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Reflection on the Rosary by Brother Michael James Rivera, OP
“You are my God, have mercy on me, Lord, for I cry to you all the day long. Give joy to your servant, O Lord, for to you I lift up my soul. O Lord, you are good and forgiving, full of love to all who call. Give heed, O Lord, to my prayer and attend to the sound of my voice.” (Psalm 86:2b-6)
On August 15, 1975—the Feast of the Assumption—a number of parishioners were abducted from a small village in Chile, where a missionary from Australia, Sr. Catherine, served. For months the villagers waited, hoping that their children would return. Finally, in November, Sr. Catherine went to the morgue in Santiago with a group of mothers to try and find their children. “There were over 300 corpses piled high,” Sr. Catherine said, “and the mothers had to roll someone else’s son over in an attempt to find their own.” While they searched, the women prayed the rosary. Soon their voices filled the air, as each in turn discovered her child, and cried out, “Santa María, Madre de Dios…Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now, and at the hour of our death.”
I do not know what it is like to bring a child into the world. I have never experienced a loss as horrific as these women, but like them, when I am sad and heartbroken, I turn to the rosary. In moments of intense grief and anguish, unsure of how to voice my sorrow and frustration, I trust that Mary will give words to my cries and intercede for me before Jesus, her son. I did not always believe this.
Being raised both Catholic and Protestant, my devotion to Mary was always somewhat lukewarm. Then, when I was about 10-years-old, I saw “The Song of Bernadette” for the first time on television. From then on, I knew that one day I would visit Lourdes and discover the mystery of the grotto and the one who referred to herself as “the Immaculate Conception” for myself. That day finally came in 2005, when I traveled to Germany for World Youth Day. Part of my pilgrimage included a week in France to pray at the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris, Sainte Chapelle, the Basilique du Sacré-Coeur, and of course, the grotto at Lourdes.
Only a year before, in his message for the Twelfth World Day of the Sick , Pope John Paul II said that, “If Jesus is the source of life that conquers death, Mary is the attentive mother who comes to meet the needs of her children, obtaining for them the health of soul and body…Even when they do not obtain the gift of bodily health, they are able to receive another that is much more important: the conversion of heart, source of peace and interior joy.”
Although I had been praying the rosary for many years, it was in Lourdes that I first understood what the Holy Father was talking about. Surrounded by so many who were sick and infirm, those suffering from cancer and other terminal illnesses, those who had come thousands of miles in search of healing, I realized that it is a powerful thing to pray to and with the Blessed Mother. For what son would turn away from his mother, when she looks upon him with loving eyes and asks for a favor? Even if Christ will not grant us exactly what we want, he will always give us what we need: the strength to endure our suffering, composure in the face of trial, compassion for others who are in search of God’s grace. This is how God answers our prayers, for he is merciful, good and forgiving to all who call upon him.
In 1989, Sr. Catherine died while still serving in Chile. Shortly thereafter, her family received a letter from the mothers in the village. In it, they expressed their love for Sr. Catherine, who had become one of their children. They had buried her next to their sons, and inscribed on her tombstone her final prayer, “Mary, my friend, my companion, and mother of the poor, pray for me.”