Using Mary’s Frame of Reference to Find God
When I was praying the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary recently, I realized an ugly truth about myself: if I were in Mary’s shoes, I would have a difficult time seeing the events in the mysteries as joyful. In fact, I imagined myself complaining about them and using each of the events as a reason to feel sorry for myself. This idea took over my meditation, and I began to see each mystery primarily in terms of the sorrow it caused for Mary.
I was thinking of the mysteries in this way:
- The Annunciation – When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to tell her that she would give birth to the Son of God, her entire life completely changed. By consenting to God’s plan, she was consenting to guaranteed hardship and the huge responsibility that would come with being the Mother of God.
- The Visitation – After finding out that you are carrying a child, the last thing most women want to do is travel. If you found out that you were carrying the Son of God, I can only imagine the ensuing anxiety over having an impeccably healthy pregnancy. Yet Mary didn’t take it easy or even think about herself—she made the long journey to visit a cousin who was also expecting.
- The Nativity – Imagine making a long trip by donkey during the last leg of your pregnancy. Now, imagine that it is time for you to give birth while you’re on that trip, and the only space available is a dirty stable. At this point, if I were Mary, I would think that someone was playing a cruel joke on me.
- The Presentation – After all the hardships of Mary’s most unusual pregnancy, she and Joseph presented Jesus in the temple and consecrated him to God. They were essentially relinquishing power and entrusting their child to God after having done so much to bring him into the world. And what did Mary receive in response? The promise that a sword would pierce her (Luke 2:35)
- The Finding of Jesus in the Temple – It is traumatizing for any parent to lose a child. This must have been exponentially true when that child was Jesus. Though the main event of this mystery—finding Jesus in the temple—is a happy one, it would have been so easy to let this incident sow doubt and a lingering mistrust in Mary’s mind.
I was troubled by this interpretation of the Joyful Mysteries and concerned that it was so pervasive in my prayer. But then, I realized that, from a human perspective, of course the Joyful Mysteries would not seem joyful. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8). When all these events happened in Mary’s life, however, she was so close to God that she was able to understand them in relationship to him.
With this in mind, I began to think of the mysteries in this way:
- The Annunciation – God gave Mary a precious gift and the most beautiful mission a human being could have: to bear his Son. In no way did this disrupt Mary’s life. It brought her further along that path for which she was created.
- The Visitation – Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth, was not supposed to have been able to have children. Yet the child in her womb, John the Baptist, proclaimed the Messiah from the very first. Everything about Mary’s visit to Elizabeth was a sign of God’s love and faithfulness, an assurance that what the angel told her was true.
- The Nativity – More than likely, Mary did not give herself or her own comfort a second thought when it was time to give birth to Jesus. She saw the much greater context in which this temporary hardship was taking place: God was taking on human flesh for the salvation of our sins. There could be no greater job in the world than to do her part in his divine plan.
- The Presentation – Mary’s entire life was dedicated to trusting in God and believing that his plan was good. In consecrating the child Jesus to God, Mary knew that she was putting him in the very best hands.
- The Finding of Jesus in the Temple – Being without sin does not mean being immune to trials in life. Losing Jesus was just that for Mary—a trial. Mary did not despair, but trusted God and answered his call to diligently search for Jesus. What she learned has been a blessing to all of us: that we can always find Jesus in his Father’s house.
Understanding the events in the world and in our own lives is all a matter of our frame of reference. We can read anything as challenging or distressing, if we so choose. Or, we can follow Mary’s example and find the ways that God is working in everything that happens. Like Mary, we can trust that it is all part of a plan for good, and realize that it is our job to simply say yes. God is always at work in our lives. When we take the time to see that, we can find an abundance of joy.