Now, I hear you --
Tonya, why are you writing about the rosary on your NFP website?
First off, no one is more surprised to write a blog post about the rosary than I am. It is one of those things I struggled with initially when I became Catholic.
What was all that repetition for?
Why the heck is the main prayer one directed to Mary?
Why does it take FOR-EV-ER to pray (average is about 20 min, unless you're an auctioneer)?
Still, true to my competitive, all-or-nothing nature, I committed to praying a daily rosary during my first Lent before entering the Church #AllTheSorrowfulMysteries
I prayed on my knees in my living room during Norah's nap time. Every. Single. Day.
And it was torture!
It was uncomfortable (I am no "old camel knees" like St. Paul).
I fumbled over the words.
I 110% struggled with the "Hail, Holy Queen" prayer every time I said it...
I mean, "Mother of mercy"? "Our life, our sweetness, and our hope"? Say, what now?
Mary and I had a pretty strained relationship.
Jesus' mom? Not so much.
After that first Lent, I backed off the daily rosary pretty hard. It was like...a weekly rosary. Maybe. And though I had read "Hail, Holy Queen" by Dr. Scott Hahn (fan-flippin-tastic book) and could see Mary's Queenship and role foreshadowed in the Bible, I just couldn't see her as my mother, or as someone I could go to for comfort, help, and inspiration.
Then, a few things happened this past year.
1) I had an intense conversation about faith with a friend that spurred me into promising the Blessed Mother a daily rosary for her intercession in this person's faith life.
2) A conversation with a deeply devout Catholic who refers to Mary as "Mom" in conversation and in prayer. She says things like, "Well, Mom, what are we going to do about that?" That relationship was something I wanted. I wanted to see Mary as my mother, as someone I could ask for help in times of confusion. I wanted to call her "Mom," too.
So I started praying a daily rosary.
Every day (almost...okay, there's been a few, semi-lengthy breaks), I sit or kneel and pray with my Relevant Radio audio rosary, or I just pray it on my own.
Sometimes, it is a time of beauty, of pondering Jesus' life and how I can be like him.
Other times, I am counting down the Hail Mary beads and my mind is wandering from grocery shopping to chores to dwelling on something someone said that may or may not have been a slight.
It. Can. Be. Excruciating.
But what I find is that I always feel better afterwards, even if it was an incredibly distracted time, but when I say the ending prayer, in which there is the line "while meditating upon the mysteries of the most holy rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary," I'm embarrassed because meditating on the mysteries never happened!
I have learned (only recently, as a point of grace and not of my own ability) to turn that very imperfect rosary over to Mary and let her clean it up a bit. I entrust my petitions, though watery and imperfect, to the mother of my Lord who, when she pointed out a need ("They have no wine"), responded by turning water into wine.
Mary brings me to Jesus and he turns the water of my petitions, daily living and struggle into the sweetest wine of grace.
But... what does the rosary have to do with NFP?
Very recently, I started praying more imaginatively into the mysteries, particularly the Joyful Mysteries.
Honestly, they've always been my least favorite.
They're not dramatic like the Sorrowful Mysteries, which recount the Lord's Passion, or victorious like the Glorious Mysteries, which detail his resurrection and ascension.
They certainly aren't the Luminous Mysteries, which embody Jesus' years of ministry -- these are my favorite, because they contain the Institution of the Holy Eucharist.
So, what started this deepening of prayer within the Joyful Mysteries, which encompass Jesus' Incarnation, birth, and what we know of his early life?
It was Mary.
I began meditating more intensely on her experience of these moments in Jesus' life. Her total "yes" to God from the beginning, without a clue as to what was being asked of her, continues to stun me, makes me want to be just as radical in my trust. Her willingness to receive her Lord and Savior in her body, in her womb, shows a humility that makes Satan quiver in fear and loathing. Her "yes" would be the initial catalyst that broke Heaven open for the whole world.
And as if that wasn't enough, she received the Lord in a more incredible way -- giving birth to him in a dingy, smelly barn. She said yes to a labor and delivery that was way, way off the beaten "birth plan." No bed to rest in during or after labor, no cradle for Jesus. No amenities or midwife present to guide her. Just Joseph, a donkey, and a pile of hay.
She received the Lord and all that he brings.
The Joyful Mysteries are teaching me about what saying "yes" to God looks like in daily living. The profound grace that pours out of our consent to what the Lord wishes to give us is immeasurable. Saying "yes" to God is receiving him in all circumstances -- scary, dirty, smelly, dark, beautiful, joyous, and sad. When we let him in, he responds with unimaginable mercy and love.
And this grace is not ours to keep, but to give away in service of others.
Nothing about Jesus is meant to be squirreled away and kept for ourselves.
Grace is like manna. Daily, God provides it. Daily, we gather it. But grace is meant to feed and sustain us so we can go out and love others without hesitation.
NFP is about the natural rhythms of life, about understanding and cooperating with our fertility in the context of a family.
It requires grace upon grace upon grace that only God can provide.
It is self-giving, each spouse holding nothing back, receiving all of the other has and is in total love and respect.
NFP is saying "yes" in all circumstances, planned or unplanned. No matter how tech-y NFP gets, there are still "method failures." A baby is never a failure, though. It is a gift. Sometimes, it is very much a gift we didn't realize we wanted. Sometimes, that gift more closely resembles a cross.
Most of all, practicing NFP says to God, "I trust You."
When Mary trusted in the first Joyful Mystery of the Annunciation, she didn't huddle at home in confusion or fear after Gabriel announced that she would bear God's son -- she goes out to serve. In the second Joyful Mystery of the Visitation, Mary "made haste" to Elizabeth, her cousin, to serve her in the final trimester. This is also a grace. When we receive everything God has for us, not caught up in ourselves or our own agendas, we can pour our hearts out in service of others. NFP helps us foster attitudes of service and humility.
When Mary receives Jesus in the third Joyful Mystery of the Nativity, she shows us how we can also receive him into the less-than-ideal, and often uncomfortable circumstances of our lives. And where ever he enters, he brings light. That light shines so bright that people cannot help but seek him out, experiencing the immeasurable joy on he can give.
When Mary, in the fourth Joyful Mystery of the Presentation, brings Jesus to the temple eight days after birth, she was promised by Simeon that a sword would pierce her heart.
Did she run? No.
She pondered in her heart all that Simeon prophesied, and trusted.
That trust took her with Jesus all the way to the cross. She stood at Jesus' feet and watched her son die in the most humiliating way the Romans had dreamed up -- crucifixion, utterly stripped of clothing or dignity, gasping for every breath. This is what she witnessed.
Still, she continued to trust, though she did not know (yet) that death was not the end of her son's story, but just the beginning.
NFP can also be a path of sorrow, whether it's unplanned pregnancies or the pregnancy that just won't take. But it's a space for us to grow in trust that God works all things for the good of those who love him. It's a place where we can rest in his arms and not try to figure everything out or control all the outcomes.
We are presented with opportunities to follow Jesus to the cross, to embrace the rough wood with him and say the words Jesus poured out to his Father at Gethsemane, "Not my will, but yours."
The final Joyful mystery is Finding Jesus in the Temple -- when Mary and Joseph lose Jesus while leaving Jerusalem and find him three days later in the temple.
Jesus said, "Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father's house?"
Mary had no idea what he meant, but she "treasured all these things in her heart." She took these words, this happy reunion, and simply thanked God in her heart for the gift of Jesus.
NFP can be confusing, difficult, and even scary. But we can find Jesus in all of it.
And where we find him, there is treasure beyond all telling.
Sometimes, all we can do is simply store up the sweet consolations of his tangible presence so when the hard stuff -- the really hard stuff-- inevitably comes, we can trust that Jesus is right where he said he always will be-- with the Father and also with us.