It’s a very cold Monday morning outside my window. When I ventured out for Mass very early, before daylight, the thermometer registered at 0. There’s no wind, so it still feels like only 0, but it’s still a very good day for staying indoors and working on good habits.
That’s how I found myself on my treadmill with my rosary in my hands. Many years ago, when I was in the convent, we walked outdoors on the beautiful paths that wound through the property around the Motherhouse while we prayed our daily rosary. When the weather is nice, I often walk a few miles through my neighborhood while praying a rosary. The movement and rhythm of walking seems to facilitate meditation. So I thought, why not pray a rosary while walking on the treadmill? Seems like a better use of time than watching television or reading a novel.
Since it’s Monday, I had the Joyful Mysteries to contemplate as I prayed. As usual, I wasn’t very far before I was also praying for relief from distractions…and then something wonderful happened. It came into my mind to think about how the thread of joy runs through all five of the Joyful Mysteries, so that’s what I did. And here I am to capture those thoughts before they escape entirely.
The joy in each of these mysteries comes from the encounter with Jesus. In the Annunciation, the angel’s announcement to Mary and the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit brought Mary’s first encounter with Jesus, as he was conceived within her womb. Even the promise of Jesus brought her joy, as she called herself the handmaid of the Lord. Imagine knowing, from the very instant of conception, the joy of carrying that special infant who would fulfill all of God’s promises to His people.
As I began to pray the Mystery of the Visitation, I considered it, perhaps for the first time, from Elizabeth’s point of view. How great was her joy at encountering Jesus, carried still in the womb of His mother! We know by her greeting that she recognized Who was present in that visit. And I wondered: Do I know when I am encountering Jesus? Do I experience my encounters with Him in that same spirit of pure joy?
In the Mystery of the Nativity of Jesus, I thought about all who encountered Him the night of His birth and shortly afterward. They heard about Him, often through unconventional and unexpected means, and they came “with haste” to be with Him. The shepherds heard it from angels; the Magi heard it in their dreams and through the results of their own searching and calculations; and they dropped everything to come and see Jesus. Once they knew about Him, their one single-minded goal was to find Him. How do I learn where Jesus is? How eager am I to seek Him out, to go where I know I will find Him?
When Mary and Joseph, in obedience to Jewish law, took Jesus to the temple to present Him to God, the aged Simeon and prophetess Anna experienced the joy of their encounter with the Messiah who had long been promised. I thought about their double joy – joy at seeing God’s promise to them and to His people fulfilled, and joy at seeing Jesus. I thought about them holding Jesus in their arms and marveling that this tiny infant was the entire hope of Israel. And then I wondered: How did they know it was Jesus? Scripture does not give us that answer, and it made me think: How do I know when I am encountering Jesus? Where do I encounter Him? Am I so busy looking for other things in life that I miss the clues?
The fifth Joyful Mystery, Mary and Joseph finding Jesus in the Temple when he was still quite young, sometimes puzzles me. Where is the joy in losing your child, in spending three days searching for him and wondering what has become of him? But the whole point of this mystery is in finding Jesus. The beauty of it is that Jesus is always right where He is supposed to be. We need to look for Him there. And when we find Him – because He, of course, is always looking for us – we need our hearts to be open to the joy of it.
As I concluded my rosary this morning, I considered how these five mysteries present the various ways Jesus is present in our world, in our days and the hours of our days. He is with us, of course, in “the Temple” – in the Blessed Sacrament, as well as in the Word, when we enter a Catholic Church, when we attend Mass. He is with us in all of the times we seek His word throughout the day. And He is with us in the people we encounter. He is there for us to find, if we are just willing to look.
It’s that last place that I find myself missing out on. I’m not always aware of Jesus in my encounters with other people; in fact, I think that sometimes I go beyond a lack of awareness, and am even resistant to seeing Him there. After all, if I really did see Him in the other people I encounter, I’d be far more patient and far less judgmental. I’d be far more willing to greet them with a loving spirit, and I’d be much more interested in reaching their hearts and loving their souls.
And so as I finished my prayer, I asked for the grace to know when I am encountering Jesus, to be open to encountering Him always, and to find and experience the joy in each encounter. Because I know I can live with that.