Mississippi Catholic

1 2 Columns REFLECTI ONS ON L I FE B y M elvin A rrington When I was in college in the late 1960s one of the recordings that received a lot of airtime on the radio was “Turn! Turn! Turn!” by the Byrds. The song, based on the first eight verses of Ecclesiastes chapter three, tells us there’s a time for everything. It ends with “a time for peace, I swear it’s not too late,” a line that was to those of my generation a direct reference to the Vietnam War. No, it’s not too late for peace. We still need it in our country today, especially as the COVID-19 virus con- tinues to spread. During these days of quarantine, soon to be measured in months, we have witnessed food rationing, hoarding and social distancing, the latter a practice totally contrary to the best instincts of human nature. Other public health restrictions on the size of gatherings have even resulted in the closing of church- es. These situations have created a great deal of unrest and uncertainly and, among some, even panic. Yes, we need peace in our country today, but most of all we need it in our hearts. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus proclaimed, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” (Matthew 5:9) If we want to take on that role, we must first be at rest in our innermost be- ing. And true peace, the third of the Fruits of the Spirit, can only come to those who have a personal relationship with Jesus. Everyone longs for tranquility in at least some as- pect of life – in our country, at the workplace, in the home – and we all long for peace of mind. But more importantly, what we real- ly desire is peace of soul, that inner calm in the face of all life’s storms. So, how is it possible to attain it? Certainly not by attempting to forge it through our own efforts. There’s only one way, by surrender. Jesus said, “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39) If we believe what He said, St. Paul’s paradoxical statement, “When I am weak, then I am strong” (II Corinthians 12:10) actually makes sense. People often say there’s no need to worry about things beyond our control. That’s easier said than done. Nevertheless, whatever burden I’m carrying, I need to give it up, and surrender it to Jesus. He’s in control, and He can handle things a lot better than I can. What He offers is a supernatural form of peace, one that “surpasses all understanding.” (Philippians 4:7) So, when life becomes overwhelming, we ought to rely on His promises: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27) No, the world can’t fulfill our deepest longings. Only Christ can do that. The current crisis will one day pass, and another will take its place. We all had to change the way we live after 9/11, and we’re going to have to make even more adjust- ments in the wake of the current pandemic. Right now, the whole world is in exile. We’re all ex- periencing isolation and separation from friends, neigh- bors, even family. Yet, despite these impositions, we now find ourselves with a lot of free time for reflection on the things that really matter. These days when I read and ponder Old Testament passages concerning the Babylonian captivity, those readings now suddenly seem relevant to modern times. And I’m beginning to have a better understanding of the loneliness and despair that many nursing home residents deal with on a daily basis. I’ve also developed a greater empathy for Central Amer- ican refugees who find themselves separated from their loved ones. Dire situations faced by others always take on greater urgency when we are forced to experience those things for ourselves. But hard times also bring out the inventiveness and ingenuity of the human spirit. Think of all the humorous responses we have seen to this crisis. That doesn’t mean the internet wits who created all those funny videos, pictures, drawings and sayings are not taking this virus seriously; on the contrary, they are using their creative talents to bring us together and make us strong. This is not about politics; it’s about health – mental, physical, and spiritual – and it’s about being at peace. Yet, in spite of all the trials we face at the present moment, hope remains. At the conclusion of his lives- treamed Easter 2020 Music for Hope concert from the Duomo di Milano, Andrea Bocelli walked out the doors of the empty cathedral to the deserted piazza facing it, and there he sang “Amazing Grace.” Especially moving was his inclusion of this often-omitted verse: Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail, And mortal life shall cease, I shall possess, within the veil, A life of joy and peace. Everlasting peace, that’s the prize. “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, grant us peace.” ( Melvin Arrington is a Professor Emeritus of Modern Languages for the University of Mississippi and a member of St. John Oxford.) THINGS OLD AND NEW B y R uth P owers In the long tradition of the church, the month of May has been traditionally devoted our Blessed Mother. The catholic devotion that is probably most closely connect- ed to her is the rosary, so let’s take a look at how that form of prayer developed. Catholics are not the first people to pray using beads. Beads or knotted cords were used by Hindus and Bud- dhists to keep track of prayers long before they advent of Christianity. In Christian practice the Desert Fathers in the third century were known to use stones or knot- ted “prayer ropes” to keep track of their daily recitation of the 150 psalms. A little later in the Eastern church the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me”) became popular and was repeated over and over while counting beads. In the Middle Ages the common people, who were often illiterate, wished to join in some way with the devotional prayer taking place in monasteries, where recitation of the 150 psalms was done daily. Since most people know the Our Father, they began to use strings of beads (called paternosters for the first words of the prayer) to count out the recitation of 150 Our Fathers in place of the psalms. In fact, the word bead, comes from the Old English word “bede,” which means prayer. These beads, and the prayers that went with them were sometimes called the poor man’s breviary. The prayer most closely associated with the rosary, the Hail Mary, took over a thousand years to reach its modern form. The earliest version simply added the name of Mary to the words spoken by the angel in Luke 1:28. Repeating this phrase while counting 150 beads was popularized by Pope Gregory the Great (590- 604). The second phrase from Luke 1:42 began to be added sometime between then and the early 13th century. The final petition (Holy Mary, mother of God, etc.) was added by St. Peter Cani- sius in his first catechism in 1555 and finalized in the Catechism of the Council of Trent in 1566. Another development in the monasteries, that of add- ing a phrase relating to the life of Christ and His mother after each of the 150 psalms, led to the development of the mysteries of the rosary. These were simplified into the Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious Mysteries in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. In 1569 Pope St. Pius V officially promulgated the rosary in the form we know now: 15 decades of Hail Marys introduced by the Our Father and concluded with the Glory Be, along with the 15 mysteries. The rosary remained unchanged for over 400 years until 2002, when Pope St. John Paul II introduced a fourth set of mysteries, the Luminous Mysteries. These mysteries add events of Christ’s public ministry to the meditations of the rosary. In his Apostolic Letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae , he proposed including events from Jesus minis- try to help catholics enter more fully into the life of Jesus through the rosary. Another addition to the rosary, although unofficial, occurred as a result of the appearances of Mary at Fati- ma in 1917. Mary told the three children who saw her to pray for world peace by reciting the rosary every day. She also asked the children to add a short prayer at the end of each decade: “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell; lead all souls to heaven, especially those in most need of thy mercy.” Many cath- olics today incorporate this prayer into the rosary. No discussion of the rosary would be complete with- out mention of St. Dominic Guzman (died 1221). There is a tradition that he devised the rosary as we know it after a vision of the Blessed Mother. The first written mention of this did not come until more than 250 years later in 1495 when it was mentioned by Pope Alexander VI as a “pious belief.” Scholars tend to doubt the story, as there are no mentions of it in the earliest accounts of Dominic’s life or in the Domini- can constitutions, and paintings of St. Dominic from his lifetime and shortly after do not include it as a symbol to identify the saint. What cannot be doubted is that St. Dom- inic had great devotion to Mary, which he used effectively in his crusade to convert the Albigensian heretics in France and Italy, and may well have used the version of the rosary available in his time. However, we have seen that the form of the rosary that most cath- olics recognize today was the result of a long process of development culminating long after Dominic’s death. Some scholars think that this belief tying St. Dominic to the rosary may be due to confusing him early on with Dominic of Prussia, who did a great deal to promote the idea of meditating on the mysteries in the early 15th century). What we cannot doubt is that the rosary at all its stages of development has been a valuable practice for enriching the spiritual life of catholics. (Ruth is the Program Coordinator for St. Mary Basilica Parish in Natchez. She has over 35 years’ experience as a catechist and theology teacher at all levels from preschool to graduate school.) A time for peace MAY 8, 2020 MISSISSIPPI CATHOLIC Praying by the bead