The Merciful Mysteries?
I've been thinking about mercy a lot lately.
How it's been granted, in spades to me, already.
And to many, hundreds of thousands of others, perhaps more, too.
So it's ironic that the same day I started drafting this post, our friend Theresa at Lumina posted this about mercy. A great image.
Recently, I've started saying a daily Rosary in the car on the way to work, for protection from some rather evil-acting elements in life, doing their level best to cause me havoc just because I did something exactly as I was instructed to do it, nothing more, nothing less.
But in saying this Rosary, especially lately, it got me thinking. It might be thought blasphemous of me, but I've been wondering, why have there never been "Merciful Mysteries"?
Bear with me: this isn't a religious exercise at conversion, and it isn't about using it as a tool for the pro-choice side to trot out their old retort (to which this group has a great reply).
It's merely a preface for anyone who's intelligent and thoughtful, who may want to honestly learn something actually historical, like to understand how it came about as a response to historical events or why people even bother with a Rosary. Also, this preface will lead just to some simple thinking about so many instances of great, unfailing mercy which preceded us on this earth.
I'd learned not too long ago that a Rosary isn't just mind-numbing, empty-headed repetition which seems stupid. In fact, the Rosary came about so that the "little people", the less fortunate, the illiterate, could be included and cared for by having a prayer-set akin to what the monks and the literati had. Kind of like the "giving them an iPhone-of-that-time":
It’s commonly said that St. Dominic, the founder of the Order of Preachers (the Dominicans), instituted the rosary. Not so. Certain parts of the rosary predated Dominic; others arose only after his death.
Centuries before Dominic, monks had begun to recite all 150 psalms on a regular basis. As time went on, it was felt that the lay brothers, known as the conversi, should have some form of prayer of their own. They were distinct from the choir monks, and a chief distinction was that they were illiterate. Since they couldn’t read the psalms, they couldn’t recite them with the monks. They needed an easily remembered prayer.
The prayer first chosen was the Our Father, and, depending on circumstances, it was said either fifty or a hundred times. These conversi used rosaries to keep count, and the rosaries were known then as Paternosters ("Our Fathers").
In England there arose a craftsmen’s guild of some importance, the members of which made these rosaries. In London you can find a street, named Paternoster Row, which preserves the memory of the area where these craftsmen worked.
The rosaries that originally were used to count Our Fathers came to be used, during the twelfth century, to count Hail Marys—or, more properly, the first half of what we now call the Hail Mary. (The second half was added some time later.)
"The final portion of the petition of the 'Hail Mary' was not added until the terrible years of the 14th century as the plague known as 'the Black Death' ravaged Europe. It was then that the common people of the Church cried out to the Blessed Mother in fear and hope, adding the petition 'Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.'"It's also important to note that "...the rosary is not a prayer of words, but of meditation. When a Catholic completes praying an entire rosary of 20 mysteries, he or she has meditated upon the entire gospel; the incarnation, birth, life, suffering, death, resurrection, and glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. No method of prayer is more beneficial than this."
But maybe not exactly the entire gospel of the life of Jesus?
I have been thinking about this for over a year, and in truth, don't know how to boil it down to only five mysteries.
I can think of at least eleven Merciful Mysteries:
- Jesus shows his mercy, curing the daughter of the Canaanite woman who begs that "even the dogs eat the scraps from the master's table."
- Jesus calls Levi the tax collector to be one of his Apostles, later called Matthew.
- Jesus calls down Zacchaeus the tax collector from the tree, says he's eating at his house that night.
- Jesus shows his mercy to the woman caught in adultery, saving her from being stoned to death.
- Jesus shows his mercy, forgiving the sins of the paralyzed man let down on his mat from the roof, then curing him.
- Jesus shows his mercy, raising Lazarus from the dead.
- Jesus shows his mercy to the widow at Nain, raising her only son from the dead during his funeral procession.
- Jesus shows his mercy to the respectful thief dying on the cross next to him.
- Jesus shows his mercy and asks his Father's forgiveness for all his crucifiers, saying "They know not what they do."
- Jesus shows his mercy, descending into "hell" after his death to redeem those redeemable by his cross and resurrection.
- After his resurrection, Jesus shows his mercy by giving Peter the three occasions to reaffirm his love for Jesus, thus atoning for his three denials of Jesus.
For those of us who regret our abortions, it is all but impossible for the others in our lives to accurately estimate the depth of the despair and grief we feel but try to hide.
For what I've done, I have felt that I should be as truly hated and despised as tax collectors were in Jesus' time.
What I did really was no better, and actually worse, than the adulterers of Jesus' time, who were stoned to death, not forgiven.
I have felt that I should be as utterly destitute as widows were then, when their only sons died, because they would be stripped of any property or rights they ever had and be forced to be homeless and beg in the streets or turn to prostitution, if they could survive that.
And these feelings didn't come from being Catholic or even religious. They just were, natural, there. Buried for twenty years, but there all the same.
I guess they came from, deep down, knowing the fundamental truth we all have grown up with, that, as Bill Cosby once said (in his comedy routine "Baby" from the album "Why Is There Air? Volume III, circa 1965-66): "It's human in there!"
Yet because this one, other Man existed, long ago, and because of Who he was and is and always will be, I can not only get up each morning and keep putting one foot in front of the other, I can forgive myself and thrive again on this earth.
Remarkable, I know, but blunt truth.
It's commonly accepted that at some point in his adult life, Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen to him. He even predicted it to his disciples, not once but twice.
I've got to say that if it were me, knowing all that, I'd really not be feeling much mercy towards my persecutors. As in, none whatsoever. I have a hard enough time when someone tailgates me on the highway at 60 mph!
So this Extreme Mercy is something I 1) cannot understand, 2) cannot imitate (but will try), 3) cannot explain, and 4) can only ask for and then receive.