“If you fall asleep while praying the rosary, the angels will finish it for you,” the sisters at my Catholic grade school assured me years ago. Even so, the prayers I managed to complete chased away for me any childhood fear of the dark. I fell asleep confident that the angels would wrap up and relay my prayers. So confident, that when I prepared gifts of “spiritual bouquets” for family members (a litany of future prayers promised and Masses attended on behalf of someone else—a sort of spiritual credit card), I included a good number of yet-to-be-said, sleep-induced rosaries, making my list all the more impressive.
As an adult I continued the practice, praying the rosary when awakened by worries in the middle of the night. I coordinated my devotion with the Church liturgical calendar: the joyful mysteries during Advent and Christmas, the sorrowful for Lent, and the glorious at Easter. But what about the balance of the year, the long and problematic stretch the Church calls Ordinary Time?
Fortunately, John Paul II solved that problem with the addition of the mysteries of light in 2002. Since then I’ve prayed these new mysteries and reflected on them—most of the time without falling asleep. In doing so, I’ve come to realize that we spend much of life doing ordinary, everyday activities like cooking, cleaning, working, eating—or sleeping. I’ve also discovered that these mysteries can be a light to guide us through life’s ordinary challenges. In fact, they offer five important, easyto-learn lessons to help us stay our spiritual course.
1) The Baptism of the Lord
Know who and whose you are. In my former role as chaplain at a retirement community, I preached each Sunday using the common Lectionary. The baptism of Jesus would come up every year, year after year, in each of the Gospels. Jesus’ baptism, again! I’d think. What can I say that I, or others more insightful than I, haven’t already said? Yet each year I discovered more.
Over time, the significance of the baptismal passage has sunk deep into my soul and to the very heart of Jesus’ identity as God’s son. “You are my beloved Son,” God tells Jesus. “In you I am well pleased.” Who among us doesn’t crave such affirming love and praise from a parent, literal or figurative? Here is God letting Jesus know, “I’m proud of you. You’re a good son.” That affirmation fortified Jesus to go forth and do the Father’s will.
God’s message is for all God’s children, for all time—namely, that before we can accomplish anything significant in this life, we need to know who we are and whose we are. Otherwise, we are adrift in an ungrounded world of uncertainty and change. With divine grounding, we have the confidence we need to weather life’s vagaries, good and bad.
God, I learned, doesn’t send us out into this sometimes dangerous world unequipped. God equips us with affirming love. Armed with that confidence, we can move on to the next mystery of light.
2) The Wedding at Cana
We don’t have to go it alone, even in a society in which divorce is rampant and marriage decidedly risky. As someone who’s been divorced, I’m skittish at the prospect of remarriage. Wouldn’t it be a lot less messy if we just lived together? No need to work out joint finances, go through the hassle of changing documents to reflect our marital status, and—if it doesn’t work out—just leave. No divorce. No legal complications.
Besides, marriage at an older age complicates matters. Mortality and potential loneliness loom more closely. So, too, the likelihood of losing our life’s savings to medical bills and the frightening possibility of leaving the survivor with nothing. So, better to live together and keep the finances separate as many older people do, right? Yet every night that I reflect on the second mystery of light, I’m reminded of the sacredness of marriage, and so I ask myself, what would God have me do?
Certainly a wedding joins two people and two families, but it occurs within a community, and so it joins that community as well. Married couples don’t have a monopoly on happiness and fulfillment, naturally. Those who live alone, either by choice or by chance, don’t have to go it alone, either. They have family too—if not in fact then in de facto families, the larger community circles in which they live, worship, and work. Thus, the wedding at Cana reminds us that everyone is invited to share companionship and God’s love. After all, wedding celebrations during Jesus’ time involved the whole village. Everyone was, and still is, invited to be part of a living, loving community.
Dorothy Day understood this truth. “We have all known the long loneliness,” she observed, “and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love is found with community.”
3) The Proclamation of the Kingdom
Preach the Gospel at all times and, if necessary, use words. I can’t take credit for that sentiment, attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi, but it sums up well the vocation of Christians to preach the good news of God’s love, using every means available— mostly “just” by living good lives.
It matters how we live and how we treat others. It matters the choices we make. Are we trying to live with integrity and in humble service, putting the needs of others before our own, following the example of Jesus? If so, then we are preaching by our daily actions—however ordinary—the Gospel, with words or without.
4) The Transfiguration
Listen to Jesus. The Transfiguration of Jesus occurs in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and it appears every year as part of the Sunday readings. As with the baptism of the Lord, I’m mystified by the challenge of making the Transfiguration “new” time after time—or different from the baptismal account in its message.
In both accounts, God speaks. In both, God refers to Jesus as “my beloved Son.” However, at the baptism God says, “In whom I am well pleased,” while at the Transfiguration, “Listen to him.” A significant difference. “Listen to him.” That’s a message worth repeating, and one that masks such significance in its very simplicity. We don’t always know which way to turn, how to act, or what to do. Often we rush off on our own without stopping, without praying, and without taking the time to listen to Jesus.
When in doubt, be still and listen, this mystery tells us. Make time for prayer and ask for guidance. We need a reminder to do this, and this mystery does that.
5) The Institution of the Eucharist
Take time to share a meal. The road of life is long. We need food for the journey, food for the body and the soul. When, in despair, Elijah nearly gave up his mission, God gave him food and, by doing so, hope. When the Israelites hungered in the desert, God provided the sustenance of bread and meat. When the people were hungry, Jesus fed them.
There’s a reason we have to eat every day. It reminds us of our hunger for God. We can’t stuff ourselves one day and then go without food for a week without suffering from hunger. Feeling that urge to eat every day might seem inefficient, but God isn’t concerned with efficiency. God is showing us that love and loving relationships—often complicated and inefficient—aren’t a weekly formality. They are, instead, the real essentials of daily life.
And when we are fed, this fifth mystery of light teaches us that we’re to share what we have with others in need. One of the greatest pleasures in life is good food shared. According to Dorothy Day, “We cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love we must know each other. We know him in the breaking of bread, and we know each other in the breaking of bread, and we are not alone anymore. Heaven is a banquet and life is a banquet, too, even with a crust, where there is companionship.” Love transforms even a crust of bread into a banquet.
We need to nourish ourselves through the sharing of a meal, and the sharing of the Eucharist in our larger communities. After all, aren’t both but an appetizer of the heavenly banquet to come—where we will all be in communion with God and one another?
I’ve come a long way since my dozing rosary days. Thank God for that! Mostly I’ve learned to stay wakeful and alert—a common Gospel theme—as I pray the rosary. And, thanks to the five mysteries of light, I’ve heard and am constantly reminded of God’s reassurance that we are not alone, that we should preach the Gospel in what we say but mostly by what we do, that we need to listen for the voice of Jesus and share the sustaining nourishment of God’s love in communion with others.
All in all, the mysteries of light can help make even Ordinary Time, the time of everyday life, quite extraordinary.
Patricia Robertson is the author of three books and numerous magazine articles. This article first appeared in the pages of St. Anthony Messenger.