Sherry Antonetti is a freelance writer, blogger and published author of The Book of Helen. She lives just outside of Washington, DC with her husband and their ten children.
“Mom, can you help me with my homework?” I hate this question more than anything. I especially didn’t want to stop what I was doing, given I’d been fighting writer’s block. However, since the blank page wasn’t helping me any, I squished my irritation and said “Sure,” with as much enthusiasm as I could muster.
“It’s about religion.”
He had to write a reflection on the fifth joyful mystery—the finding of the child Jesus in the Temple. “I don’t know how do even do that.” He admitted. So we pulled up the mysteries and I read aloud to him. Afterward, he asked the obvious question, “What does it mean to meditate on the mysteries?”
So we talked about how each mystery is (as the name implies), more than merely what happened in the life of Jesus and the life of his Blessed Mother. I explained how if we look at all of the joyful mysteries, one of the virtues which leaps forward in each of the moments, is humility. There are bowed heads of obedience in each of the moments.
Mary before the angel, obediently choosing her fiat.
Elizabeth greeting the Blessed Mother who has come, head bowed to serve her.
The shepherds and kings, kneeling before the infant Jesus, have obeyed the urgings of the Angels.
In the fourth mystery, Joseph and Mary offer their son, in accordance with the law, in obedience to their faith, while the prophetess Anna and prophet Simon, are likewise rewarded for their obedience. Obedience is a manifestation of humility, it is the submission of one’s own will to someone else’s.
My exegesis of the Joyful Mysteries was growing a little long for my 13-year-old.
“Ah, but you have to do the fifth mystery, and it’s of particular import for you.” I explained. “Why?” he asked. “Because you are 13, and Jesus is 12 in the mystery. You go to Mass with your family. Jesus is found in the Temple, and He comes to the Temple in the first place, because his parents are observant of their obligations to visit the Temple. And here’s the kicker: When He leaves, Jesus is obedient to his parents while growing up.”
My son gave me wry smile, “This is one of those using-the-Gospel-to-prove-a-point moments, isn’t it?” I grinned. “Yes. Yes, it is.” He looked back at his assignment. “You still haven’t explained how you meditate on the mysteries. You’ve only explained part of what they reveal.” Ouch. “Okay, smarty.”
I pulled up paintings of the fifth joyful mystery. “Look at these. Look for similarities across ages in the pictures. Look for differences. Try to put this whole story into real life. Imagine you’re at some place interesting, but we don’t know where you are at all. Imagine how we might react. You’d want to phone me. But imagine you forgot your phone, or it’s out of juice.”
“You’d be worried,” he said. “You’d be calling everyone you could think of. You’d be driving to where you saw me last and asking everyone. You’d be praying. You’d be freaking out.”
“Yes. All of that. Now imagine this went on for three days.”
He said, “You’d be a mess. You’d have called 911. You’d have everyone you could think of, praying. You’d post it on Facebook, all over social media.”
“Now you’re getting it. Now imagine the feelings of being found.”
“You’d cry, I’d cry, Dad would cry, we’d probably throw a party.”
“You better believe it. We’d kill the fatted calf and that feast would go on for at least a week. Don’t get any ideas about getting lost for three days so you can have a party, by the way.” He laughed.
We went back to the text, and I said again, “There’s always more. That’s the great mystery about scripture itself. It is inspired by the Holy Spirit, so it is always speaking.”
“What did it say this time?” he asked.
“Don’t forget to notice the other details. Jesus is lost for three days. There is foreshadowing of his death and the three days in the tomb.”
I explained that the more you look, the more you ponder, the more you see, or rather, the more you discover. Meditating is spending time allowing yourself to see, to listen, and to ponder on the reality, both the physical and the deeper reality of these events. I told him, “It is true for all the mysteries.”
He said, “You should write a column. I could bring it in and…”
“After you write your assignment,” I told him.
After he left to start typing, I sat staring at the mysteries… and decided, it was more than an assignment, it was a spiritual exercise to try. John is preparing for Confirmation this year. Giving him a collection of meditations on the Rosary might be a really cool gift to give him to start out his life as a Confirmed Catholic. It would help me with my own prayer life as well, to go deeper and deeper into the Rosary. I made a mental note to hold a feast for him… as a thank you for not making me look for him for three days, and for the inspiration.