Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Rosary: A Genuine Path Of Contemplation

Today's post continues with the theme of October Is The Month of The Rosary and specifically focuses on the contemplative aspects of the Rosary based on the writing of Saint John Paul II's Apostolic Letter, Rosarium Virginis Mariae.

With the recent passing of the new feast day for Saint John Paul II of October 22—which has been aptly selected to annually commemorate his inauguration as Pope on October 22, 1978—today's post also serves as part of my own personal tribute to a man whose life example has been a great source of hope, understanding and encouragement for my faith journey.

If you are unfamiliar with Saint John Paul II, I hope you will be encouraged by this reading to discover his life and the enormous contributions of his pontificate.

St. John Paul II at his inauguration Mass
Saint John Paul II's inauguration Mass October 22nd, 1978

Based on my own faith experience, many of my fellow Catholics seek contemplation in their prayer life. Sadly a significant amount of Catholics, in trying to fill the spiritual void in their lives, have turned to New Age practices, such as Yoga, Tai-Chi and Reiki and Eastern religions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism. In addition, many of today's Catholics have become secularized and simply do not know about the Rosary as one of the few contemplative prayers available from the Catholic faith. The need to discover the truth about the Rosary's contemplative aspect was noted by Saint John Paul II in Rosarium Virginis Mariae's Introduction: 
But the most important reason for strongly encouraging the practice of the Rosary is that it represents a most effective means of fostering among the faithful that commitment to the contemplation of the Christian mystery which I have proposed in the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte as a genuine “training in holiness.” Inasmuch as contemporary culture, even amid so many indications to the contrary, has witnessed the flowering of a new call for spirituality, due also to the influence of other religions, it is more urgent than ever that our Christian communities should become “genuine schools of prayer” (5)
In the Catholic tradition, the Rosary is a genuine form of contemplative prayer that is fundamentally Christocentric. Saint John Paul II noted in Rosarium Virginis Mariae that, "With the Rosary, the Christian people sits at the school of Mary and is led to contemplate the beauty on the face of Christ and to experience the depths of his love. Through the Rosary the faithful receive abundant grace, as though from the very hands of the Mother of the Redeemer." (1) It is through the guidance of Our Lady that we are led to Jesus in the most surest and quickest manner.

Saint John Paul II has spot lighted the importance of contemplating Christ with Mary by dedicating the entire first chapter to it entitled, Contemplating Christ With Mary. Citing the example of the transfiguration of Jesus in which the Apostles Peter, James and John were entranced by the beauty of the Redeemer and referring to it as "an icon of Christian contemplation," Saint John Paul II further expands on the gaze of the Apostles at Christ's face as the task of each one of us:
To look upon the face of Christ, to recognize its mystery amid the daily events and the sufferings of his human life, and then to grasp the divine splendour definitively revealed in the Risen Lord, seated in glory at the right hand of the Father: this is the task of every follower of Christ and therefore the task of each one of us. In contemplating Christ's face we become open to receiving the mystery of Trinitarian life, experiencing ever anew the love of the Father and delighting in the joy of the Holy Spirit. (9)
When we recite the Rosary we have Mary guiding us through the various mysteries of Christ's life. Mary's role is not only as our guide, but our incomparable model in the contemplation of Christ. Saint John Paul II noted that, "No one has ever devoted himself to the contemplation of the face of Christ as faithfully as Mary." (10)

Mary's contemplation began through the eyes of her heart, when she turned to Jesus at the Annunciation. It continued in a tenderly way during the birth of Jesus and throughout his life, always filled with wonder and would never leave him. As Saint John Paul II also noted that Mary's gaze would, "...[A]lways be a penetrating gaze, one capable of deeply understanding Jesus, even to the point of perceiving his hidden feelings and anticipating his decisions, as at Cana .(10)

St. John Paul II praying the Rosary on Elk Island, Alberta (Canada) 1984

In reciting the Rosary and contemplating on the life of Jesus, we enter into contact with the memories of Mary. As Saint John Paul II notes, Mary had, "...[H]er eyes fixed on Christ, treasuring his every word: 'She kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.' " (11) Mary's memories of Christ's life prompted her to reflect upon them at her Son's side. These memories that she reflected upon uninterruptedly during her earthly life, became Her lived Rosary. (11)

In Chapter 1 Contemplating Christ With Mary, Saint John Paul II reinforces the special contemplative aspect of the Rosary by quoting from Marialis Cultus, the Apostolic Exhortation from his predecessor, Pope Paul VI:
Without contemplation, the Rosary is a body without a soul, and its recitation runs the risk of becoming a mechanical repetition of formulas, in violation of the admonition of Christ: 'In praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think they will be heard for their many words' (Mt 6:7). By its nature the recitation of the Rosary calls for a quiet rhythm and a lingering pace, helping the individual to meditate on the mysteries of the Lord's life as seen through the eyes of her who was closest to the Lord. In this way the unfathomable riches of these mysteries are disclosed. (12)
Saint John Paul II encourages the reader to pause and consider the above quote, and to recognize in the process that the Rosary is fundamentally a Christocentric contemplation.

Today's post captured but a glimpse of the spiritual treasure contained within Rosarium Virginis Mariae. Reading this document again for this month of October proved to a very beneficial read. I hope that my experience has been a shared one with many others who have done likewise.

This apostolic letter is but one of the many gifts given to the Church and the world through the life and pontificate of Saint John Paul II. If you have yet to discover this great saint in the Church, I hope that will soon change. Thank God for Saint John Paul II.

Our Lady of The Rosary, pray for us.

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