By NICOLAS E. WALSH, M.A.
A prayerful consideration of the Mysteries of the Rosary has been found an easy and useful means of answering questions and solving doubts which confront a person when the problem of a religious vocation arises. The meditations which follow were written for this purpose and used in retreats and days of recollection for young men interested in the priesthood.
The reader will note at first glance that the meditations consist of (1) a simple statement of the chief elements in the respective Mystery, and (2) three considerations, each of which is based on a text from Sacred Scripture. Since each of these is complete and independent, there are actually sixty distinct meditations--fifteen on the Mysteries in general, and forty-five on the Mysteries as applied to the vocation to the priesthood. The writer presents these simple thoughts on the Rosary in the hope that the young people who use them will find the information they seek about the priesthood, and will see in the Rosary a powerful means of keeping in contact with Christ, with the events of His life, and with the mysteries of our holy Faith.
I. THE ANNUNCIATION
It was God's messenger who issued the sacred call to Mary to become the Mother of Our Lord. Mary hesitated, not because she doubted, but because there were questions in her mind which she wished to have answered before accepting so high an office. When she was assured that the angel was from God and that her vow of virginity would not be violated, she humbly accepted the plan which Gabriel came to announce.
(1) "The angel Gabriel was sent from God." A vocation always comes from God but, as in the case of Mary, it usually comes indirectly through a "messenger." The messenger may be my parents whose prayers and good example instill in me the first thought of a religious calling; or it may be my confessor who sees qualities of soul which will fit me for the religious life. It may be one of the Sisters in school or a friendly neighbor who suggests the possibility of a vocation. The messenger may be the persistent longing in my heart to serve God in the priesthood, or the desire to save souls. But the "messenger" is always from God!
(2) "She was troubled at his word.... Mary said to the angel: 'How shall this happen?'' The first thought of a religious calling causes a variety of reactions. "Am I worthy? Am I certain? Shall I be happy in this type of life? Do I have the qualifications?" These questions call for careful attention. Just as the angel relieved Mary of her anxiety and aided her in her choice, so my pastor and confessor will help me determine the proper attitude towards my vocation. Later on the Seminary faculty will give me further assistance, and finally my bishop will decide upon my qualifications. God is working through these consecrated men, so I need not worry or continue to be troubled.
(3) "Be it done unto me according to thy word!" The moment will come when I must decide for myself. If, after consultation and prayer, I believe that I have the necessary qualifications (average ability to learn, good health, the desire to serve God and ordinary piety), I should accept the challenge though there is no strict obligation to do so. But I must make the decision, as Mary was required to do. How fortunate for mankind that hers was made in accord with God's plan! No decision is difficult if I keep in mind the will of God. In fact, the happiest moments in my life will be those in which, despite joy and sorrow, I say with all my heart: "Be it done unto me according to thy word!"
II. THE VISITATION
During the angel's visit, he told Mary that her cousin, Elizabeth, and Zachary had also been informed of their calling. Mary did not delay in going to their home to congratulate them and to offer her assistance. She greeted Elizabeth, and when her cousin revealed that she knew of Mary's vocation to be the Mother of Christ, the Blessed Virgin spoke those beautiful words of humility which we find in the "Magnificat." Mary did not curtail her visit, but remained with Elizabeth as long as she was needed.
(1) "Mary arose and went with haste... and she entered the house of Zachary and saluted Elizabeth." One of the signs of a religious vocation is the desire to serve God and to save souls. This desire shows itself in the practice of certain virtues. Love of my neighbor is, according to God's own word, one of the most desired virtues in the aspirant to the religious life. This love must be active ("she arose and went") and prompt ("with haste") and unselfish (Mary saluted Elizabeth first).
(2) "My soul magnifies the Lord... because He has regarded the lowliness of His handmaid." In preparing for the seminary and for the life of a priest, I must always keep in mind who I am and what my purpose in life is. This is the virtue of humility. If God has given me the qualities of a priest, I must thank Him, praise Him, and never forget that I should use for His honor whatever He has given me. The virtue of humility is said to summarize Christ's life on earth; it is the virtue that God will look for in me. "Learn of Me," He said, "for I am meek and humble of heart."
(3) "And Mary remained with her about three months." Generosity is one of the marks of the boy who, hearing God's voice, answers it. If I am generous in giving my time, my efforts, my talents, my life if necessary, then I have one of the marks which will fit me for the life of a seminarian and later for the life of a priest. God has been generous with me! He has spared nothing. In His own likeness and image have I been created. I have been surrounded with beauty and love. He gave and continues to give Himself in the Sacraments. And He gave His life for me! "Greater love than this no man has...." I will imitate Mary, and will not count the hours of service nor measure the sacrifice which may be required in following Christ to the altar.
III. THE BIRTH OF CHRIST
Mary and Joseph had not planned on going far from home because they were awaiting the arrival of the Christ-Child, but when the government order regarding the census was announced, they went immediately to Bethlehem. It was hoped that at the end of their long trip they could rent a comfortable room, but again they had to change their plans and take shelter in an empty stable. It was here that Christ was born. Shepherds, who heard the angels sing "Glory be to God in the highest and on earth peace to men of good will," were the first to come and adore the Infant King. Mary listened to these humble folk as they expressed their amazement at what had happened. But she was silent as she considered the remarkable things God had brought about.
(1) "Joseph also went... with Mary his espoused wife who was with child.... She laid Him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn." The ability and willingness to adjust myself to any situation is surely required in me if I want to be a priest. Such questions as "Will I be able to get along in the seminary? Can I learn Latin? Can I stand the routine?" will never cause me worry if I look at Joseph and Mary, and observe how they were able to adjust themselves simply because they were willing to do God's will. These questions naturally arise, but with courage and determination I can meet and overcome all obstacles.
(2) "Glory be to God in the highest and on earth peace to men of good will." The desire to serve God will cause me to keep Him first in my mind, and keep all other matters in second place. If I serve Him with my whole heart and soul, if I ask myself what He wants me to do when an important issue arises, the incidentals of seminary life or of my life as a priest will always be taken care of. "Seek first the kingdom of God," Christ tells me, "and all these things will be added unto you." What an easy solution to the question of a vocation do I find in the angel's words! They simply remind me to keep God uppermost in all of my plans.
(3) "But Mary kept in mind all these words, pondering them in her heart." Piety, which implies the spirit of prayer and penance, is another sign of a religious calling. Mary gave me a lesson in prayer. Her thoughts were on Christ, on the mysteries of faith, and on what the angels said about God. And she prayed in silence! I, too, must sit in silence with Mary and meditate on what God has revealed. Then I shall grasp the meaning of this life, and shall understand what a privilege it is to share in a vocation which brings supernatural life to the souls for whom Christ died.
IV. THE PRESENTATION IN THE TEMPLE
Acting in obedience to the religious law of the Jewish people, Mary and Joseph took the Infant Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem where they solemnly dedicated His life to the service of Almighty God. While they were performing this sacred duty, a devout man named Simeon approached them, took Jesus into his arms, and thanked God for so great a privilege.
(1) "They took Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord, as it is written in the law of the Lord." In order for me to qualify for acceptance by my bishop, I must have the approval of my parents, my priest, and my teachers. They will have to assure the bishop that I have positive signs of a vocation. Among these signs will be obedience and respect for authority. I see in this Mystery of the Rosary an example of obedience to a law which really did not bind the Son of God. But, as St. John once wrote, Christ has given me an example that I might follow in His footsteps.
(2) "And when His parents brought in the Child Jesus." This reminds me of one of the many ways a vocation to the priesthood can come. God works indirectly in dealing with His children. So it is in the case of a vocation; He uses one's parents and friends oftentimes to suggest the path to the priestly life. How many times have my parents, as they watched me serve Mass, wished that the boy whom they brought into the world and whom they taught to pray would one day be led to the altar! By their good example and their understanding and their prayers, my parents may be responsible more than I for the grace of a vocation. May God love them for "presenting me to the Lord!"
(3) "He (Simeon) also received Him into his arms and blessed God." It is possible that my Catholic friends and classmates can claim partial credit for my vocation. It may be that through their prayers or casual suggestions the first thought of serving God came to me. The people know what kind of priest they want, and therefore their approval or opinion is to be highly respected. I hear them say "He looks like a priest" or "Wouldn't he make a fine priest?" Like other Simeons, these good people are unconsciously pointing out in me what they consider to be signs of a vocation! Their approval tells me that they believe and hope-I will hear the call of God. I must not treat their opinions lightly!
V. THE FINDING OF JESUS IN THE TEMPLE
One of the religious duties of the Jews was to go to Jerusalem every year for the Passover, and there in the massive temple celebrate with their families and friends the great Jewish feast. When Jesus was twelve years of age, He accompanied His parents to the holy city for this important festival. Large crowds thronged into and out of the city on this occasion, and thus it was easy for Christ to become separated from Mary and Joseph. After searching for Him several days, they found Him in the temple where He had remained to talk with the teachers. Reunited with His parents, Jesus went home to Nazareth and remained there until the beginning of His public life.
(1) "His parents were wont to go every year to Jerusalem at the feast of the Passover." The desire to help others in the salvation of their souls may arise from knowing how much Our Lord and the Church and the Sacraments mean to my parents and to my own family. Accompanying them to Mass, seeing the preparation they make for the Sacrament of Penance, observing their devotion to the Rosary and to the other practices of our religion-these have made me anxious to serve God through the priesthood so that they and others will always have the spiritual opportunities which Christ offers through His Church.
(2) "They found Him in the temple." There are certain practices which even before entering the seminary I should make a part of my daily life. One of these is a regular visit to Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. When Christ was missing, His parents sought Him in the temple where they found Him asking questions and listening to the teachers. Christ in the Blessed Sacrament is my teacher! My vocation, my hopes, my desires, and my fears-these will receive His personal attention if I discuss them in His presence.
(3) "And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and grace before God and men." Perhaps the thought has occurred to others, as it has to me, that the life of a priest requires greater virtue than I can claim in myself. I have said: "I am not good enough to be a priest." There is no one really worthy of the priesthood, but I am consoled in the knowledge that seminary training aims at making me more worthy. The little points in my favor which are observed by my parents or recognized by my confessor such as common sense, friendliness, and respect for my elders, will gradually be deepened in me, and through prayer and effort will develop into the priestly virtues of prudence, charity, and obedience. I am not worthy now, but with the help of God I shall advance and one day be more worthy of His love.