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Today I am assigning a Rosary project to my students. They will each need to put together a Rosary meditation using images and quotes on PowerPoint slides. It’s very simple. They choose a set of mysteries and devote one slide per mystery for the set they have chosen. Each slide has the name of the mystery, one image to depict that mystery, and one short quote. Usually when images accompany Rosary meditations they are depictions of the mystery itself. This is what I am modeling for my students and what I expect to see from most of them. However, I’m also going to show them examples of images that do not so much depict the mystery, but rather give a narrowed interpretation of the mystery. (I call this an interpretive image. This is not the best name, however, because all images are interpretive). It’s an interesting exercise. The advantage of the mystery itself being depicted is that it allows for greater freedom in what one may meditate upon concerning that mystery. The advantage of an “interpretive” image is that it brings our attention to an aspect of the mystery that we may have otherwise never thought of. The following are the examples I am giving to my students of interpretive images with accompanying quotes.

The Annunciation

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I will make all things new.

The Institution of the Holy Eucharist

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For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. 

The Carrying of the Cross

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He took away our infirmities and bore our diseases. 

The Ascension

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One short sleep past, we wake eternally, And death shall be no more, death, though shalt die. 

This last image more than the others requires a little explanation. It points more to the fruit of the mystery – hope – rather than the mystery itself. I was struck by the bleakness of the environment and the contrast of the girl’s interiority with it. Within her is light, warmth, joy, and life. Within her is hope.

 

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When studying theology it is very easy to fall into the trap of turning it into a superficial exercise: it becomes academic, a “study” of God as if such a thing were possible. It is easy to get caught up in the wonder and beauty, and at the same time not let it penetrate your heart, your life, your religious practice. All theology is apophatic. The deeper one delves into the mysteries of God the more one becomes aware of their position of not knowing. Ultimately, the Mystery is incomprehensible and inexpressible. When St. Thomas Aquinas experienced this truth at the core of his being, he declared that all he had written seemed to him as straw and he never wrote again. (To clarify, Thomas did not say this because he thought God couldn’t be known – He can be! No, he said this after receiving a vision which impressed upon him the ultimate inexpressibility of the mysteries of God). Paradoxically, the nearer one approaches the Lord, the more intimately one enters into relationship with Him, the more they become aware of their not knowing. Easy to say, but not so easy to live. What does this truth, this mystery mean for my life? How do I allow myself to be penetrated by it, rather than just “know” it intellectually? How will my life change should this happen?

There was none on Earth nearer to God than His mother. By the above, therefore, it stands to reason that there was no one who was more acutely aware of not knowing Him than His mother. In The Lord, Romano Guardini says, “Everything that affected Jesus affected his mother, yet no intimate understanding existed between them.” It would be an understatement to say that I was shocked reading these words. Faith planted in my heart experienced a small quake. There are still tremors. I do not want to accept these words; and, yet, I can’t help but sense an audacity in Guardini that follows in the tradition of St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. Athanasius, St. Paul, and our Blessed Lord, Jesus Christ, God.

I would like to look at one episode to see this lack of understanding. Mary obviously knows that her Son is not conceived of man. He is different from all others. When he had disappeared though, she looked for three days before finally finding Him in the Temple. We are told that when Mary and Joseph found Him they were astonished, they did not understand Him when he replied to His mother’s question, and having returned home Mary pondered these things in her heart. Why did she not look there first when she knows that he is conceived of the Holy Spirit? It seems obvious to us that Jesus must be about His Father’s business. But we have 2,000 years of Christian tradition behind us. Mary was a Jew, a pre-Christianity Jew, and a strict monotheist in accordance with Jewish understanding and religion. If this was your life context, as it was for Mary, your child being conceived of the Holy Spirit and being the Messiah would not necessarily immediately translate into your child literally being the Son of God.

There are a couple things this lack of understanding points us to. First, Mary’s heroic perseverance in the virtue of faith is second to absolutely no one. Her’s was a faith greater than that of Abraham. This faith was manifested through her constant trust, but it was also manifested in another way. This second way in which her faith was manifested goes beyond simply trusting and following: she pondered. She took into her heart that which she did not understand despite her lack of understanding and she pondered. She let the mysteries take root in her and form her. By faith, not understanding, “she accompanied the incomprehensible figure of her son every step of his journey, however dark. Perseverance in faith even on Calvary – this was Mary’s inimitable greatness.”

My soul magnifies the Lord… This mystery of Mary’s faith leads to a mystery of her Son, a mystery that I think is probably little thought about: “the unspeakable remoteness in which He lived.” What must it have been like to live as Christ lived among men? (Don’t even attempt to answer this. Like Mary, let the mystery take root in your heart). No one understood Him. The Sons of Thunder did not understand what it meant to sit at His right and His left. Peter, after confessing Him as being the Son of the living God, protests when his Lord says that He must die. There has never been anyone like Him and there will never be another like Him again. He is wholly unique, the God-man. Yes, He fully partook of our humanity, but no one had partaken of divinity. He was alone; that remoteness, that disconnect was with Him His whole life and reached its pinnacle on Calvary. He ceased to be alone when He poured out His Spirit on Pentecost.

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Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab: ‘As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, during these years there shall be no dew or rain except at my word.’

For the next three years not a single drop of rain fell on Israel. Let that sink in.

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People, livestock, and wild animals died of dehydration or starvation. As the drought continued people had to slaughter their livestock for food (and so slaughtering part of their livelihood); they had to forage for food hoping to find some little plant with meager fruit; they had to dig deeper wells not knowing whether or not they would come upon water lower in the earth. Parents watched their children die; infants sucked at barren breasts crying with no hope of satisfaction.

And, yet, all this was but a reflection of a much more severe drought: a drought of the spirit. The people of Israel (the northern kingdom after the division) had turned their backs on the One Who Is and Who is the All-Sufficient One. They turned their backs on He Who brought them out of Egypt and gave them their inheritance though they deserved nothing He did for them. Under the influence of their kings beginning with the first of the northern kingdom, they abandoned their God. They gave themselves to false gods, to fictions that do not exist. Their hearts within were drier than the land without. Under the influence of that most wicked of women, Jezebel, they did not simply turn to Baal; in addition, the prophets of the one true God were put to the sword. There was a violent revolt against those faithful to Him, the Lord God of hosts. So the Lord gave them what they wanted: a life without Him and His provision for them. But this is not an abandonment on the part of the benevolent One. No, now He is providing what they need most of all: knowledge through experience that He alone is God and He alone is able to provide for them. If they want to worship Baal and receive from it, and put the Lord’s faithful prophets to the sword, then let them see what Baal can provide. The answer, of course, is nothing.

In the third year, the drought became so bitter that even the king with all his provisions and stores had to scour the land for grass that he may not have to slaughter any of his own livestock. That things had come to such a state and the people had not cried out to God for forgiveness and to return to them shows how stiff-necked, stupid, and shallow these people were. I draw attention particularly to the fact that they were shallow because of what event finally brought them to acknowledge the Lord God as the one true God: the contest between Elijah and the 450 prophets of Baal (850 if we include the 400 prophets of Asherah). It was no secret that the rains ceased when Elijah, a prophet of the Lord God of hosts, proclaimed that they would. It was also no secret that the rains would come again at the word of that same prophet. For three years Baal and all the other so-called gods that the people gave themselves to were wholly impotent. With their very lives on the line, you would think this would be enough to make the people realize their folly and turn back to God. But no. Instead, a contest was held on Mt. Carmel. A contest in which the sacrifice offered to Baal went the whole day unconsumed by fire; and the sacrifice offered to God was immediately consumed by fire from heaven. The people saw a sign; the people were entertained; the people in their shallowness now turned back to God. The prophets of Baal were promptly put to death by the people. Shallow as the reason was, the people did turn back, and the rains came again. Without rain they had no life, no sweetness, and no hope. Now with the rains returning they would.

‘There is a cloud as small as a man’s hand rising from the sea.’… In a trice, the sky grew dark with clouds and wind, and a heavy rain fell.

This cloud, which at first was seemingly nothing, was seen from the top of Mt. Carmel after the prophets of Baal had been put to death, and is the cloud from which the heavy rain fell. The Carmelite order, which yesterday (July 16) celebrated the feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, has always seen in this cloud a type of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

As the world approached the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the progression of the Jews became ever more quiet. Not the quiet of peace, but the quiet of a drought, a stagnation. Gone were the patriarchs, the kings of the line of David, the Ark of the Covenant, the prophets, the judges, and, finally, in the last few decades leading to the birth of Christ, gone also was the inspired writing of Holy Scripture. The Jews had once again lost their independence. They had a false king, that devil on earth named Herod, and were under the rule of the Roman Empire. It is in this situation that “a cloud as small as a man’s hand” was sent to us. She was a young woman, perhaps as young as 13, who was of low birth to insignificant parents in an insignificant town. A young woman who no one cared about in her own day and should have been lost to history as so many billions upon billions of other men and women have. But from this woman, who is full of grace, came the greatest grace upon humanity that there ever was: the Incarnate One, Emmanuel, God-With-Us, God made man, the Son of God and Son of David, the One Who is life itself and fount of all life, the One Who is the only hope of all mankind. He and she are the linchpin, the turning point of the whole of human history. He is our life, our sweetness, and our hope; but He only comes to us through her, His mother. They are inseparable and, so, she too is our life, our sweetness, and our hope.

This is not just a matter of a particular event in the past though. This is also the truth in our own lives today. How stiff-necked, stupid, and shallow I have been in my life, just as the Israelites in the days of Elijah who wanted to be entertained, and the Jews in the time of Jesus who wanted the same in addition to their stomachs to be filled though they had no need of it. But I and we do not need to be shallow, or stupid, or stiff-necked. God has given us eyes to see and ears to hear. Let us have the honesty to see the drought that is our lives when we are without Him, and the humility for that to be enough to cry out to Him. So let us cry out together: Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, pray for us, save us, bring us to rest in the heart of your Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, hiding within His pierced side, and never letting go of He-our-Love.

Let the wilderness and the dry-lands exult, let the wasteland rejoice and bloom, let it bring forth flowers like the jonquil, let it rejoice and sing for joy. The glory of Lebanon is bestowed on it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they shall see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God. (Is 35:1-2, Morning Prayer, Solemnity of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel)

Lady of Carmel - Simon Stock

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They had run out of wine. Israel too was in this state before Christ had come. No more kings; no more prophets. There were many inspired writings from the post-exilic period, but this too was waning. By the time of Mary’s birth, more than a generation had passed since the last inspired work of the Old Testament was written. Israel had once again lost it’s independence, this time to Rome. They had a king, but not of David’s line and one who was subject to Roman governance. This after the Maccabean revolt had not only resulted in Israel’s independence for the first time since the exile, but also with borders nearly identical with the kingdom at the end of David’s reign. When the angel appeared to Mary, Israel’s wine had dried up.

At the wedding feast when the wine was gone, Jesus produced the finest wine, and He did it in pots used for washing. He not only produced exceptional wine in dirty pots, but did so in abundance. There was more than enough. (Where sin abounds grace abounds all the more; and He lavishes His grace upon us).

Between the wine being gone and the abundance provided stands Mary. And between the drying up of Israel’s wine and the coming of the Messiah, Who is God, there is also Mary. Her actions at the wedding feast at Cana point to her actions in the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. She who is immaculate from her conception, who is Daughter Zion, are we really to believe that she was not petitioning the Lord for Israel’s sake before the angel appeared to her? She was no ordinary child. She was full of grace and pondered within her heart. She was not blind to the sad state to which Israel had fallen. In love for God and His people to whom she belonged she would have been calling upon Him and with the deepest longings of Her heart begging for the Messiah, Who would save all, and restore and establish the everlasting kingdom. So it is through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary that we whose wine was gone would receive the abundant outpouring of grace, the wine of the new and everlasting covenant. In this way she is revealed by her Son to be at the crux of divine economy and the salvation of all for the Son did not act without the Woman.

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Today marks the 750th anniversary of the death of St. Simon Stock to whom our Lady gave the Scapular with this promise: “Take this Scapular, it shall be a sign of salvation, a protection in danger and a pledge of peace. Whosoever dies wearing this Scapular shall not suffer eternal fire.” This is quite a promise. (It is also not alone among the great promises made by our Mother and our Lord). It also, unfortunately, is misunderstood by many people. There is a temptation to treat the Scapular like a superstition. One may think something along the lines of this: “If I’m wearing these two little brown squares when I die, I’ll not go to hell. It is guaranteed.” But the Scapular is not a talisman and grace is not magic. While the grace of God is free, there is no compulsion in our cooperation with it. To properly understand the Scapular promise – “Whosoever dies wearing this Scapular shall not suffer eternal fire” – one must remember the words of our Lady in the above picture. The Scapular is a sign of our love and devotion to our Lady. Simply wearing the Scapular, however, does not make that a reality. So when we think of the Scapular and its promise let us think of the great love and solicitude that our Lady has for us. She is the Queen of Heaven for her Son is the King of kings. She is the spouse of the Holy Spirit who dwelt within her as He did in no other or ever will again. She is the handmaid of the Lord and the daughter of Zion who continually shouts for joy for our salvation. To run to her is to run to the Lord for He is her everything, and there is nothing more that she wants than to unite us to Him and none can do this better. The Scapular is the garment of our Lady. To be clothed in it is to be clothed in her mantle. Whosoever dies wearing the Scapular upon their heart and not merely their breast shall not suffer eternal fire, but will have eternal life. Amen.

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