The Joy that Mary and Joseph experience when they find Jesus in the temple is not unique to them. Rather, it is an experience that is often repeated in the spiritual life. We are all invited to “find” Jesus – “Seek and you shall find” (Mt. 7:7). Sometimes we find Him already with us; sometimes we have to experience distance or loss before His presence can be perceived.
There are many reasons and purposes for which we might experience a “loss” of Jesus in the spiritual life. Sometimes we create distance by our own sin, concupiscence, or apathy. Or, we may feel spiritually distanced from God during seasons of desolation in which God is trying to grow us in some new way. Discernment during these seasons of loss is often difficult; it is challenging to understand what is happening or why distance is occurring.
The experience of feeling the nearness of God again, after such a season of loss, can be overwhelmingly joyful, but it can come with questions too. Consider the description of the interaction between Jesus and His parents after they found Him in the temple:
When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. (Lk. 2: 48-50, emphasis added)
I am reminded again here of the personhood of Mary and Joseph. They are not single faceted characters; rather, they are living, breathing, and feeling people. Even in their holiness and perfection, even in their total devotion to Lord and Son, they do not fully understand. Their joy comes with question, and their question comes with trust.
Reflect on a time in your own life when you have felt distance from God. What joy did you experience when the season ended? What other emotions did you experience along with joy?
For more on the Joy of finding Jesus, click the link below. Share your prayer with your family, and come back next week for something new!
The story of finding Jesus in the temple leads me to wonder about all of the other stories and intricacies of Jesus’s early life. What did the Holy Family’s experience when they lived in Egypt? Were their basic needs (food, shelter, and clothing) always easily attained, or did they struggle and sometimes go without? What would it be like to join the Holy Family for a “normal” day, or sit with them for a meal? How did they pray together, work together, and live together? Were Mary and Joseph’s parenting responsibilities and experience similar to other parents’?
For years I thought that lack of objective answers to these questions meant that they were not worth asking. But lately I find that I am able to draw nearer to Jesus and closer to Mary and Joseph, when I allow myself to wonder and imagine. Too often I have glossed over the particulars of their lives and forgotten their humanity and personhood. For it is people – actual humans like you and me – who must eat, sweat, toil, lose, laugh, and live. The Holy Family experienced all of these things similarly to us; they lived, died, rejoiced, grieved, loved, lost, and experienced.
Too often I have prayed the mystery of finding Jesus in the temple without first experiencing the loss of Him by His parents. Or, I have cloaked their personhood in a sort of unreasonable detachment that does not fully experience loss, pain, fatigue, or worry. Rather than gloss over what I do not know, I look to my own emotions. How would I feel if I lost my child for 3 days? How might Mary and Joseph’s experience be different from or similar to my own?
When Mary first finds Jesus she says of herself and Joseph, “Your Father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety” (Luke 2:48, emphasis added). From this I assume that Mary and Joseph’s experience of losing and finding Jesus must not be entirely different than my own experience might be.
With Mary and Joseph seek to feel the full weight of loss, without glossing over feelings or letting holiness reduce humanity. Equate this to a personal experience of loss. Have you ever felt like you “lost” Jesus in your daily life? What was this experience like? How long did the season last, or is it still ongoing? In retrospect, do you see a purpose or cause for the “absence?”
Click the link below for more on Finding Jesus in the Temple. Remember to share your prayer experiences with your family. Come back next week when we will explore the Joy of Finding Jesus.
Obedience is another virtue that seems to be no longer in vogue among secular social ideals. For most, the thought of obeying to an outside authority – whether that be God or another person – would be an affront to one’s personhood. We live in an era where personal truth and expression trumps all else. We aspire to be self-directed, independent, and in control. Where then is there room for obedience in the modern vernacular?
The sort of obedience that we see displayed by Mary and Joseph (and later Jesus), is not an acquiescence from their own wills. Their obedience is not self-deprecating; it is self-giving. Mary does not lose herself (or her Son); she offers herself and dies to herself. In some sense one must first possess their own life in order to actively lay it down. Perhaps by this, true obedience is not an act of weakness, but an act of strength, yielded or given.
In the mystery of the presentation we encounter Mary and Joseph as they offer their Son to the Lord. As Hannah before them, they present Jesus to His Father – not in idol ceremony, but as total gift. In obedience they follow every prescription of the Law. In love they make total gift of self and Son.
In order to consider the true weight of Mary’s obedience, I find that I must first consider the person of Hannah. For more on Hannah and the price of obedience, click the link below. Share your insights with your family, and come back next week for something new!
The Presentation marks another mystery in which Mary is the recipient of lively, weighty, and (presumably) unexpected conversation. In each early moment of Jesus’s conception and birth, it seems that someone is “dropping in” on Mary with astonishing announcements or sweeping proclamations.
In the Annunciation, Mary is visited by Gabriel and asked to become the Mother of God, “Hail, favored one, the Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28). In the Visitation, Mary is unexpectedly greeted by Elizabeth, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Luke 1:42). At the Nativity, the Holy Family is visited by shepherds, who share their story of angelic contact. We are not privy to the details of exactly what was said, but we are told that Mary and Joseph “were amazed by what had been told (to) them by the shepherds” (Luke 2:18)
Now in the Presentation, Simeon greets the Holy Family with what must have sounded like another strange and unexpected bidding. Simeon blesses Mary and Joseph together, then he turns, looks only at Mary, and speaks to her alone. “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted, and you yourself a sword will pierce so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35).
Mull over these words. What do they mean? Mary, though sinless and perfectly faithful, is not all-knowing. Perhaps she does not yet know the meaning of this prophecy either. It is clear that this prophecy (perhaps not unlike all of the announcements she has received thus far), contains notes of joy and sorrow together. “Fall and rise … sign and contradiction … heart will be pierced.”
How does Mary receive and react to round after round of unexpected, life-altering information? How does she behold that which she may not yet completely understand? Does she know what is coming her way, or like us (albeit, infinitely more faithful), does she wade through life’s mysteries with only partial information, only able to make sense of her circumstances retrospectively?
Throughout the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary, we see Mary and Joseph question and wonder with perfect faith but not total understanding: “How can this be?” (Luke 1:34), “they were amazed at what had been told to them” (Luke 2:18), “the child’s mother and father were amazed at what had been said about him” (Luke 2:33), and “But they did not understand what he said to them” (Luke 2:50).
Mary is endlessly receptive – even when news is unexpected, difficult, or incomplete. I heard the statement recently that “love always receives.” In the Presentation, receptivity means that Mary is willing and ready to joyfully accept the prophecy of Simeon, even without complete understanding. Personally, I find that Mary is much easier to relate to when I realize that (like me) she does not have foreknowledge or complete understanding of her circumstances. This is part of what makes Mary so beautiful. Trusting God through life when we don’t know all of the eventualities or outcomes – that is true faith.
The phrase that is written twice to summarize the early events of Jesus’s life is, “Mary kept all of these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (Luke 2:19, 51). Not only does Mary receive the (sometimes difficult) words and prophecies of God spoken through others, but she keeps them, cherishes them and reflects upon them in her heart.
For more on the Presentation, click the link below. Share your thoughts and prayers with your family. Come back next week for something new!
Detachment is the spiritual fruit that is associated with the mystery of the Nativity. But what exactly is detachment, and how does it differ from callousness or apathy? Certainly the Holy Family was neither callous not apathetic, yet we can rightly assume that they were radically detached. But what exactly does this mean and how would our lives be different if we were detached?
Detachment can also be thought of as poverty of spirit. But, it seems that from our modern perspective, poverty of spirit is a very underappreciated and misunderstood virtue. Imagine what would happen if you took a random survey asking your neighbors and friends, “Would you like to be poor in spirit?” What do you think the typical response would be? I would expect to hear a resounding “No.” Why is this? What do you think it means to be poor in spirit? Does one have to be monetarily poor to be poor in spirit? Is spiritual poverty the same thing as detachment?
In my experience, detachment can best be understood through the observation of my own attachments. Personally, I tend to not be aware of my attachments until they are tested. This is to say, I usually do not even know I am attached until the object of my attachment is taken away from me. This “pruning” process is a great grace offered by God (although admittedly it does not always feel so great in the moment!). “Every branch that [bears fruit] he prunes so that it bears more fruit” (John 15:2).
I often notice that my attachments create small pangs of interior disquiet or unrest when they are removed or provoked. For example, perhaps I observe one of my children behaving in a way that is the very opposite of how I want them to act. I feel flushed with embarrassment and overwhelmed with the need to control or correct the situation. Whatever interior peace I once experienced has now completely vanished.
This is an opportunity to explore my own attachments. Perhaps I am embarrassed because I want others to think well of me, and I am attached to my own reputation. Perhaps I want to control the situation because I want to be the perfect mother or have perfect children, and I am attached to my own desired excellence. The opportunity to explore interior unrest helps me to identify and behold my own attachments. However, only God has the power to remove them.
Being a rather attached individual, I can only imagine what it must feel like to live unrestricted by attachments. I think that it would be radically freeing. I imagine that one living with open hands and hearts (not full of wants or entanglements) would be free to follow God completely and without reservation. Empty spiritual pockets and a trim spiritual waist line (i.e. poverty of spirit) would make one more agile and available for God’s call.
For more on detachment, click the link below. Share your prayer with your family. Come back for something new next week!
Do you ever find it difficult to imagine the Nativity with fresh eyes and an open heart? Does it seem particularly challenging to avail yourself to new insights from a story you have (most likely) heard so many times?
Perhaps more than any other story or Biblical encounter, the mystery of the Nativity invites us to wonder. Imagine Joseph and Mary (who is perhaps already in the early stages of labor) as they enter overcrowded Bethlehem. “No room,” is their only greeting. This is my first “stop” when meditating on the Nativity. I find myself in the innkeeper’s words, “No room.” I see myself overcrowded with pride, often too busy to receive the Christ Child. Here I ask for the grace to be still and open, to be uncontrived and humble like the stable – not so full as Bethlehem.
Now Imagine Jesus newly born – literally the God of all creation embodied in a downy-skinned, heart-faced infant. Imagine His legs curled up in fetal position and His little feet, puffy and rounded out, so many months away from being ready to walk. Perhaps His arms are flailing because He does not yet have the capacity to control His own limbs. Mary swaddles Him to help Him rest. What would it be like to cradle God, made present to the world as an infant?
Take a moment to behold this beautiful spiritual reality, now, plunge the scene into actual human reality. Consider the dirty stable, perhaps the “mess” of birth, the muck of the manger, the noise of animals, and the smell of manure. Next, imagine the shepherds – scruffy, unpolished, and unbathed – crowding in the already cramped quarters. How ordinary – even less than ordinary or well below average – the initial moments of Christ’s human life must have seemed.
With the shepherds, I want to empty myself of possessions and attachments, so that there is room enough in my arms to receive my Infant Lord. Like the manger I want to be humble and empty, so that there is room for me to hold Him. Too often I am like Bethlehem and the innkeeper, crowding out Jesus with task lists and schedules. “No room,” I say, with my calendar in hand.
The guided meditations linked below can be used as an aid to enter into the mystery of the Nativity. Meditate on the parts that speak to you; skip over the sections that don’t. Share your thoughts and prayer with your family. Come back next week for something new.
In last weeks’ blog entry I mentioned that somehow between many “failed” rosary praying attempts and regimens, I began learning this one simple fact: the mysteries of the Rosary are not something that we are meant to master. Rather, we are called to enter into them and to let ourselves be mastered. But what exactly does it mean to be mastered by the mysteries of the rosary? How are we invited to truly enter in?
St. Ignatius encouraged others to prayerfully enter into Christ’s life by imagining His life events from different perspectives. One may enter as another person explicitly involved in the scene, as an unseen observer from a distance, or even as an inanimate object (i.e. one could imagine being the hay in Jesus’s manger). St. Ignatius encouraged silence, and for meditation to sink deep rather than spread broad.
Considering the mystery of the visitation we may contemplate: What does it feel like to be Mary, perhaps nauseous in the early stages of pregnancy, traveling a far distance by foot? What is happening in the heart and mind of Elizabeth as she enters the late stages of pregnancy at an advanced age? What does it feel like or what happens when John is filled with the Holy Spirit? Imagine the perspectives of John the Baptist of even Jesus, experiencing the visitation in utero. Or perhaps imagine yourself as Zechariah, witnessing such beautiful displays of faith in total silence.
If you find yourself unable to enter in as deeply as you would like, go back and read the text in the Bible. Try reading slowly until a particular detail or phrase sticks out. Sit with that thought for a while. Don’t be afraid of silence and don’t feel discouraged if nothing “happens.”
Entering into the mysteries of the Rosary is ultimately a grace that comes by way of asking, not by forcing or trying harder. “Seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened” (Matt 7:7). Repetition may prepare your heart for receptivity, but ultimately it is Jesus who teaches and God who causes growth.
If you are want more in-depth resources, meditation suggestions, or discussion questions, click the link below. Don’t forget to share your experiences in praying the rosary with your family!
October is the month of the Rosary, with the feast of our Lady of the Rosary occurring on October 7th (which also happens to be the first Sunday of the month this year). This is a precious time to grow in our devotion to Mary as the Queen of the Rosary and, through the mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary, to come to know and love Christ our Savior. In honor of the Rosary, we are putting a challenge out to the Ascension community, to get as many families as possible to pray the Rosary. If your family can commit to one Rosary, that’s great. If you can commit to more, even better. The point of this challenge is just to pray the Rosary as a family. The power of prayer knows no limits. Thank you for signing up and may God bless you abundantly.
When I first started praying the rosary, I have to admit that I initially felt a bit underwhelmed by most of the suggested meditation points – the so-called “mysteries.” Honestly, I just didn’t understand them. Or more accurately, I assumed that I did understand them and therefore didn’t get what all of the fuss was about. In short, the mysteries just didn’t seem all that mysterious.
My mediation on the Visitation would have followed like this:
“Okay, so Mary decides to go visit her Cousin Elizabeth, who is also pregnant. Got it! Elizabeth sees Mary coming and is somehow filled with the Holy Spirit. Now this is pretty amazing, and I certainly can’t explain what is happening here, but without additional objective data, there really isn’t anything left to explore. Now Mary responds to Elizabeth with a beautiful hymn of praise. She is the Mother of God after all, what else would you expect? Now I can check the box on meditating. Done.”
The mysteries of the Rosary are supposed to call us to wonder. But, from the perspective of thinking I had the mysteries all figured out, there really wasn’t much left for me to consider. In my early experiences of the Rosary, there was very little space for prayer and almost no room for genuine spiritual encounter. As a result, my version of praying the Rosary felt very repetitious and (to be blunt) exceedingly boring.
My early attempts to pray the Rosary daily faded with exhaustion. Carefully considered prayer plans fizzled. What was I missing? Somewhere between my many failures I began to learn. The mysteries of the Rosary are not something that I am meant to master. Rather, I am called to enter into them and to let myself be mastered.
Entering into the mysteries of the Rosary takes time and silence. Repetition (even when riddled with apparent failures) really is the best teacher. This is your invitation to enter into the mysteries of the Rosary and to let yourself wonder (and maybe wander a bit too). You can check out the Rosary Encounter on our social media pages or in the bulletin. Try praying it with your spouse or with your kids. You can also come here to find additional resources and something new each week. Click the link below for hints on meditation and discussion questions.