Updated: Sep 16, 2020
Almost every time I pray the rosary, something wonderful usually happens. No matter how freakin' nuts it has been with the kids, how many times I've lost my temper, muttered under my breath or angrily scoured dishes in the sink, the 20 minutes I spend in prayer with my rosary ends up leaving me with peace.
Now...does that peace last very long?
No. I have toddlers.
What the rosary shows me is that, amid the craziness of life, I can enter into the quiet chamber of my heart and be with Jesus. He strengthens me, gives me the grace I need and I'm back in the game, ready to try again. To love better than I did 20 minutes earlier, to cultivate patience and humility in the real-time "stuff" of life.
Because, newsflash: When you ask Jesus for patience, he gives you opportunities to practice the virtue of patience. #ToddlerTantrums #NotReallyWhatIWasAskingForJesus
To live NFP well, we need grace upon grace. We need every virtue and every gift of the Spirit in order to discipline our wills and grow in authentic love. What I find is that every mystery of the rosary ties into some virtue or gift the Lord revealed to us in his life by the way he lived.
The Luminous Mysteries are the newest mysteries of the rosary, added by Pope St. John Paul II in 2002. They have always been my favorite, as they follow Jesus' years of ministry.
The first Luminous Mystery is Jesus' Baptism: He opens the way. He consecrates the waters of baptism and gives them their true healing power. This is why Baptism is a Sacrament and effects real grace in the life of one who is baptized. It is the door through which every Christian must pass through. It is not merely a symbolic gesture of "following Jesus." It is a tangible encounter with the grace of God; it heals our souls from the stain of Original Sin, which we are all born with because of Adam.
When we enter the waters of baptism, we hear the same words God spoke over Jesus -- "This is my beloved, in whom I am well pleased."
At the core of who we are, we are beloved by God. We are precious, unique, and all together loved by Him who made us. If he did not love us, we would simply not exist. It is sheer love that holds the whole universe in place. Because God is Love.
NFP is about love. It is about saying to your spouse, "You are my beloved." Love is not a mere feeling, but a willing of the good for the other person, according the Church by way of St. Thomas Aquinas. When we are united in the sacrament of Marriage (another tangible outpouring of God's immense grace -- he loves marriage!), we are made new. A new one-flesh union. We begin something new, with God at the center.
The Second Luminous Mystery has been one I think on often as I learn more about the Blessed Mother -- The Wedding Feast at Cana. This is Jesus first public "sign" in the book of John pointing people to who he is -- the Messiah. And he was prompted, gently, by his little mother. We mothers can all take a lesson from Mary. She didn't nag or pester Jesus. She just came up beside him and told him, "They have no wine." She knew, already, how to intercede for us.
We whine, we plead, we stamp our feet and huff in exasperation when things are not going well.
Mary shows us how humility responds to need: confidence. She is confident in her Son's ability to set all things right.
And before Jesus even agrees, Mary speaks her last recorded words in Scripture, words that ring in every Christian heart:
Do whatever he tells you.
Obedience. It's that simple. The Wedding Feast at Cana is about obedience to God. NFP, when practiced faithfully, is being obedient God's design for marriage and families, respecting his immense creativity and loving invitation to be co-creators with him. True obedience says, "I will do what you want, O Lord, because I love you."
Here is where obedience gets a bad reputation. We think obedience is milquetoast, something for ninnies who can't "think for themselves." Lemme tell you -- Living NFP to its full context of the Gospel ain't for sissies or wishy-washy folks. It takes guts, and a whole lotta grace, to truly be open to life, to not "plan" every little thing according to your own designs. It is being honest with God about your fears, but also saying, "I trust in you, and you want what's best for me." It is responding to the prompting of the Holy Spirit in fidelity and faith.
We all want our own way. We all think we have our lives planned out the way they ought to go. But, we usually want some pretty mundane and selfish things. Money. Vacations. A sink without dishes. The kids to pick up their toys without having to say it 867 times in 5 minutes. A full eight hours of sleep. To fit into a smaller pair of jeans. Perfection according to the world's standards.
Those are not things God wants for you. Are they bad? No, but God wants more than your house to be clean. He wants you to be healed. And whole. But...to let him heal you, you have to trust. And obey. Often, obedience leads us places we'd rather not go, but they end up being what's best for us, whether we are able to recognize it or not.
The Third Luminous Mystery is Jesus Proclaiming the Kingdom. Jesus spoke about the kingdom, but he also lived it. He healed the lame, restored life to the dead, and was almost stoned more than once. How are we proclaiming the kingdom with our marriages? Like I said earlier, marriage is a Sacrament. It imbues couples with real, efficacious grace to go out and proclaim the kingdom with their lives -- how they live, how they love, how they view and raise their children.
There's a saying that goes like this: more is caught than taught.
How many times have you changed someone's mind merely by your words? You can say all the right things, but if your life isn't reflective of what you are saying then you might as well say nothing. NFP is love in action. It heals, it restores, and it gives life. When we live it with God to the fullest extent that we can, we praise God and give witness to his amazing tenderness and mercy.
The Fourth Luminous Mystery is the Transfiguration. This mystery contains so many beautiful passages to dwell on, but I want to focus on just one. When Jesus took Peter, James, and John to the mountain top and revealed his glory to them, they were undoubtedly awestruck to see his incredible majesty. But the Father's voice from heaven, again announcing his great love for the Son, scared the daylights out of them. They fell to the ground, pinned by the immensity of God's power.
But Jesus says, as he had so many times before, "Get up, and do not be afraid."
NFP...it can be scary. When we have to relinquish our illusion of "control" to God and trust him with our fertility and with our discernment, it pins us with the immensity of what God seems to ask: trust.
Do we trust God enough to believe that he loves us?
Do we believe that he is present, loving and willing our good at all times?
These are important questions to reflect on. God is never far from us, but we can wander. Often, we go very far away in our hearts. Maybe our lips move in the pattern of prayer, but our hearts are shut tight and we are leaning against the door, full of fear. How can we trust such an infinitely powerful and almighty God to love each one of us with unique and personal tenderness? Yet, that is what NFP is deisgned for: to help us discern, with God, what he wills for us in our lives, and our response to his love dictates what we do.
Do we run, or do we surrender?
Finally, my favorite mystery: The Institution of the Holy Eucharist. Within it, Jesus gives himself entirely to his disciples, and to us. Body, blood, soul, and divinity. Knowing what lies ahead -- the utter agony and suffering he will endure, all for love of us who were lost in our immense sin-- he holds nothing back. Knowing how much we need him present to us, he gives us his flesh and blood. We are nourished and cleansed every time we receive him at Mass in the consecrated bread and wine. This is the truly the bread of angels. He gives it to us and asks us to remember him. We carry him out into the world to live in his love.
NFP is the consummation of the Sacrament of Marriage. NFP says, "I will hold nothing back from you. And I receive all of you, including your fertility."
In a culture where kids are not received with love and generosity, where a woman's fertility is an inconvenience to a man's sexual urges, use is rampant. NFP says, "I will not use you for my own gratification. I will love you as a whole person for everything you are and have."
Our bodies were made in the image and likeness of God. We are very good. Sex is very good. Very, very good. But it only keeps its essential goodness within the proper order of things. Sex is not for its own end. Sex is, in its truest nature, creative; sex is ultimately procreative, either spiritually between spouses, or physically when a child is conceived. Divorced from those ends, it becomes a weapon of use.
The Luminous Mysteries keep teaching me that I have so much to learn about living in the life of God with my husband. We are not perfect. We struggle to live the gospel message of NFP to its fullest extent. Because NFP isn't just about sex. NFP is about love, about giving ourselves, totally and entirely, to another person in union with God. It requires discipline, respect, immense charity and sacrifice. It lays aside baser "wants" for what is truly necessary -- love in the name of Christ.
I hope you take a few moments to pray the luminous mysteries of the rosary and invite Jesus' life and ministry to speak into your marriage and vocation.
And don't worry, if you get stuck, confused, or downright distracted, just hand that prayer to our Blessed Mother -- she knows just what to do.