Finding Joy this Season of Advent

“Who here as ever prayed the Rosary?”

This was a question posed to several of us by Brother Jim Woodrum, our wonderful spiritual guide, during a pre-Advent retreat at the Society of St. John the Evangelist just a couple of weeks ago.  Assuming he was referring to Anglican rosary beads, with which I have prayed on many occasions, I naively raised my hand.  However, he was not referring to Anglican bead work as I soon discovered.  (What is that old saying about what happens when you assume something?)  Instead, Br. Jim was referring to praying the Mysteries of the Rosary, the contemplative prayer practice used by most Roman Catholics and many Anglo-Catholic/Oxford Movement Episcopalians.

This was something I had never done as I had always assumed (seriously, what is that old saying?) that praying the rosary was in essence praying to the Virgin Mary for intercession, a practice my Protestant heart and mind could not fathom.  Again, I was mistaken.  As Br. Jim told us, praying the Rosary is not seeking intercession through Mary but rather a way for us to ponder and meditate upon the mysteries of Christ’s Incarnation – Christ’s working in us and the world about us – through the eyes of his mother, Mary.

For those of us unfamiliar with the Mysteries of the Rosary, there are three – the Joyful Mysteries (focusing on the events leading to Christ’s birth), the Sorrowful Mysteries (focusing on the events of Christ’s crucifixion and death), and the Glorious Mysteries (focusing on the events of Christ’s resurrection and ascension, as well as Mary’s own assumption into heaven).  

As we proceeded through the first of the three Mysteries, we in the group realized that the events of the Joyful Mysteries did not always seem to be readily or clearly joyful.  Rather, they seemed to be more a time of confusion, a time of fear, a time of darkness, a time of worry, a time of anxiety – times and feelings which often mimic our own lives today.  Which is why, Br. Jim said, we contemplate on finding the joy in such times.  When we sit in quiet reflection and ponder each Mystery through the eyes of Mary, we can see the presence of God at each moment in time.  God is always there – Christ is always present.  At no time is Mary ever left abandoned – ever left alone.  And the same is true for us.  God is there to guide us when we are confused, to strengthen us when we are afraid, to be our light in times of darkness, to calm us in times of worry, and comfort us in times of anxiety.  God is our hope and our joy.  This is both cause and reason for joy – for rejoicing – for proclaiming as Mary did, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.”  

This Sunday, the 3rd Sunday in Advent, is often known in some churches as Gaudete Sunday.  The word “Gaudete” comes from the Latin opening words of the introit antiphon, “Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, Gaudete!” ("Rejoice (Gaudete) in the Lord always; again, I say, rejoice!”)  Philippians 4:4.  We light the third candle of our Advent wreath – the candle that is pink – which represents Joy – the Joy that Christ’s coming brings to each of us.  And we rejoice in the fact that God is always and ever present in our lives, no matter our confusion, fear, darkness, worry or anxiety.  May I again say rejoice?  

And if we ever have trouble finding it, which I admit sometimes happens to me, perhaps we should try and sit, and quietly look for that joy through the eyes of Jesus’ own mother, Mary.

Peace and blessings to you this Advent,

Fr. Bill

P.S., if you are interested in Praying the Rosary and pondering the incarnation of Christ in us and our world through the eyes of Mary, please let me know.