On a cold Christmas Eve, a 17-year-old girl with silky blond hair and pale blue eyes gave birth to a baby boy. It had been an unexpected pregnancy that culminated in a difficult delivery, but as the new mother cradled her newborn, she realized that her life had changed forever.
She was young in years, but as she gazed down at her baby, she felt a great swelling of protectiveness and responsibility toward her son. Women dressed in white attended to the new mother and her child until all their immediate needs had been met, after which the child was whisked away so that the mother could rest.
Exhausted and feeling equally empty and filled in a way she couldn’t yet quite describe, the young woman looked out the window from her bed. No snow, she thought. No white Christmas. She drifted off to sleep.
She awoke later that night, in the predawn hours of Christmas Day, realized the baby wasn’t near, and got out of bed. She walked down the hall, the hospital quiet, the fluorescent light blinding. Somehow, by instinct, she knew where to go, even though she’d never before been in a place like this.
She stopped at the viewing window. Her eyes searched the rows of glass cribs, each one containing a child swaddled in a receiving blanket, their names written in ink on pink and blue index cards attached to the bassinets. She found her son, felt something leap inside her, and watched him sleep beneath the warm stars of electric light.
She touched the window that separated her from her child and swore to protect her boy, to raise him right, to honor God, to do whatever she needed to do to make sure that he was safe. She whispered, “I will always love you,” and as if the boy heard, he stirred for a moment and then became still.
I don’t remember my mom saying those words to me, but I do remember how, through the best of times and the worst of times, she was unfailingly there to guide and protect me, to make sure that I did my homework and got to school on time, to make certain that I was respectful to God and others.
My mother was a deeply religious woman who worked as a housekeeper during the day and at night she assisted my father, who was a carpenter and upholsterer. I look back now and realize that, especially as our family grew (she gave birth to four daughters, my sisters), she must have been perpetually sleep deprived and stressed. But none of that got through to me when I was a boy.
Through exhaustion and endless hardships, she kept her vow to protect, guide, and support her children. Throughout everything, my mother kept a sincere devotion to Jesus, praying to him every night. She also cultivated a deep prayer relationship with the Blessed Mother, whom she relied upon for guidance during dark nights and challenging days.
My mom isn’t much different from billions of other mothers who have fed and cleaned, sacrificed and instructed their own children throughout life. And she’s not much different from Jesus’ mother, except that the Blessed Virgin Mary was born without sin, gave birth to God, and is the queen of heaven.
OK, those are big differences, but the similarities are strong and the importance of motherhood is sacred. This is why devotions to the Virgin Mary are so popular. She’s a mother — a very special mother — but she’s also a human being who suffered the pains of childbirth, protected her child from harm when he was a boy and young man, and had to suffer as a witness to her son’s brutal execution.
She was always with him during the big moments of his life, good and bad. Love for another is always a mystery, existing in unknown places in our hearts. It is this mysterious love that lies at the heart of one of the most popular devotions in Catholicism: the rosary.
As most Catholics know, the rosary is a collection of prayers involving a string of beads that are used to keep track of the numerous Our Fathers and Hail Marys we recite while meditating on certain mysteries of Jesus’ and Mary’s lives.
Now, mysteries engage our senses and our intellect. They challenge us to solve puzzles, to look, listen, and pay attention to people, places, and situations we may normally overlook. Consider the beloved fictional detective Sherlock Holmes. The keen-eyed sleuth’s methodology involved scrutinizing connections, used his shrewd acumen, and tapped into his intuition to solve one conundrum after another.
Similarly, we are called to be spiritual detectives when we pray the rosary. The difference between Sherlock’s task and ours is that we are not looking for a smoking gun as much as we are asking the primary witness, the Virgin Mary, to reveal to us the secrets of love and mercy that lie behind the life of her Son, Jesus.
The rosary, a contemplative devotion, is a collection of 20 different events in Jesus’ life told to us through his mother, Mary. When we talk about point of view in movies and books, we are essentially talking about who is telling the story.
While the rosary has often been seen as a prayer cycle to the Blessed Mother, it is actually about sitting in Mary’s presence and having her relate the stories of the most joyful, sorrowful, luminous, and glorious moments in her son’s life from her unique point of view as a mom.
I like to think of the rosary as a scrapbook of an extraordinary life, one that I can look at while sitting side by side with someone who can personally tell me all about these moments in Jesus’ life, because she lived them with him. As we turn the pages of the scrapbook, we are shown spectacular and meaningful scenes that are very important to Mary.
“Oh, this is when I found out when I was pregnant. You wouldn’t believe who told me!”
“This is the night Jesus was born. There were angels everywhere.”
“Jesus could be a little stubborn. Here is a picture of us at this wedding we all went to, but everything turned out well in the end.”
These stories and mysteries are her son’s big moments in life. As Mary remembers and lingers over these pages, she commemorates these moments with pride, pain, and joy. If we are to connect heart-to-heart with the Blessed Mother as she sits with us and remembers, we need to know what it is she is sharing with us.
And what she shares with us is a mother’s love and her desire for us to know Jesus, her precious son, more deeply in image, in word, in spirit, and in prayer.
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Praying the rosary
1. Choose a set of mysteries. Make the sign of the cross. Recite the Apostles’ Creed while holding the crucifix.
2. On the first bead say an Our Father (the Lord’s Prayer).
3. On the three beads that follow, recite a Hail Mary for each and meditate on three virtues: faith, hope, and charity.
4. Recite the Glory Be between your last Hail Mary bead and the next. On the following bead, say an Our Father and then begin meditating on the first mystery. Ask Mary to share her story with you.
5. Moving to your right, or counterclockwise, begin praying the Hail Mary. Repeat this prayer for each bead and continue meditating on the mystery.
6. After reciting a Hail Mary on each of the 10 beads, recite the Glory Be. This completes the first decade.
7. Repeat steps 5 through 7 for each mystery, continuing along the rosary beads, and conclude your prayer with a Hail, Holy Queen. Finish your rosary by making the sign of the cross.
— Gary Jansen
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