As a child, I had a keen awareness of God, although it did little to keep me away from trouble. It seemed like I was always in some kind of trouble between the ages of 5 and 10. I was the child that was kept after school nearly every day of the week, only the punishment often backfired because I really loved school then. And I loved having the chance to actually write on the chalkboard, my teachers' chosen punishment. Of course, I'd be writing things like, "I will not talk in class," or "I will not disrupt the class," at least one-hundred times, but as I did so, I'd pretend that I was actually writing out a lesson, and that for that moment, I was the teacher, and that made me feel grown up and important.
One instance of my getting into trouble stands out more than the others. When I was still attending Catholic school, my best friend Maria Elena and I used to steal away from the rest of the class to sneak into the church to light candles. We'd sneak off a lot, but this time we had an especially good reason. She wanted to light a candle for her little sister who was ill. Completely ignoring the candle donation sign, we went along lighting candles, thinking that if we lit ten or twenty, we'd certainly get better results than if we lit just two. I had no concept of time back then. Some may argue that I still don't. But we must have been "missing" for a lot longer than I realized. I can't even imagine my mother's terror at not finding me with the others in my class. Eventually, it was realized that Maria Elena was missing as well, and of course by then, the tension was doubled with two frantic mothers, instead of one. We were, of course, eventually found. My mother was simultaneously irate and relieved, although I only acknowledged the anger. But she couldn't stay mad for long. We were only about six or seven, and we were so resolute in our desire to pray for Maria Elena's little sister. My Mom was touched enough to let it go.
Some time later, my friend's little sister died. She called me on the phone shortly after it happened. I hadn't realized how unwell she had been. The whole idea of children dying came as a shock. That doesn't happen. That can't happen! But we lit candles and everything! It was an early harsh lesson in the reality that not all prayers are answered, at least not in the way we'd like, and no matter how noble the intention.
Fast forward many years, and I still have faith, despite by now being so accustomed to my prayers not being answered the way I'd prefer them to be. And yes, I do sometimes admit to despair. But I tend to direct a lot of the blame onto myself. If only I wasn't so distracted in prayer. If only I was more steady and deserving. If only I really felt the words I was saying.
And then came the Seven Sorrows Rosary.
The traditional rosary is the devotion we commit to praying daily, and I'm in no way belittling it. In fact, I love it. I love praying it. It brings me peace and comfort. Generally, however, I think it's good to mix things up, and keep things fresh by exploring other devotions. Despite having a Seven Sorrows Rosary and book handy for a few weeks, I had neglected to pray it until just this week, at the prompting of a friend. She had just shared how a long time prayer intention of hers was answered almost immediately after starting it. Now, I don't really have a current pressing intention. In fact, I'm awfully guarded with my intentions. I often feel that I'm only entitled to request help for things that are completely out of my control...issues having to do with the health and safety of family and friends. But everything else? I often feel those are completely up to me. I may ask for peace of mind, wisdom, encouragement, and strength in order to work towards the changes I seek, but I don't ever expect not to work hard for these things. I'm also seldom, if ever, specific. For instance, it wouldn't be like me to pray for a new job. Instead, I'd pray for more diligence. Huh, it just occurred to me in writing all of this, that perhaps I'm going about things the wrong way, although I know that God understands my petitions despite my inadequate attempts to communicate them. That's actually a very comforting thought for me.
Anyway, back to the Seven Sorrows Rosary. I prayed it for the first time this week, and it was extremely moving. While I knew and understood that Mary's suffering had to have been great, reading reflections on her seven sorrows was almost too much to bear. For the first time, I was able to really experience the events of Jesus' life from her perspective, and I found myself crying more than once. As a parent, I lie awake at night worrying about my kids' futures, but my worries are based on just anxiety and speculation. Mary, on the other hand, already knew what was to happen to her Son. It wasn't conjecture. It was prophesied. The very first sorrow is the Prophecy of Simeon given at the time of the presentation at the temple when Jesus was just an infant, when Mary is told that a sword will pierce her soul, too. The second sorrow is the Flight to Egypt. Imagine having to flee your home due to a threat against your infant son's life. Imagine the pain of seeing your child moved in what weren't the best conditions, knowing all the while that your child is God incarnate. And imagine the pain a mother would feel at learning of the murder of so many children at Herod's hands, knowing full well that it was her child he was after.
And the third sorrow, the Child Jesus Lost in the Temple, wasn't all that difficult to imagine, for obvious reasons. It was easy to transport myself back through time, back to my own mother's experience of having lost me for those agonizing few minutes, which I'm sure felt like hours to her. I can't even fathom the fear she would have felt if it was for a day or longer.
It wasn't my intention to list all of the sorrows here, but I may as well do so. Here they are, from the beginning:
1. The Prophecy of Simeon; Luke 2:25-35
2. The Flight into Egypt; Matthew 2:13-15
3. The Child Jesus Lost in the Temple; Luke 2: 41-50
4. Mary Meets Jesus Carrying the Cross; Luke 23: 27-29 *There is no specific biblical reference for this. This sorrow corresponds with the Fourth Station of the Cross, but we can refer to the private revelations of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich in this case.
5. Mary at the Foot of the Cross; John 19: 25-30
6. Mary Receives the Body of Jesus; *No scriptural reference, but there are accounts from visionary saints such as St. Bridget of Sweden, and Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich. This sorrow also corresponds with the thirteenth Station of the Cross.
7. Mary Witnesses the Burial of Jesus; Luke 23: 50-56.
Our Lady of Kibeho
I used the meditations and prayers that were printed in Immaculée Ilibagiza's book on Our Lady of Kibeho. I have since learned, that apparently, there is some variance in how to pray it. Ultimately, I don't think it should matter which instructions you follow, provided you start with the Sign of the Cross, an Act of Contrition, then three Hail Marys for the tears shed by Our Lady (some sites I saw recommend reserving these three Hail Marys for the end), and then start meditating on the mysteries in order, following each one by an Our Father, and seven Hail Marys. The rosary ends with a short prayer you repeat three times. I've seen at least two versions of this. One is from the Kibeho book, and it goes, "Mary who was conceived without sin and suffered for us, pray for us." Another end prayer I found online goes, "Virgin Most Sorrowful, pray for us." Again, this final prayer is repeated three times. End with the Sign of the Cross. According to the visionaries in Kibeho, Rwanda, Our Lady asked that this rosary be prayed on Tuesdays and Fridays. This devotion has a very clear penitential aspect, and it is particularly well-suited, I think, for a day like today.
Here's yet another version I found online that is particularly helpful, complete with meditations, and background information on the history of this devotion, as well as the promises associated with the faithful recitation of it.
Let me know if you get to pray this rosary. It has brought me such a sense of peace, and has allowed me such an amazing window into the sorrows of Our Lady. I would love to hear if it has done the same for anyone out there reading this.