A rosary for activists: the Glorious Mysteries

(You might want to read the background on the rosary as I practice it and its Mysteries).

On Wednesdays and Sundays the Mysteries of the day are the Glorious. These are probably the most stereotypically “Catholic” of the Mysteries, given that the last two are (a) very much about Mary, and (b) based on tradition rather than the Bible.1

Looking at the political events of the last few days, and looking ahead to what we’re facing, the Glorious Mysteries are a worked example of an early mass movement. Some of the story is about what went well; some is…not. All of it is useful for reflection.

The Resurrection

The disciples think Jesus is dead; that the oppressors have won. The men are in hiding, fearful. But the women have work to do, difficult and wretched work, necessary work. Now that the Sabbath is over the tortured body of their dear friend needs to be prepared for burial.

Mary Magdalen, who was—like any woman of the times—not in a position of social power, and whom history calls a prostitute2, finds the body gone. She asks what she thinks is a gardener where the body is so she can go get it.

Then he says her name, and she realizes it’s Jesus. She runs back and tells the others, but they don’t believe her until someone they trust has confirmed her story.

What seems like the end is not: hope is not gone; defeat is not final. The best way to go on from a terrible loss is to do the necessary, human work that lies before us. Even if it’s unglamorous, miserable, painful, it’s better than sitting around despairing.

And while we do it, we have to listen to the people we usually ignore: the people who do the hard work, the people who were there and ready when the moment came. Learn to trust them, to believe them. Don’t try to speak for or over them.

The Ascension

After 40 days with his community, the risen Jesus ascends into heaven. His followers stand dumbfounded, looking up at the sky. But he’s gone. They are on their own now.

Leaders leave from time to time. Sometimes they die, sometimes they drop out, sometimes they go sour. Honor them, remember them, love them, miss them, but be ready to live without them being always there, always at our sides. Prepare for the loss, and for the feelings of anxiety and dissociation that will follow. Be able to go on without them.

The Coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost

Ten days after the Ascension, as the disciples are (again!) hiding in a locked room, the Holy Spirit comes upon them like flames. Suddenly fearless, they begin to preach. Everyone in town hears and understands them, no matter what languages they speak; many join them.

What we do isn’t about the leaders anyway. It’s about us, all of us, about taking fire and spreading our message of hope, of peace, of a better world and how to get there. We each have a part to play, and the inner resources to play it well.

May our passion and commitment convince others to join us, or at least to understand us.

The Assumption of Mary

According to Catholic tradition, Mary is carried bodily into heaven at the end of her life3. It’s the mirror of the Ascension, but for an ordinary person, for one of us.

One day we, too, will have to move on from whatever roles, whatever work and leadership we have done for the movement. We must not pretend we are indispensable. (We must not make ourselves indispensable!) We should raise up the leaders and fellow workers who will come after us, nurture them, prepare them. And prepare ourselves to let them lead in their turn.

The Crowning of the Queen of Heaven

The name kind of says it all. Again, this is Catholic tradition.

Heaven: a place of peace and justice. Whatever we’re striving for, it’s there. We must always remember, always take the time to remind ourselves of, our goals. We aren’t activists just for the fun of it; we don’t work or organize just because. We’re trying to make a better world, something a little closer to Heaven itself.

  1. They’re also structurally fascinating. They’re part of a chiasmus, that rhetorical structure so beloved of the ancients, and their relationship to the rest of the set of mysteries is a mystery in itself. But the story structures of the rosary, and the meanings they hold, are properly another blog post or six.
  2. There’s no Biblical basis for this unless you map her to one of the various women of ill repute who also appear in the Gospels. I, personally, think it’s a calumny stemming from sour grapes and wounded pride.
  3. And possibly after her death; the theology and politics around this Mystery are complicated…and off-topic.
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