Mary magnifies the Lord who will upset people’s expectations dramatically.

Soon after the Nativity Mary learnt that the family would have to leave home. At the Presentation Mary was told of a sword of sorrow. At the Finding in the Temple they learnt that they had to let go. So the Rosary is  very realistic about human limitations ; it’s about hardships as well as happiness; it’s about happiness in the midst of hardships.

The Rosary helps us to understand that God is still working on his plan for creation. Life on earth is incomplete and it takes eternity for perfection to come. Life is a journey where we may not know what is round the corner but we do know our destination in the happiness of God’s presence. We are growing all the time but there are pangs of rebirth and new beginnings before fulfilment. We live by faith not sight. It has always been so. In the 13th century during the Black Death disease St Julian kept her faith. She wrote defiantly, faithfully and hopefully; all manner of thing shall be well. The joyful mysteries are optimistic and realistic. Let’s explore more.

At the Annunciation Mary said, ‘let it be done to me according to your word’. Mary became a channel of the Eternal Love of Jesus and let love be celebrated for the world.  She asks us to let God’s word influence our lives too even if it takes time and patience to wait for the coming of God. Our lives can be overcrowded, filled with trivial details; we might even be afraid to allow space or silence or pause in the rush.  Some people are too serious and destroy their chances of doing God’s will by being too set in their ways. Religious leaders like the Pharisees may have big plans in their imagination but there may be little room to receive God or little silence to hear His voice. Some just give up and say it is not worth the effort. Today is an opportunity to ask Mary to help us be both realistic and hopeful and to let the angel speak to us too.

At the beginning it will be necessary to be still, and having prayed for the light, to visualise yourself as one in need of God’s love and as one capable of sharing love.  Leave aside the distractions and the selfish ambitions.  Seek for signs of God’s love in your life.  See yourself as if you had just come from God’s hand; seek to do something great for God.  Be conscious of the awkwardness and incompleteness in your life and seize the opportunity to co-operate in completing the work of God’s kingdom.

The month of May provides a chance for sifting and sorting out everything that is not essential and go to the heart of the matter. The Church tells us to fill our hearts and minds with God’s love. The purpose for which human beings are made is to know, love and serve God in this world and to be happy with Him for ever in the next. We serve God by using our human nature: flesh and bone, will and intellect, body and soul together. Yes, the Annunciation says it is really through ordinary human life and the things of every hour of every day that we hear the messenger of divine love.

The Visitation is the best family story. It tells how Christ’s hidden coming impels people to do good: ‘And Mary rising up in those days went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda’. We can feel the rush of warmth and kindness, the sudden urgency of love that sent that girl hurrying over the hills. She greeted her cousin Elizabeth, and at the sound of her voice, John quickened in his mother’s womb and leapt for joy.  By visiting her cousin she brought Christ and evoked a joyful response. Later Christ will say to his apostles, ‘I am come that you may have life and have it more abundantly’.  His hidden presence can inspire each of us to be thoughtful and active too.

Christ is growing silently in us, so let us be at peace, recollected, because we know that however insignificant our life seems He is acting within us, we are being made in His image; and we can become more Christlike.

If you go with eager wills, ‘in haste’, to wherever your conscience compels you, because you believe that He wants to be in that place, you shall find that you are driven more and more to act on the impulse of His love.  You get into the habit of unselfish love.  The Visitation teaches that there are plenty of opportunities every day for such love in a family home.

From the Nativity we learn to work with what we have got in welcoming Jesus. Each person is made differently depending on the family you come from, your local environment, your infant and child experience, opportunity for growth, education or lack of education, your friends or lack of friends, and the countless unpredictable things, the accidents and the unexpected changes. You work with what you have got just as Mary did.

Mary’s child Jesus was born in a stable amid cattle and strangers. Not a promising start!  Mary becomes our model for adapting to circumstances.  For nine months Christ grew in His Mother’s body.  By His own will she formed Him from herself, from the simplicity of her daily life.  She had nothing to give Him but herself.  He asked for nothing else.  Walking in the streets of Nazareth to do her shopping, to visit her friends, she did it all for Jesus. She set His feet on the path of Jerusalem where he died and rose from the dead.  Washing, weaving, kneading, sweeping, her hands prepared His hands for the nails.  Breaking and eating the bread, drinking the wine of the country, she gave Him His flesh and blood; she prepared the Host for the Mass. Mary by her example teaches us that the life of Christ grows within us too.  She reminds us that we are members of His church, the Body of Christ.

Mary asks us to be conscious that Christ is hidden within and can be especially active in family life today.  When Mary was carrying her child she developed a certain instinct of self-defence.  It is not selfishness.  She was absorbed by the life within, folding herself like a little tent around the child’s frailty with a God-like instinct to cherish and some day to bring forth new life. This is precisely the attitude we must have to Christ; He is the Life within the Church today.  By His own will Christ was dependent on Mary when He was absolutely helpless; He could go nowhere but where she chose to take Him.  Today Christ is dependent upon you and me. When we build a protection around the weaker members of our society we recognise Christ being formed in everyone.

There are no physical, psychological or social qualifications for being a disciple. Look around. All our lives have been in the care of other human beings and tended in the Creator’s hands. Some are handed down gifts of health and sound nerves and a buoyant attitude to life with gifts of mind, talents, sensitivity.  Others inherit dark and terrible impulses and crumbling weakness, fears, and neuroses. It is a great mistake to suppose that those who have inherited poor health and a timid approach or some vice or weakness have not been designed and planned by God as much as others who seem luckier in the world’s eyes.  Jesus only expects you to use what you have received.

He can choose the most unlikely material in the world to use for a positive miracle of His love. The tendency of our generation is to worship physical and material happiness – hearty, healthy, insensitive types; always young, usually aggressive.  Those who are disadvantaged can feel resentful and demand their rights and become envious and may waste their energy.   Our challenge is to find signs of Christ in everyone, everywhere.

Be grateful therefore that others have wealth or social position or popular prestige and be ready to pray out loud that they may use those gifts to stand up for those in need and so begin to love God with what they have.  Pray that they do not give in to the bland brutality of accustomed wealth. Christ is with them as he was with the wise men and wealthy Zaccheus.  Christ is not restricted to any type: he was also with the fallen woman, the hesitant apostles. Indeed he spoke words of comfort to the repentant thief dying on the cross, the loser, the criminal, the failure. And yet we gladly identify with him in the Taize chant when he said Lord remember me when you come into your kingdom and Jesus replied, today you will be with me in paradise.   Let us pray not to succumb to the malice of the envious poor. Each one of us is made from the material which Christ Himself has fashioned for His purpose through all the generations that have gone into our making. In the Rosary we pray for all sinners, ourselves included.

At the Presentation Mary dedicated her son to God and gave Simeon and Anna the chance to reveal who he really was. It is good to ask the Holy Spirit to show us the way Christ wants to act in our life, in our families. Marriage is for faithfulness and for the care of children, yet we hear every day of cruelty, abuse and violence. It calls for a two-fold response: to highlight the injustice of domestic abuse and to help where we can and also to repeat for everyone the hope-filled message that the different generations can work together with Jesus the Saviour in their midst.

Being an active member of the Church family is often a struggle and temptation is regular. But whoever we are, wherever we come from, when we present ourselves for Mass we are reminded that there is an emptiness in us which can only be filled by God and which God is even now waiting to fill.  Christ has made us for eternity to be filled with God’s grace.

 

Ask Mary for help; she presented her child to God and so should we.  Outwardly our lives will be just the same but there will be an inner change, an inner life, as we work for His Kingdom which grows in our hearts; a kingdom of justice, love and peace.  We may feel inadequate but the Spirit moulds us to make music for God.

Christ wants to see the world with your eyes. You can lighten the surrounding darkness by inviting him to inspire the way you work. How can you look willingly on anything evil?   Knowing that Jesus wished to work with your hands, could you do any work that was shoddy?  Knowing that your ears must listen on behalf of Christ, could you listen to blasphemy or to the dreary dirtiness of so much of conversation or TV entertainment, or could you fail to listen with compassion to the voice of a world like ours?

The mystery where Jesus is found teaching and learning with the elders in the temple reminds me to pray for and with educators today. Christ will not come into the lives of the pupils today unless his representatives go to work with purpose and enthusiasm. Catholic schools are to be competent and Catholic. Our hands make Christ’s hands active, our service lets Christ serve through us, our patience makes Christ’s patience back into the world. This is how a committed headteacher describes adapting to the restrictions enforced by the corona pandemic on her school.

What a few weeks we have all had.  We find ourselves in a position that we could never have imagined a short while ago. We watched it unfold in other countries without it registering that soon we would be suffering the same fate.

We agreed that the focus for our school community would be that we should stay connected by whatever means possible, to enable us do what we always do…support each other, pray together, learn together and laugh together.  Staff agreed to embrace familiar technology and new learning platforms, which enable us to communicate with our children and their families on a daily basis.  

Whilst communicating with families over the last few weeks, it became clear that fear is looming large in many homes at this worrying time.  Parents are grateful to have the support of their familiar school community.  Families are dealing with children and other members who have underlying health conditions, making this an isolating and terrifying time for them.  Our staff are going to every length to ensure that parents are supported emotionally and practically and children are occupied with challenges and activities.  The teachers have created rooms where the children can remain connected and can have fun and chat with their school friends in a safe environment. It is our way to build God’s kingdom. We have learnt that the Lord works in mysterious ways

We are joining as a school, parish and diocesan community this weekend, to invoke the Holy Spirit, as we think about the children who were due to receive the sacrament of Confirmation together. In normal circumstances, this would have been a busy time for families; buying clothes, visiting hairdressers, making arrangements, taking photographs and catering for relatives. The real focus may have dissipated into the mist of a thousand things to do.This year all of these peripheral jobs have disappeared. We are left with the reality of what our children are missing – receiving the Holy Spirit on this special day. So we pray for the Spirit  to come as we join Jesus in the temple teaching and learning about God.

On reflection what have I learnt from praying the joyful mysteries?

I learn to be attentive and the angel of the Lord may visit to ask me to do God’s will in a special way this week.

I am stimulated to act out of love so that others will be awakened into life, or into joy for the already wakened life within.

I will accept the message of the Nativity of Jesus and work with what I have got because God continues to come into this world through Jesus being formed in our hearts.

I learn to be courageous enough to present others to the faith and perhaps find they have new resources well beyond what anyone expected.

It seems that Christ prefers to be known today, not by His own human features, but by those who listen and ponder on the good news. He wants to talk to us about the things of God just as he did in the Temple long ago.

A lot of what we do is unrecognised love that perhaps only God can see. Reciting the joyful mysteries puts us on to the right path into eternal life through the joys and challenges of everyday life.