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Friar’s E-Spirations: Reflections on the Luminous Mysteries

When Pope John Paul II added the Luminous Mysteries to the three already existing mysteries of the Rosary, my heart immediately responded with “Right on!” For years I had been puzzled with the “public ministry gap,” which, in my mind, had left a big hole in the traditional sequence of the Rosary’s Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious Mysteries. What had been left out was a large part of the Gospel story, namely, the public ministry of Jesus. Therefore, we will now reflect briefly upon five major events in Jesus’ public ministry, which Pope John Paul II has described as the Luminous Mysteries.

Baptism of Jesus
Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River illuminates not only Jesus’ identity as God’s beloved Son, but it also reveals with bright clarity his mission as Messiah—the anointed one—as well. When Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, he was anointed by his heavenly Father “with the Holy Spirit and with power” (Acts 10:38). When the evangelist John described the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus, he placed these words on the lips of the Baptist: “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him” (Jn 1:32). The word remain in this context emphasizes the permanence of this ongoing relationship of God’s Spirit with us as well.

The Wedding at Cana
Jesus caused quite a stir at Cana when he changed the water into wine. The Jerusalem Bible explains to us, in a footnote, why Jesus worked this and other signs. Jesus worked them to strengthen our faith in his divine mission. The evangelist writes that Jesus “let his glory be seen, and his disciples believed in him” (Jn 2:11b). At special times, such as at his Baptism, as well as in this “first sign” at Cana and at the Transfiguration, the divine glory shines through brightly. We get a glimpse of God’s light and saving presence breaking into our world. And when Mary tells Jesus, “They have no wine,” she seems to be causing something else—besides the changing of water into wine—to happen as well. She is very much like a mother bird nudging her fledgling to take that first flight from the nest.

Jesus’ Proclamation of the Kingdom
If there is one central image that ties together the five Mysteries of Light, it is the Kingdom of God. A simple way to understand the Kingdom of God is to see it as God’s saving presence in our world. In each of the new mysteries—Jesus’ baptism, his sign at Cana, the proclamation of the Kingdom, the Transfiguration, and the Eucharist—we are witnessing examples of God’s saving love and presence breaking into our world. It’s helpful to recall, at the same time, that the name Jesus means “Yahweh saves.” Jesus’ saving presence among us, therefore, is the perfect embodiment of the Kingdom of God.

The Transfiguration of Jesus
To set the scene for this mystery, we see Jesus inviting Peter, James, and John to withdraw with him from the busy plane of everyday life and come to a high mountaintop. Pope John Paul II called the Transfiguration, “the mystery of light par excellence,” presumably because, during this exalted event, the glory of Jesus’ divine nature shown brilliantly through his humanity, totally transfiguring Jesus. As the Gospel of Matthew put it, [Jesus’] “face shown like the sun, and his clothes became white as light” (17:2). The event reminds us that Jesus is truly divine as well as truly human.

The First Eucharist
The final Luminous Mystery takes us to Jesus’ last supper, where he shares his very self with his disciples in the form of bread and wine. This holy meal unites us in love with God and with one another so that we become the one body of Christ. Jesus’ essential gesture at the Eucharist is his handing over his body and blood to the community gathered around him. After Jesus does this, he says, “Do this in memory of me.” He is not saying simply that we should repeat this liturgical ritual. He also wants us to repeat what he has done for the community during his life here on earth. He has, literally, handed himself over to them. We are being asked in our own day to hand over our bodies as well—in loving service to the Christian community.

Looking Ahead

Having completed our reflections on the Luminous Mysteries, my plan now is to reflect on the next set of mysteries—the Sorrowful Mysteriousduring the season of Lent (2013) in an upcoming Friar Jack’s E-spiration.

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Dear Father Jim: Thank you for your E-spiration on purgatory. You have opened my understanding of the suffering those in purgatory will experience. More importantly, you pointed out that, in the end, it is surrender to God’s love that will cleanse us. What precious words these are! Marion

Dear Friar Jim: Thank you for explaining this issue. I have long wished to understand the concept of purgatory, having never read about it in the New Testament. You make it so easily understandable, and I certainly appreciate your more reasonable approach to what we can never know until we die. Is it possible for us to complete our purgatory here on earth while still alive? If so, how can we work to limit or alleviate the damage to our souls? Please explain in the future how our prayers for the dead, mostly the souls in purgatory, can help. Thank you again! Kathryn

Dear Friar Jim: Thank you for your beautiful summation of purgatory. Recently, I had been reading somewhere that it would be like the fires of hell and, frankly, it distressed me. Your thoughtful words clarified what we are to expect, and I am not as fearful anymore. At least we know if we get there it means that we will be with our Lord for eternity. Carolyn

Dear Friar Jim: I found your recent newsletter on purgatory quite informative and enlightening, having been told recently by another priest that the term purgatory was never mentioned in the Bible, and has therefore been removed from the Catechism. I would like to think that your explanation reaffirms my belief in such a state of purification and appreciate your explanation. David


Dear Marion, Katherine, Carolyn, and David: I’m glad my explanation helped you understand our wonderful doctrine of purgatory in a more realistic view. There are only three paragraphs about purgatory in the Catechism (1030-32). Still, we know enough theology to gain a deeper understanding. Remember, the key is this: Heaven is perfect union with God. Purgatory is, indeed, union with God, but it is not yet perfect or total. In time, though, it will be.

That’s why we have always said that the souls purgatory know that they are saved, and that in itself brings them joy beyond measure. The suffering in purgatory is not God’s punishment, but rather our clear understanding of what we might have done and of God’s goodness. Friar Jim